Emily Bode Brings the Circus to Paris
The models at Bode’s spring/summer 2020 fashion show Tuesday in Paris dripped down the runway in painfully slow motion. They crept and shuffled in their ballet flats with all the sputtering energy of a child who’s sent to bed early but doesn’t want the fun to end. “I wanted it to feel like you were strolling with your best friend through the streets or through a park and it’s summertime,” she said over the phone from Paris shortly after the show ended. But the slow march had a practical application, too: “For our models to walk fast, it wouldn’t make sense for the brand. We have such a focus on the stitching, and the applique, and all the quilting and hand paintings on the jackets.” To take it all in, Bode needed to slow down.
The entire universe Bode’s created since launching her eponymous brand in 2016 could be organized around that single, simple rule: slow is better. No one puts a cooler face on the idea of slow fashion than Bode, who takes vintage fabrics and finds new homes for them on patchwork trousers or reproduces them for intricately embroidered shirts. While the models’ glacial movements were unusual, the clothes they appeared in were spectacular in typical Bode fashion. Look closely at a pair of vividly striped pants and you’ll find they’re made completely out of ribbons from the 1970s that were awarded to horses—they are good, neigh, great pants. A long duster jacket was made out of a satin the Bode team based on a bedroom curtain from the ‘20s.
The new collection was inspired by Bode’s family’s history in the circus. She held onto the concept, she said, waiting until the season when she could execute it properly. And, in many ways, the show was an evolution for Bode: it was the designer’s first runway show and her first time showing in Paris after several mobbed presentations in New York. The clothes, too, were more willing to play nice with logos, something Bode wants to do only in small doses, even if she knows her customers want it. Those changes suggest a designer deftly nailing the high-wire act that is expanding a beloved brand while holding close the qualities that made it special in the first place.
Congrats on an awesome show.
Thank you. I’m super excited about it. I’ve wanted to do this collection for a while based on this narrative.
So you’ve had this idea bubbling in your head for a little bit?
Yeah, I just didn’t know how I would be able to execute it properly. It went from being a fall collection to being a spring collection. I was thinking about it a lot and I went down to Sarasota, Florida, to the Ringling Museum and met with the head archivist and it all came together from there and I felt like we were ready to execute it.
Can you tell me about the circus inspiration and where that came from?
There was always this story that my grandfather’s great-great uncle, this man named Albert—I guess that would make me like the great-great-great-great niece four times removed—was the president and founder of the Bode Wagon Company. This collection kind of follows this familial narrative of the commission that they did for Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers circus over the years.
The photographs of their workshop are so unbelievable: they make these ornate tableaus of animals and dreamscapes, and it’s really beautiful to imagine the kind of world the workshop brought to life after being introduced to the circus. It’s really interesting going from functional wagons or bandwagon to circus wagons that would take people and performers across the United States. So that was the starting point. Then looking at the performance culture and working with the archivists down at Ringling Brothers to look at how people’s lives were affected by this circus.
Was this circus something that’s always been part of your life or did you kind of stumble upon this history recently?
Yeah, I mean, in as much as we went yearly, which I always thought was normal. But I guess a lot of my friends or even my fiance, for example, he’s never been to the circus before and now I feel like the circus isn’t around, or at least the circus as I knew it isn’t around. And it is pretty magical that I was able to experience that as a kid.
In the course of this process, did you start to feel that there were a lot of overlaps between what you were researching in regards to the circus and fashion somehow?
No, not necessarily, But I love the idea of American craftm and a lot of these people on the road were making their own costume. And that’s why I wanted to involve a lot of these really historical appliques. It was important to me to reimagine from that specific time period the kinds of quilts and patchworks and what they’d be looking at. And one thing that really struck me while looking at these images with the archivists were the jockeys. You’ll see one outfit [on the runway] was made entirely of 1970s horse ribbons.
It’s a beautiful idea—the same as making quilts from something you have around in your home, that wouldn’t have been made out of necessity. It’s not to keep warm. It was just this really beautiful thing to make. I rode horses as a kid and I have all my show ribbons in bins in my parents’ storage. And it’s like, what do you do with these things? To make some beautiful craft or costume to wear or adorn your body with is very interesting.
And season after season, it’s really important to continue to dive deeper into some of the fabrics that I’ve collected and worked with over the years. Like a few seasons ago, I worked with this fabric that I bought at a flea market in Paris—it’s a 1920s curtain. And I could only make one garment out of that, right? Because it was just quite a small bedroom curtain. And then this season we were able to reproduce it in a satin and we made two pants styles; three jackets, including a full suit, a duster, and a workwear-style jacket. And I think that’s what scaling and growing the business is all about: being able to revisit some of these ideas that I had that I couldn’t have executed in the first season.
Then also continuing to play on our signature items, like our patchworks and our embellishments. We have these khaki trousers that we sell quite a bit of, and for the collection last season we had a khaki shirt that had all these Cracker Jack charms and macrame beads on it. So this season we brought it in as a tote bag. That’s what building the brand is about at this point: bringing all of our classics back in new silhouettes and new categories each season.
