Passion for patchwork: make-do-and-mend hits the Paris catwalk

Emily Bode reuses vintage quilts and tablelinens to produce her menswear brand’s ‘keepsake’ creations

When photographs of on-again-off-again millennial power couple Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid emerged last weekend, the internet predictably melted. Instagram’s answer to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were apparently back together, their united front reinforced by the optics of their complementary pistachio-coloured outfits.

The patchwork jacket chosen by Malik for this globally disseminated tableau was by Bode, the most influential menswear label you’ve never heard of. Malik wore another Bode jacket the next day, joining the ranks of the brand’s trendsetting fans, including Harry Styles, Donald Glover and Ezra Miller.

Best known for creating “keepsake” pieces using quilts, table linens and other vintage fabrics, Bode’s rise speaks volumes about fashion’s shifting aspirations. Its texture-rich, sepia-toned mood is the polar opposite of the mass-produced sportswear styles that have ruled menswear for the past decade.

“If you were to take a photograph of someone you would not be able to place them temporally,” saidfounder Emily Bode of the appeal of her designs. Silhouettes are constant each season, and always rooted in boxy shapes of workwear. Bode, she says, is not about anticipating future trends but about celebrating craft, “looking back and grounding. These are heirloom pieces – investment garments you’ll have for ever.”

On Saturday, Bode presented her autumn/winter 2020 collection, which was inspired by the life of a furniture designer called Benjamin Bloomstein, at Paris men’s fashion week. For her autumn/winter 2018 collection, her starting point was another character, “Homer, a Harvard-educated botanist turned quilt dealer”.

Bode talks about “narrative” a lot. Her typical customer, she says, is interested in “the history of his culture and other cultures” as well as “his own family history and traditions”.

The 30-year-old has collected vintage fabrics since growing up, in Atlanta, Georgia, with her “antiquing” enthusiast mother. She studied at the prestigious Parsons School of Design where she created collections almost entirely made from vintage fabrics. Since 2018 her benchmark is that at least 40% of fabric sold is antique, while the rest is replicated. Bode is now sold by 104 retailers in more than 30 countries and she has no qualms about growth, even predicting that her label could one day be the size of a Ralph Lauren, Isabel Marant or Marc Jacobs. “I think the only way to succeed is to be able to envision it,” she said.

It seems a shame to dilute the purity of her initial, vintage-only model, but Bode says her business remains socially and environmentally conscious, whether working with “female-owned factories” doing “domestic manufacturing” or owing to the longevity of its design. “We take pants in and out again, many times, over the years, as weight changes.” She does not use the word “sustainable”, however, to describe the brand, because then, she says, “it becomes about being part of a trend”.

Bode asks pertinent questions about our illogical, wasteful attitudes towards possessions: “It’s a shame what people get rid of sometimes and what people do keep. You think, why would you keep that and not your grandmother’s linen? Why would you let a pair of trousers sit for months and years in a drawer and not wear them because there is a button missing?”

Then again, her typical customer might have rather more time – or if not more help – to sort out his sewing kit, given that he is clearly living a privileged life – a shirt costs about £350, £1,200 for a jacket.

Still, one of the concepts that has helped to build Bode’s buzz – the idea that mending garments, cherishing possessions and repurposing waste is becoming aspirational now – is being explored everywhere from the high street to the “no-buy” movement.

If Bode ever does achieve her big fashion dream, she believes she could run a socially conscious business, even a very large one. As well as getting the manufacture and infrastructure right, she says she wants “to shape a true culture of dressing. To affect the way that people dress as a whole – their understanding of material culture, history, identity, domestic space”. To “share that knowledge of mending clothes, and cherishing them”.


Hannah Marriott

The GuardianTramp

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