Emily Bode

Emily Bode

Interview:
Nico Jacobsen

Photographer:
Kevin Buitrago

Although Emily Bode’s namesake brand has only been in operation just under two years, the label (pronounced “boh-dee”) has managed to develop one of the most visible cult followings in the contemporary fashion space. Obviously the beauty of the clothes, the focus on craftsmanship, and the culture around the company all play a part in this, but I think there is one primary reason people feel so comfortable diving headfirst into Bode's world — she has achieved an impossible balance, sewing together a patchwork of aesthetic and intellectual elements that make her clothes feel effortless and timeless as well as urgent and meticulous. This apparent contradiction is the brand’s greatest strength, owned and embodied beautifully by the designer herself. She took a moment away from painting her new studio to speak to me about her appreciation of history and her plans for the future.

Nico:

You frequently speak to how significant an inspiration heritage workwear is for your designs, yet your take on those styles is distinctly more feminine than the majority of other companies that claim the same references. Is that something you purposely do in order to blur gender lines, or is it more of a reflection of the current state of menswear?

Emily:

I have always been attracted to workwear for the boxy shapes and timelessness of the silhouettes. We are creating modern heirlooms that are intended to be loved and passed on, from material that is originally made by women for the home. So you experience the feminine handwork in contrast to the masculine silhouette. The emotional reaction to the recognizably domestic textiles isn't characteristic to menswear and notions of masculinity. In a more pragmatic sense, as with traditional workwear, our pieces need to fit a large range of body types and sizes because many of our pieces are one-of-a-kind. This includes accommodating women's bodies as well. We cut our trousers with a large allowance in the back to accommodate alterations.

N:

When I see clothing with a strong connection to the past, it’s hard for me to avoid thinking about them cinematically. I get such a sense of Kathleen Collins’ film Losing Ground or Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse when I imagine Bode. Do you have a director that you dream of designing costumes for?

E:

All of Rohmer's films are such a source of inspiration for their carefree sensuality. No contemporary living director immediately comes to mind who evokes the same dreamy sensibility, but I really love the work of Brit Marling. She would be someone I would be interested in working with in the future.

Blue Striped Fabric

N:

I imagine it must be gratifying to see any artist wear the clothing you design (there are many), but how did it feel to see Donald Glover in your work? Considering, of course, that he is one of the primary individuals involved in the TV show Atlanta — which is where you were raised.

E:

It was such an honor, especially to be a part of such an iconic moment, during the debut performance of This Is America. To me, Glover truly embodies the concept of a renaissance man. He is one of the most relevant artists of our time, and I am always excited to dress someone associated with Atlanta.

N:

How do you think your childhood in the South and your adulthood in New York have affected one another in regards to your designing? Is there a primary location or setting you imagine your clothes being worn?

E:

In the South, I grew up antiquing with my family and was exposed to Southern craft-making and the importance of the comfort of the home. I am inspired by the ease and class of Southern dressing and living alongside craft. Growing up, I made clothes from crochet blankets, accessories from newspaper, and dolls from socks. Since childhood, I have always been passionate about creating a whole lifestyle, studying personal narratives and family histories, and the portrayal of an intentional aesthetic. In New York, I learned the technical aspects of making apparel at Parsons, and furthered my studies with my philosophy degree in aesthetics. New York offers so much inspiration by way of picture collections, personal storytelling, exhibitions, and through the vast network of driven individuals. It is not so much about a particular place, but rather that these clothes become a part of the owner's life and bring along their own historical narrative of the past.

Bode Quiltwear Work Jacket

N:

Every fabric has a story, many of which you get to hear when purchasing from vintage sellers. Can you tell us about the most interesting bit of information you ever learned through the acquisition of a roll of cloth?

E:

I am always humbled when people invite me into their homes, family linen closets, and ancestors’ trunks to source material. I often find notes or letters that accompany these pieces. The most interesting bit of information is always the historical context or purpose for why something was made and how it ended up where it lays. One of my most favorite and interesting recent pieces is a quilt made from tobacco silks from the 1900s. I bought this piece from a woman whose mother had all of her husband’s friends save these small flag souvenirs that came inside their tobacco/cigar boxes. You see quilts made from these souvenirs around, but this one in particular was backed in pink silk and had lace trim — which was a stark contrast to the moody menswear colors and imagery of the tobacco silks.

N:

You use fabrics sourced from all over the world, giving a few of your designs very regional feelings, such as Cote d'Ivoire country cloth or embroidered kimono silks. It made me wonder, have you ever come across a fabric that you fell in love with but considered it too sacred or connected to a certain history to use in the line?

E:

Of course, all the time actually. I recently acquired warrior flags from Africa from the early 1900s that I will keep for my personal collection and use as inspiration for appliqué technique. For Bode, we try to repair and preserve textiles that would otherwise be forgotten or tossed. For example, we primarily use cutter quilts that need heavy mending and washing.

Coffee and Tree

N:

You inhabit an interesting space in contemporary fashion, being championed by the CFDA while still making small batches of shirts from rolls of fabric you keep in your studio. With your brand growing exponentially, what ideas have you had to marry a generous expansion with your 'tailor-made' ethos?

E:

Although the one-of-a-kind pieces are the foundation of Bode, we have begun to expand our production. We are creating custom embroideries, woven goods, patchworks, and appliqués, all in the same vein and technique of the historical pieces we offer. This current season, we have produced a number of styles of hand-embroidered shirts inspired by antique kimonos in India. Especially with India’s handwork production, we are able to use stronger textiles for everyday wear, and expand with a larger offering of colorways and threads [a few of these styles are currently available at Totokaelo].

N:

How have you approached the process of creating your own textiles and embroideries?

E:

I visited our factory in New Delhi a few weeks ago, and was able to experience how they manufacture our hand-embroidered bowling shirts from start to finish. This season, we manufactured custom screen and digital prints with a friend's company in Brooklyn, Software Studios. We print small runs in New York and larger runs in New Jersey or Korea.

Bode Shirts