Out of the Attic and Onto the Catwalk
Posted May 9, 2018 4:45 p.m. EDT
Calvin Klein features a red-and-white quilt in its provocative ad starring the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, who are languorously sprawled across the blanket in nothing but their underwear.
The French label A.P.C. sells a range of limited-edited quilts at its stores, alongside its utilitarian jeans and chicly no-frills shirts.
And Loewe, under the direction of its craft-happy designer Jonathan Anderson, showcased a collection of artisan-made quilts at the Milan Furniture Fair in April.
The fashion world’s love affair with quilts — a humble item long associated with Grandma’s attic and dowdy flea markets — has reached a fever pitch.
Evoking traditional craftsmanship and the comforts of home, quilts have made their presence felt all over the fashion landscape of late, especially in high-end menswear. Prices reach into the thousands.
“For me, this is how I relate to domestic life and how I relate to the emotions of a consumer,” said Emily Bode, a designer at Bode, a menswear label based on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that uses old fabrics for new designs.
“To me,” she added, “you’d want to wear it because of what is intrinsic to the fabric itself, its innateness.”
Bode says there is a physical and emotional comfort from quilts that resonates with her customers, who pay $1,500 for her one-of-a-kind boxy jackets made from dead-stock or found fabrics. “We had two customers who, the day they bought their quilt jackets, slept in them,” she said.
With the fashion tribe glued to their Instagram feeds, there’s an understandable allure to the tactile quality and homespun feeling of these blankets. Quilts are also highly personal, said Amelia Peck, a curator of American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Quilts are interesting because people can put their own spin on them,” she said.
While quilts have been documented around the world, including in China, Egypt and Europe, the form blossomed in America as the cotton industry exploded in the mid-1800s (a period that Peck thinks of as the “heyday” of quilting).
Quilts enjoyed a comeback in the late 1960s. “It was very much linked to outsider hippie culture and going back to the land, so it had a political message,” Peck said.
Roderick Kiracofe, author of “The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort,” recalls the popular exhibition “Abstract Design in American Quilts” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971 as a touchstone. “That really turned people’s attentions to quilts as art,” Kiracofe said.
Peck and Kiracofe also mentioned the AIDS quilt as bringing quilts, and all their associations with community and craftsmanship, to the American consciousness.
For Kiracofe, the fashion world’s embrace of quilts is long overdue. “Quilts have been ghettoized or boxed in as women’s work or Americana,” he said. “To see them get a little more edgy, it’s important.”
At the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue, one-of-a-kind quilts dating from the 19th and early-20th centuries have been “hand-selected from across the country,” according to its website, and are lovingly displayed on the second floor, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to $4,250.
A.P.C. designs its own quilts. “Quilts to me are intrinsically linked to the past,” Jean Touitou, a founder of A.P.C., said on the label’s website. The quilts come in muted herringbone and geometric patterns, and cost $370 to $955. “They are made from yesterday’s fabrics, fabrics that we used and had leftovers of. In a way, quilts are to contemporary history what pottery is to ancient history.”
Designers are also incorporating quilts into clothing.
Daniel Dugoff of DDugoff, a menswear label in New York, makes a $1,500 zip-up jacket of textile scraps from his previous seasons. “It felt special,” he said, unlike anything he had seen or felt before. And it had “an amazing weight.”
Craig Green, the British menswear designer, sent male models down the runway last year wearing tropical-themed quilts that were fashioned like ponchos, fringed cowboy shirts and oversize tunics.
And Raf Simons, creative director at Calvin Klein, used classic American quilt motifs throughout his fall 2018 collection, including in dresses, men’s shirts and gloves. Some models even looked as if they were holding quilts on the runway, like so many security blankets
“The funny thing is that quilts just keep on getting rediscovered,” Peck said.