Emily Bode presents her collection, Bode, like most fashion brands: seasonally, with a six-month lead time. But last July at her second New York Fashion Week Men’s presentation, the 28-year-old designer says attendees were asking her to buy pieces on the spot: “People were like, ‘Alright, I want that, can you hold it for me and I’ll pick it up next week?’” Bode’s collection is almost entirely fabricated out of vintage textiles, from brilliantly-patterned quilts to antique table linens, which are lovingly mended and repurposed into boxy workwear jackets and billowy trousers. Inspired by her uncle’s attic in the south of France, the spring 2018 collection’s homey patchwork shirts and hand-stitched jackets carried a heavy sense of nostalgia, making each feel more like treasures to be collected than mere clothes to be bought. Though it seemingly flies in the face of fashion’s relentless push toward the future, at a fashion week where, as far as I could tell, few shows were inspiring editors and buyers to rush backstage and place personal orders, Bode’s presentation was among the most impactful moments.
On Monday morning, Bode [pronounced BOH-dee] will return to NYFW as the the season’s opener, solidifying the young designer’s status as a rising star. Bode grew up in the Atlanta suburbs in a family of heirloom enthusiasts. Her grandfather collected early American antiques, and her mom and aunts took her to antique shows and markets in Atlanta and Cape Cod. The bug stuck: Bode moved to New York in 2008 to attend Parsons, where she began using vintage fabrics to make clothes. The Bode silhouettes don’t change much season-to-season, but the fabrics—and there are over 220 featured in Fall 2018—don’t hang around long, as she often only has enough yardage to make a few pieces. Bode’s forthcoming collection was inspired by a mentor in the obscure history of traditional craft: a septuagenarian quilt dealer named Homer on Cape Cod whose insights, like why a shade called “Nile Green” was popular during the Depression Era, guided her fabric selection. (Apparently because 1930s government-issued paint was green.)
Bode has emerged at a fortuitous moment in men’s fashion, where there’s appetite for craft to counterweight streetwear’s ubiquity. Just see J.W. Anderson, whose crochet-sleeve coats are still hot in the streets, or Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, who has raided your grandfather’s closet and embroidered every last piece. On the way to Bode’s Lower East Side apartment-turned-studio last week, I passed by a four-story-tall Calvin Klein Jeans advertisement on Houston Street that features the Kardashian-Jenner clan swaddled in quilted blankets. “It happens everywhere,” Bode says when I ask about Calvin Klein’s quilt-heavy spring 2018 collection. “A.P.C. has been making quilts for a while. It’s good that it’s trend, I guess, but quilting is my brand.”
Bode’s quilted garments are indeed the brand’s most spectacular, but not simply because they represent the apogee of an arts & crafts movement in fashion. In an age of referencing run amok, there’s something refreshing—and maybe even progressive—about a designer who builds and entire brand out of what other designers will only borrow bits and pieces of. Simons is celebrating American motifs at Calvin Klein, but does quilting need a Belgian high fashion edge? It doesn’t hurt that the Bode silhouettes are reminiscent of Craig Green’s contemporary workwear, and that Japanese brands like Visvim and Kapital brought expensive spins on Americana back to our shores. Further consider that at any level of fashion, no matter what you’re willing to pay, it’s nearly impossible to find anything that’s truly one-of-a-kind, and Bode starts to feel like a thoroughly modern label. Some of the coolest contemporary fashion retailers in the world have noticed—this spring you’ll be able to find the brand in top-tier shops like Totokaelo and Opening Ceremony in New York, Très Bien in Sweden, and Opening Ceremony in Japan.
In fact, Bode sees herself more as a rescuer of textile history than a reinterpreter. She finds most of her fabrics through antique and quilt dealers throughout New England, but occasionally taps into more forgotten stashes. A buying trip several months ago took her to a ranch in Wyoming, where she had to wear a haz mat suit to dig through trailers of military uniforms and blankets that hadn’t been opened since the 1950s. “Everybody who works in this industry is a hoarder,” Bode says, surrounded by stacks of African textiles and racks of jackets. “Everybody. But I’m an organized hoarder.” A mid-length quilted coat Bode showed me is a slice of the rich history she often saves through her business: somebody spun the quilt top circa 1900, and it was quilted with fanciful floral embroidery in 1982. By the time Bode found it, it was a peppered with holes from rot in storage. “I have to try to explain this more,” says Bode, “to Instagram, or whatever, because sometimes people say, wait you’re cutting up quilts? That’s kind of sad. But that quilt was going to be in the garbage. The quilters I buy from are happy that the quilts are getting used. You might as well create something that people are going to love.”
Facing the obvious limitations of expanding a brand that requires a constant supply of rare and unique textiles, Bode works with a quilting factory in India that can mend and recreate quilts so she can produce full size runs of garments. (The jackets and shirts are cut-and-sewn in New York.) It helps solve another problem, too: the protective instinct she has for rare and one-of-a-kind textiles. “I only want to give certain pieces to people I that meet,” says Bode. “Because you’re losing that, a little bit. Especially the one-of-a-kind stuff, or the pieces with the quilter’s signatures on them.” The next phase of her brand, Bode says, is to launch a textile library that catalogues the stories behind each garment. So when you buy a jacket, you’ll be able to punch in a code on the Bode website and discover that it came from, say, a great aunt’s attic in Massachusetts. Bode also wants to archive textile and technique history to make a deeply American tradition more accessible to a new (and much younger and urban-centric) audience. “All of these books,” Bode says, gesturing at her collection of quilting texts, “this stuff is not documented online. The history itself is getting lost.” Let’s face it: we could all use a new hobby.