Greg Lauren’s design lineage is known to celebrate Americana or at least use it as its cornerstone drawing inspiration from the many communities and cultures that encompass it. His uncle’s namesake brand (Ralph Lauren) has evolved into one of the quintessential markers of what Americana style is for a global audience and customer. While the brand Ralph Lauren may take what WWD refers to as “romantic interpretation of Americana,” Greg Lauren aims to take it a step further by going beyond the inspiration and crediting and directly collaborating with American creators and craft experts.
In a collection named Mosaic: Gee’s Bend and Greg Lauren, the designer and artist partnered with the community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama to create a line of 96 garments, ranging from outerwear and over shirts, to pants and dresses. These pieces were made from 276 quilted panels sewn by 14 quilters from the historic Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers group. Lauren’s archive of fabric and material scraps, including tweed, suiting, nylon, denim, and workwear, were hand-selected by the team of quilters and developed into panels in Boykin, Alabama. The collection was then produced using the upcycled, handsewn panels at the Greg Lauren Atelier in Los Angeles and finished using the quilter’s signature on the outside and their bio stitched into the lining of each piece.
As scholar and historian Jonathan Michael Square, who is also the Assistant Professor of Black Visual Culture at Parsons School of Design, writes in the “Beloved Patches of Orange” essay accompanying the collection, “The quilters have equally participated in all aspects of MOSAIC – from designing the logo to consulting on the creation of images to conceptualizing the installation of the collection at Bergdorf Goodman. Moreover, the quilters were compensated for all this labor, and 100 percent of the profits from this collaboration is going back to Gee’s bend, a community that has inspired many but has yet fully benefit from their ‘profoundly creative intelligence,’ to borrow Lauren’s wording.”
The collection is part of the brand’s larger mission to simultaneously execute a sustainable approach to creating more from less (upcycling scraps) while uplifting, acknowledging, and investing in people who are behind the knowledge and craft of arts, creating an equitable model Square and Lauren hopes more of the fashion industry will follow.
“So there would be a clear idea of what their work would be used for. That was important for me because creatives and designers for a long time have used others’ work, especially when the work is relegated to folk art or found art or a vintage piece,” Lauren told WWD. “Whether something was created by a known celebrated artist or not, a person used their ingenious artistic ability to put two colors next to each other, to choose fabrics, to stitch, to create the emotional response for those who see it. That has to be recognized and appreciated.”
The relationship between Lauren and the quilters were made possible by Souls Grown Deep, a nonprofit community organization that promotes the work of Black artists from the South and supports their communities, as well as the apparel and artisan focused nonprofit Nest. The work and artists of Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers hold a special piece in American history which trace back to generations of enslaved people in the region. Throughout this time, and up until the present, the settlement’s unique patchwork quilting tradition that began in the 19th century has endured,” Souls Grown Deep describes on its site. “Gee’s Bend quilts constitute a crucial chapter in the history of American art and today are in the permanent collections of over 20 leading art museums.”
True recognition, involvement, and compensation is important for a collaboration where a brand taps into an artisan community for their work. This is especially so when the art is literally part of the fabric of American tradition and, in a sense, was becoming a “lost art” before a recent boom in popularity. “Proper and equitable collaborations are not easy, and they don’t necessarily make financial sense to a company, but you have to do it to create a better model,” said Mary Margaret Pettway who is a quilter and led the project for Gee’s Bend.
A bespoke installation of Mosaic: Gee’s Bend and Greg Lauren (pieces range from $5,000-$10,000 USD) is currently on display at Bergdorf Goodman until November 8. The collection will also be available online via greglauren.com.
In other upcycling news, Japanese brand MIYAGIHIDETAKA used vintage bandanas to rework classic Carhartt WIP pieces.