Nouveau Neveu: Greg Lauren Hits Barneys

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Published February 16, 2011

For his inaugural collection showing at Barneys, Greg Lauren seems to have something in common, physically, with his line. Firstly, Lauren has the looks of a New England prep, albeit one  separated from the models in his uncle Ralph’s campaign and gone rogue. He’s handsomely weathered, like his hand-distressed garments. “I grew up learning about the most beautiful, classic pieces of clothing, and appreciating the iconic people that wore them… Clothing is the way people express themselves,” he explains. “Since clothing is no longer utility, it is all about expression.”

Take, for example, his “tuxedos” for men. “This is literally stripping the traditional tuxedo of all its power and taking away its aura,” the designer explains. The jacket has been thoroughly washed and its sheen removed, and while the restrictive structure of the garment is missing, the piece is still very tailored. In order to retain its shape, a casual tie is loosely looped behind the tux’s waist, adding an extra sense of effortlessness. In fact, all of Lauren’s clothes echo suit jackets or dinner coats—in form only. The materials are worn, bespoke, and vintage, meaning each piece is totally different from the last. For his army collection, which he dubs “ironic military,” he employed materials such as vintage snow camel from former arctic expositions. His duffel jacket is quite literally made out of old duffel bags.

“I started as a painter who learned to sew… there are certain inspirations and themes I want to explore,” he explains. “Each piece is a classic twist on some type of iconic archetype.” Lauren’s desire to subvert and deconstruct tradition is evident not only in  his clothing design, but also in his art, which depicts superheroes at their most desolate. In the collection, army-tent material meets silk-satin lapels, and cashmere is distressed, worn, and destroyed. In many ways, all that is sacred about fashion, Lauren rejects. “I leave all of the imperfections in,” he says, indicating loose threads and ripped seams. “So much of the clothing is about embracing the imperfection that is a part of the process of either making it, or is inherent in fabric.” Pulls and buckles come from discarded bags, and even the tags are hand-written by Lauren himself. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the heritage of classically tailored, seamless evening wear. “I have a respect for the way a tailored jacket is made, but I’ve removed everything about it that feels like armor.”

Upstairs, in Barneys’ men’s department, a section of the store has been morphed into Lauren’s “studio,” complete with drawings, notes, and paintbrushes strewn about. Hanging on stark pipes you’ll find both his men’s and women’s collections, which are aesthetically similar (though the fits are different). The art-room approach is important to Lauren, who actually turns to his creative experiences for design inspiration. He points out his Studio Shoe (named from an old shoe of his father’s that Lauren destroyed while painting) and his paint-splattered buttons, both hand-distressed to mimic a worn, heritage-like look.

For his Saturday launch, onlookers milled about his handmade clothes, and his wife, actress Elizabeth Berkley, greeted the Fashion Week crowd. His collection is debuting exclusively at the department store, which has encouraged Lauren to take his artisan approach seriously, allowing him to bring in his art supplies, his old superhero sketches, even one-off productions (like a canvas over-the-knee woman’s boot). The messy studio, unfinished hems, and militaristic vibe are all departures from his uncle’s legacy, but Lauren has the approach of a well-seasoned artist. “I imagine some people are curious, and I don’t know what their expectations are. If they haven’t seen any of my previous work, they’ll have this specific preconceived notion,” he says. “It’ll be interesting to see what they think.”