What was the decision like to leave New York and go to Paris to show?
It’s timing in a lot of ways. It was really important for me to be around and presenting and with the buyers and the press that are so supportive of us. 50% of my business is in Europe alone. They weren’t able to come to past New York shows. It’s still really important for me to be a New York brand, and an American brand, and we live and work in New York. I’m trying to bring manufacturing back in-house and in New York and I’m a huge advocate for that. But in terms of the actual selling process and being able to represent our world, it’s important to be able to show it on an international scale,
What was it like putting together your first runway show?
It was a learning experience this season, because you have to time it down to the music—and, working how we work, we don’t know the total look count probably until the night before the show. Things change and stuff gets dropped, or maybe an outfit didn’t make it or whatever. But it was really cool and it just came together and I think we were able to still evoke that narrative and still evoke an emotive response from people at the shows like we do with our presentations. I believe that it still worked.
What was the idea behind the models walking at such a slow pace?
It felt more natural to me. I wanted it to feel like you were strolling with your best friend through the streets, or through a park, and it’s summertime. It just felt natural to me to walk slow and to enjoy yourself. And I think why people enjoyed our presentations so much is because our clothing is less about drastic silhouettes and more about fabrication. So for our models to walk fast wouldn’t make sense for the brand. We have such a focus on the stitching, and the applique, and all the quilting and hand paintings on the jackets and things. So if you walk really slow, people are able to capture it not only with their phones but also capture it internally. They can look at it and really understand what the collection is about, they can read the show notes, they can enjoy themselves and step away. That is how I’ve always looked at our presentations: Come on, step away from your public life and look more internally.
That’s such a strange thing to have to consider, though. Such a small detail to think about—“I’m going to have the models slow down.” Is that something that you knew from the beginning or did you start running through the presentation and you realized, Actually, we need to have them walk slower?
No, for sure. It was like, if we’re gonna do a runaway, they have to walk like at a snail’s pace. The models are so used to people being like, “Walk as fast as you can.” But for us it was like, “Imagine you’re smoking a cigarette and enjoying a conversation with friends.”
The other thing that felt new from a design perspective was that there was more emphasis on the branded logo pieces. Was there thought to putting your name and the brand name out there more?
Not necessarily. I’m not a big fan of logos. For this collection in particular it worked because what was initially on those collegiate flags [that Bode sourced from her paternal grandfather who went to Yale], where that inspiration came from, it would say, like, Princeton and it felt natural to put Bode there. So some of the words are like Albert and Einrich, and Henry, and it’s all my paternal family names.
The [blue logo] sweater I loved because it’s a nod to, like, a souvenir sweatshirt of a soda company. So not necessarily trying to be logo-centric in that way. It just felt natural as we were designing this collection.
Our customers enjoy it because nothing else is really branded, so to have an Anorak or a zip-up Bermuda rain jacket, it totally makes sense to have it branded. I’m less a fan of branding on button-down shirts. We don’t do too many T-shirts. So I think we’re still very much not a logo-centric brand.
When you started the brand a couple of years ago, was this always the dream to work up to a runway show in Paris?
People are asking that, like, “Was it a dream to show in Paris?” I don’t know. It’s hard to think about. I mean, of course it would be a dream, but it’s not… I think it’s just a dream to be where we are in general. I think it’s part of our growth as a brand. I don’t think that it’s because it’s Paris, I think it’s because the menswear culture we’re in right now and the way that the buyers and press are buying and talking about companies and menswear brands.
What do you mean when you talk about the current menswear culture?
I think it’s just gone through a few different iterations. Different brands focus obviously on different methods of selling and structuring their business. But for us, I thoroughly enjoy selling direct to consumer and having our private clients and a large part of that comes, which is kind of ironic in a way, but it comes from having wholesale. So the larger our wholesale, is the more private clients we have. And it’s working right now, so I want to continue to sell to all of these partners.
Do you think it’s a good time to be in the business of selling menswear?
Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if you were to look at the McKinsey report with Business of Fashion or something. But I think as long as you have a really strong story to tell and you are really intense in telling that story, I think you could be successful at whatever brand you start.
Yeah, it finally seems—and this is how it’s been in womenswear for a long time—like there’s room for every sort of brand to breathe. Off-White can thrive and, on the other end of the spectrum, so can Bode.
That’s something that I’ve learned going through this competition with the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund and now LVMH. You go to these events where you see, like Donna Karan saying hi to Tom Ford or something and you’re like, Okay, they all exist. Or her and Ralph Lauren. There’s room for so many brands. You just have to have a really intentional narrative. And it’s not necessarily a competition.
Like Off-White, that customer is so far removed from our customer. I’m sure that there’s a few guys that own both, but it would never be a competition with a brand like that.
How are you feeling now that you have your first runway show in the books?
Exhausted. Over the course of this call, my whole team has slowly gone to sleep. One by one they’re saying bye and motioning to me, putting their hands in the pillow form.
Source : Cam Wolf Link