Fashion is a reflection of the way we live. Take a look at the heavy use of patchworking in the Spring 2021 collections: It's a combination of rediscovering homemade crafts and of adopting a make-do mentality with a shortage of supplies. Many designers were forced to flex their thrifty muscles if they wanted to exercise their creativity and self-expression during a year in lockdown, and their cobbled-together solutions will serve as future reminders of what the literal art of survival looked like in 2020. It also represents a continuation of a larger movement to use your excess to create something visually pleasing and new.
For Ella Wiznia, who founded the New York-based label The Series in 2016, repurposing pre-existing materials has been both a foundation and a guiding principle. What started as a personal preference for vintage denim has blossomed into a full-blown business that entered wholesale for the first time this spring.
Wiznia says she's always used clothing as a form of expression, but she didn't necessarily see fashion as something she would pursue as a career. In fact, she studied Urban Design and Architecture at NYU. She pictured a life working for the city.
While in high school, Wiznia was diagnosed with an eating disorder; she began noticing how many of the stores she shopped in would use imagery of models that exhibited signs of starvation. Feeling subconsciously targeted, Wiznia stopped supporting these brands and started thrifting instead.
"My family has always gone to estate sales and flea markets, and through that I was able to realize that everything we need already exists," says Wiznia, who's committed to solely wearing and working with found material. "Then, on a more personal level, my relationship with clothing my body was changing as I got my health back. I became super sensitive to different fabrics. One of the only things that I felt comfortable in was oversized Levi's."
A uniform of roomy jeans proved to get Wiznia's creative juices flowing: She picked up embroidery and started stitching old patches onto pants, as well as adding panels to lived-in pairs. One of memorable style featured a Nike "Just Do It"-inspired logo that says "Just Dump Him" splashed across the butt. Customization requests from friends followed. Wiznia willingly obliged, finding a sense of calm in the needlework.
Ready to debut her decorated denim to the world, Wiznia signed up for the Hester Street Fair — an open-air market on the Lower East Side of Manhattan known for its highly-curated assortment of local vendors — in 2016, as a sophomore in college. At that point, Wiznia'd been working with a public landscape designer and figured that would become her full-time job upon graduating. (The Series was in its passion project phase.) When she graduated in 2018, she met a stylist and began shadowing her on shoots, which led her to more assisting gigs. Then, the pandemic hit.
Like many twenty-somethings, Wiznia fled the city and wound up at her parent's place, where she was able to concentrate on taking The Series to the next level. "Spring/Summer is really our first official collection, where we're doing wholesale and have a whole lookbook" she says. "Before, I had just been making things and then putting them on the website. This is really like our first jump into a more streamlined calendar."
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Wiznia has established a very localized chain of production in Upstate New York, where she's been residing since the start of Covid-19. She first reached out to the community center in her town about a sewing program; they then put her in touch with two women who have a background in tailoring and have been helping her ever since. (She'll drop off things like old sleeping bags to make puffer jackets, for example.)
Pieces from The Series are a hodgepodge of upcycled materials sourced in a where-the-wind-blows manner and on online marketplaces like eBay. Wiznia finds many of the fabrics in person thanks to a network of antique furniture sources that her mom developed from being a seller. Otherwise, it's a bit of a scavenger hunt in finding and trying to salvage things that had a whole other life or purpose before, she says: "The material is really the essence of my inspiration, because everything has been created from found things. For example, I went to a flea market and I wasn't necessarily looking for a new way to do a tank top, but I found a cool Depression-era yoyo quilt that needed to be pieced together."
The vintage quilt went on to lend its magic to several key pieces in the Spring 2021 collection, such as a colorful tank midi dress ($190) and breathable denim pants ($260). Wiznia's favorite color is rainbow sprinkles, which certainly comes across in her early-aughts, flower-child work. Standout pieces include a groovy crochet granny tank dress made from square blankets ($160), a quilted short-sleeve button-down ($240) and denim cutoffs adorned with retro daisies ($140). Designed for a range of bodies, sizes run from a small to a 4XL. The Series is available for purchase on the brand's website, on sustainably-driven boutiques like New Classics and e-tailers that champion independent artists, like Ban.do.
The pieced-together clothes are a metaphor for the brand as a whole, Wiznia says: "It feels like it's just been a culmination of collecting all of these trinkets and things and beautiful people and contacts."
They're also a metaphor for life, especially in these messy times. Stitched together bit by bit, using sometimes damaged pieces, the whole can look like an amazing technicolor garment.