September 26, 2022

LBB-Fashoin

Dress like a Boss

This Pioneering Streetwear Designer Is Making One-of-a-Kind “Outfits for Chairs”

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When Camella Ehlke founded her clothing label 555 Soul in 1989 out of a beat-up storefront in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the term streetwear didn’t really exist—and at the time, it certainly wasn’t a global $185-billion industry. The designer started sewing pieces made from dead stock fabrics, blending the colorful styles of New York hip-hop and California surf into one covetable downtown look. Her forward-looking streetwise clothes were embraced by the city’s hippest dressers: Rappers, DJs, skaters, taggers, artists, and the like. Before long, 555 Soul was stocked across the globe, and the label was selling millions of dollars of clothes a year.

Camella would go on to leave the label in 2004 after clashing with her business partner, and 555 Soul would slowly but surely fade away. Now, the designer is back with an entirely new project: Bringing her upcycled fashion ethos to the world of furniture. Hey What’s Up? was a project kick-started by a chat with the late barrier-breaking fashion designer Virgil Abloh, a longtime fan of 555 Soul, who shipped boxes of unused fabric from Milan to Brooklyn for Camella to use.

“I actually had this conversation with Virgil during the pandemic where I was like, Well, I don’t want to buy fabric. I don’t want to start a brand, I just want to start sewing and to make stuff,” Camella recalls. “So, he shipped me all of this dead stock. He was the first person I spoke to about working with overstock, and he was the first to say yes.”

A nod to Camella’s hoodie slipcover from 2001, this time made with Off-White sweatshirts.

A nod to Camella’s hoodie slipcover from 2001, this time made with Off-White sweatshirts.

Photo: Cynthia Edorh

Then, in November of last year, Virgil died at the age of 41 after privately fighting a rare form of cancer. Throughout his illustrious career, he was known as a relentless collaborator, a figure who jumped at the chance to work with those he admired. That was not lost on Camella. With yards and yards of fabric from his Off-White label in hand, she got to work.

Camella’s interest in decor led her to create a quirky collection of chairs featuring “wearables” made from overstock fabrics and recycled garments. Much like 555 Soul, the pieces mix and match bold patterns in a way that commands a second look. In doing so, Camella has flipped the antiquated slipcover on its head, refreshing the concept with a jolt of new energy and high-grade style. She jokingly shudders at the term slipcover, preferring to think of the collection as “one-of-a-kind outfits for chairs.”

A trio of vintage wrought iron ice cream chairs, wrapped in arresting patterns made from nylon shoelaces.

A trio of vintage wrought iron ice cream chairs, wrapped in arresting patterns made from nylon shoelaces.

Photo: Cynthia Edorh

Each piece is sewn in her Brooklyn apartment, not unlike how she’d sit in her Ludlow Street storefront at her sewing machine back in the day. The classic Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair (LCW) is at the center of the collection. There are three artful slips for the LCW, each with boldly printed Off-White fabrics that play off the chair’s unique curves and beloved silhouette.

Camella remembers a conversation she had with Virgil about this chair in particular. “It’s this piece of furniture everyone has, and there are even knockoffs everywhere now,” she explains. “Why not update it? And so I made clothing for it.”

Referencing a 555 Soul collection from 2001 where she had debuted a hoodie slipcover for a bucket chair, Camella has upped the ante, repurposing sweatshirts from the menswear label Noah to create a booming sculptural cover for a metal stacking chair.

Referencing a 555 Soul collection from 2001 where she had debuted a hoodie slipcover for a bucket chair, Camella has upped the ante, repurposing sweatshirts from the menswear label Noah to create a booming sculptural cover for a metal stacking chair.

Photo: Cynthia Edorh

Elsewhere in the collection are pleated nods to Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake and a homage to the hoodie, a staple garment of streetwear. Vintage metal chairs get puffed up into the realm of sculpture with sweatshirts from Off-White as well as Noah and Awake NY, two other labels founded by streetwear heavy hitters. Another design is a vintage iron ice cream parlor chair that has been covered in a colorful pattern made from sneaker shoelaces. The collection ranges in price from $1,800 to $5,800 and is available via Guilty by Association (GBA), a new digital art gallery of sorts focusing on inclusivity and community. (A portion of the sales from this collection will benefit One Love Community Fridge.)

In many ways, Virgil was the perfect partner for such a project. He was no stranger to lending his hand to make unique decor and furniture. He designed pieces for both Vitra and IKEA, remixing a beloved Jean Prouvé chair for the former and producing a Paul McCobb–inspired one for the latter. His Off-White label released its own furniture collection, full of utilitarian pieces made from stone, wood, and steel. “It’s only in fashion that you have the term streetwear,” Virgil told Architecture Digest back in 2019. “But to me, it’s an art movement that doesn’t just apply to fashion. It’s the contemporary way of making.”

With Camella’s latest project, she’s doing precisely that—blending iconic midcentury furniture, contemporary fashion, and streetwear sensibility into one. It is, indeed, a very contemporary way of making: A self-taught sewer using luxury fabric to outfit an iconic midcentury chair. It’s the kind of genre-blurring, decade-spanning collaboration that could only come from the world of streetwear. And never has a slipcover looked so hip.

The pocket has long been an obsessive detail for Camella’s fashions. This signature patchwork design makes use of a bold combination of colors and—you guessed it—pockets.

The pocket has long been an obsessive detail for Camella’s fashions. This signature patchwork design makes use of a bold combination of colors and—you guessed it—pockets.

Photo: Cynthia Edorh

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest



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