The rise of Instagram sewing
Dua and Kendall: grid; Johnstone: Brittney Christie; Small conversation: courtesy of the designer; Central image: Michons Marigot
Style Points is a weekly column on how fashion intersects with the rest of the world.
Some of the best moments of this couture season have referred to the glory days of models sliding into the ateliers, each wearing an individual look number and wearing hats obscuring the horizon. But as inspiring as the medium is, creating a bespoke Parisian studio is still beyond the reach of most of us mere mortals. Something more doable? One-piece net illustrated, embroidered or painted to measure or one of a kind from one of the many new labels that have arisen in recent years. Juliet Johnstone’s painted pants have been worn by the powerful trio of Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, while Nicholas Williams of Small Talk Studio has done commissions for fashion insiders like Virgil Abloh and Mister Mort who present artwork and custom embroidery. (This latter design included drawings of a Fujifilm box and mustard container.)
The sense of small batch, craftsmanship and tailoring of these pieces, combined with the trend for all things handmade that has been on the rise since long before the pandemic, has made them “It” items for one. small group of knowledgeable people. Think of them as DIY zines to sewing glosses. In circles where embellished Bode pants or a paint-stained SR Studio jacket are more sought after than a designer logo, the work of Williams and Johnstone is tantamount to having your own numbered look of a master designer.
Brooklyn-based Williams launched her brand in 2017 after learning the basics of hand embroidery from her grandmother. Working with his friend Phil Ayers, he now has a thriving business; his pieces typically take 2-4 days to produce, and Williams and Ayers are working on 3-4 designs at a time, together. “We flip them back and forth, continually adding new layers of images, until we hit what seems like a good stopping point,” he says.
Based in Los Angeles, Johnstone was trained as an artist and has no background in fashion, but after starting to paint over the Carhartts and Dickies that she wore in her studio, people the stopped in the street to ask him questions. Right before the pandemic, she started posting her work on Instagram and quickly started receiving requests for commissions. When Bella Hadid unexpectedly “liked” a series of her photos (“I feel like she was bored in quarantine and like, ‘Let’s blow that girl up.’ I don’t even know!”) Johnstone Gifted her a pair of pants thanks to a mutual acquaintance, believing the model could wear them in a paparazzi photo. Instead, Hadid made him better and posted them on his grid. “It really started it all, because from there people started reaching out: other models, other celebrities, stylists,” recalls Johnstone. Interest prompted her to create her own website. Now her audience, she says, is “anyone between a rapper and a mom. I make customs for people’s moms and grandmothers, and then I did them for Travis Scott too.”
His hand-painted pieces, which often feature psychedelic flora and fauna and words like “love” and “earth,” take days to complete. Along with the small batch feel, their Summer of Love nostalgia is part of the draw: “In a time when the world is really dark and scary, it’s nice to just look at pants with butterflies and lilies on them. . ”
The two designers draw a direct line between their success and our changing view of consumption. According to Johnstone, “I think especially during the COVID times and this crazy traumatic transition and this weird year that everyone has gone through, people are really starting to get very interested in buying sustainable, small and thoughtful brands and products. People want to feel special. “Labels like hers have flourished” because people are moving away from this mass-produced culture that we have become so addicted to. In the age of Amazon Prime and fast fashion , I think people really want something a little more special and there is a story behind it. “
Williams adds, “These custom 1/1 parts are also an alternative to the big brands that dubiously claim durability and fair working practices, as the line from customer to manufacturer is even more direct and transparent with an operation like ours. . I do not do it. I necessarily think what we’re doing is some sort of a real solution to the problems with fast fashion, because what we’re doing isn’t by design really scalable, but I think it’s a good transition option while the fashion industry as a whole is regulating itself. “
The two appear to be content to keep their operations relatively small and local for the time being, which is refreshing in a time of constant pushes for expansion. While Johnstone says she has been “approached by many different brands” about collaborations, she has yet to jump in, as she is still waiting for the right opportunity. She also gets hundreds of DMs and emails a week from “people asking me to paint on weird stuff: their shoes, their Ugg boots, their handbags”, but “I try to keep it pretty simple. for my brand ”. While she started working with recycled items, she now produces her own cut and sewn pieces and plans to launch into hand-painted silk styles soon.
“Surprisingly, doing the plays for Virgil in and of itself didn’t bring my work to a much wider audience,” Williams says, “but it definitely gave the operation some serious credibility… It was also obviously a huge honor for me and made me reconsider the possibilities of what Small Talk could be, ”he says.“ There was talk of working together on a few Off-White pieces for their next collection at the time, but I think let Virgil stay so busy that we haven’t been able to make it happen. “
“He knows where to find me if there is another opportunity to join forces,” he adds.
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