At the point where vintage fabrics and delicate embroidery meet forward- looking silhouettes, EMILY BODE’s clothes are a glimpse of the future of fashion. More Or Less meets the award-winning designer who pairs the romance of a couturier with the sustainable mindset so necessary for now.
Photography by Bruno Staub Styling by Julian Ganio
Text by Emma Elwick-Bates
The history of America can be seen in the history of quilts; passed on from generation to generation, a rich heritage of thrifty self-sufficient women who helped homestead the land. Sewing memories into patches, one stitch at a time. Today I am New York’s Chinatown, chez Emily Bode. Yes, surrounded by quilts. The 30-year-old is telling a new story with her menswear label Bode – repurposing these legacy pieces, with other one-of-a- kind textiles sourced from around the world. The resulting clothes capture the now through their light amalgamation of times, places and cultures. “The first thing I made for Bode was a pair of trousers from a quilt. And that was how it all began. So I wasn’t intentionally beginning to make things out of antique textiles. It was kind of a happy accident,” says the designer, who launched her label in 2016.
When you visit a designer’s lair, it can be many things. Sparse and chic, the madness artfully concealed, or fabrics flying and the fashion drama played out for all. In Bode’s studio there’s no respite from the pulsating streets below. It’s quietly industrious, packed with seven full-timers around a table, fingers nimbly at work. A Jenga of fabric rolls threatens to topple over.
Downtown is her world. She lives on Canal Street and hopes to open up a store here one day, but Bode is a global endeavour. Her sampling and collation of fabrics is fittingly picaresque. A lot of her lace and linen comes from Ireland, and she buys on her travels: 1920s French bed linen, grain sacks from the southeastern US or 1970s tablecloths from Provence. The designer also works with weavers in New Delhi and Calcutta. “We make clothing both from antique textiles and domestic textiles. We also reproduce historical techniques in India, namely embroideries and appliqués.”
Business is buzzing. Bode sells direct-to-consumer and in 40 bricks-and-mortar retailers worldwide, including nine stores in Japan. “You can only do so much storytelling digitally.” The drop-in bohemian vibe is proving profitable, enhancing the sense of a Bode community. Last night an art-fair curator came by, ostensibly buying for her husband but leaving with plenty to share. The clothes Bode makes are “pretty boyish” but not that easily pigeonholed by gender. “I started Bode with a concept in mind, to create clothes that made room for a different kind of man, or maybe just a new kind of story. Domestic textiles in general are female-centric, handmade by women. So the embroideries and the uniqueness and the fact that they were made for use is, I think, really beautiful,” she says in earnest. “Feminine crafts are my tool; crocheting and quilting pave my entryway into masculinity.”
So she shows on the menswear schedule, and fresh off winning the CFDA’s Emerging Designer of the Year award 2019, moved her fashion narrative to Paris Fashion Week. “Paris is wonderful, and it aligns with our sales.” And of course, her hunter-gatherer instinct is attuned with the City of Light. Americans in Paris have a storied history, and her collection saw signature patchwork and embroideries inspired in part by her family’s involvement in the wagon-wheel and circus industries. Many agreed this was the greatest show.
As “sustainability” becomes a leitmotif of our times, what does it mean to her personally? “It was not a marketing strategy. It’s something that’s innate to the brand. I was always creating my first samples out of vintage fabrics, instead of using muslin.” Nine-tenths of her personal closet is vintage. And deadstock supplies lend themselves more easily to certain fabrics; khakis, for example, have become a “season-on-season classic.” There’s also an impressive stash of indigo overhead, and provenance is something that’s central to the label. “African country cloth, it’s all hand-woven in strips. A lot of it’s from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria. We have some from Mali. When we get shipments, I’ll speak to our suppliers about what region they came from specifically. We try to portray that through the storytelling, and label the tags, because sometimes you have two cloths that look pretty much identical. It’s hard to keep track of, but we try our best.
“Bode has everything do with preserving the history. The way that people feel when they buy the clothes, and when they reflect on their own life.” Bespoke is also a growing part of the business, with roughly a four-week turnaround from phone call to sketch to voilà. She connects to the very personalised nature of the work. The story that’s closest to her heart is that of a terminally ill Canadian woman in her sixties. “She wanted to leave something for her grandchildren and had all of her grandparents’ embroidered handkerchiefs.” Bode reconfigured them into shirts, so when she passed, the family story did not. “People don’t use handkerchiefs like they used to. It was a beautiful way to utilise them and to preserve them.”
“I have my own collection of things that I won’t cut,” she admits. What could be too precious for her scissors? “This Hopalong Cassidy quilt – it’s a boy’s blanket from the 1950s. There’s a stumpwork quilt in my house. It was actually my iPhone background for two years before I bought it. It was fate.”
You can’t help but feel the rich tapestry of life will play out covetably with the deft hand of Emily Bode.
Grooming: Michael Harding at D&V Management
Casting director: Troy Casting at D&V Management
Digital operator: Denis Shklovsky
Styling assistants: John Handford and Sam Wright
Special thanks to Papa Anthony Kearsley
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