The designer Emily Adams Bode immediately made a mark in the fashion world when she debuted her first collection of quilted clothing in July 2016. Her jackets, pants, and shirts—made from antique fabrics like quilts, towels, and grain sacks—epitomized a new era in menswear, marked by an appreciation for handcrafted textiles and a buy-less and buy-better ethos. She was a 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and her pieces are worn by celebrities like Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, and Jeremy O. Harris. She is also considered a spearhead of fashion’s move toward “upcycled” clothing.
That level of popularity always begets a wave of imitators, and you can now find quilted coats at fast-fashion retailers like & Other Stories and ASOS, but also at designer e-commerce repositories like Matches. Vintage buyers have even hopped onto the trend—there are nearly 55,000 results for “quilt jacket” on Etsy—and other brands, like California’s 3 Women and Pentimento, have joined Bode in a sort of upcycled artisan textile movement, albeit at a smaller scale.
But when does coasting off a trend crossover into a copy? Earlier this week, a new brand called Stan, designed by a 23-year-old Californian named Tristan Detwiler, debuted its second collection at New York Fashion Week, with a number of pieces and a lookbook that bore a striking resemblance to Bode’s. Many of the quilted garments are cut into chore coat silhouettes and trousers like Bode’s. And it wasn’t just the quilted items that warranted comparison: Stan’s stenciled trousers recall Bode’s Senior Cords and grain sack pants, and the lookbook, showing beautiful young men lounging barefoot in a country house, echoed images from previous Bode lookbooks, especially Spring 2018’s. Gaze at the images alongside each other, and you’d struggle to realize you’re seeing two separate collections from two different designers.
Asked about the similarities between his work and Bode’s, Detwiler said by email that he is inspired by the work of a California women’s quilting circle he belongs to, and wrote:
“Discovering rare and unique textiles with rich historical origin stories is what creatively spurs me on. I am aware of the comparisons that have been made between my brand and others that preceded me, in particular, Bode. I believe that these comparisons on face value are easy to draw given our use of similar raw materials.
“It was never my intention to co-opt another brand’s aesthetic. I believe that my brand’s identity will always be rooted in the Southern California surf culture that I’m a product of. My hometown of San Diego is a coastal, barefoot Mecca for surfers. The idea behind the first quilted jacket I made was inspired by a ritual of wrapping myself with quilts on chilly mornings on the beach.
“I have the utmost respect for Bode, but feel that we are of different worlds. As of now, I do not have any plans to expand my business beyond the one-of-a-kind items I make myself. My love of quilts is not a passing fancy—my creative aim is to cherish each textile and honor its unique provenance. I request permission and the blessing from the curators and creators of the textiles. It is also important to me that I continue the sustainable and waste-less business model I committed to since day one.”
This is not the first time Stan has come under fire for seeming to copy Bode: in late January, a viral-for-fashion-Twitter thread, since deleted, compared a Bode jacket to a Stan jacket, both of which featured red houses patchworked across a white background.
Concerns around designer copying, especially in the United States, where copyright laws do not extend to fashion design, can seem like splitting hairs at a time when many menswear designers are competing for the well-tuned tastes of a niche audience. (Still, it was once the bread and butter of Diet Prada, and for a time the possibility of a call-out was enough to frighten designers as they were putting together collections). And a menswear tiff over the stewardship of new clothing made out of antique quilts, most of which cost upwards of $800, might strike some as unbearably twee (a bit like November’s fracas over “tiny wooden stools”). It would also be incorrect to say that Bode was the first designer to make clothing from old quilts; in the ’60s and ’70s, the Cuban-American designer Adolfo created a number of gowns and skirts out of antique American quilts, including one famously worn by Gloria Vanderbilt and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Indeed, there are limited ways one can repurpose old materials, not to mention limited materials that can be repurposed. Might Stan’s collection simply herald the emergence of an upcycling aesthetic? Could it be that there are countless white quilts stitched with little red houses, laying around deceased grandparents’ houses, waiting to be turned into the next great chore jacket?
But as the fashion industry continues to latch onto ethical trends with the same fervor it embraced streetwear and sneakers, more existential concerns emerge. Bode’s name has become synonymous with quilted clothing, and quilted clothing itself with the project at the heart of her work. On Wednesday, the New York Times published a warm review of Stan’s collection, in which Bergdorf Goodman’s Bruce Pask insisted that Stan could not exist without Bode: “You really can’t really talk about all this without coming back to Emily Bode and how she has managed to create economies of scale.” He was referring to the way that Bode has worked with fabric mills across the globe to create a full product offering that extends beyond one-off pieces, and has positioned her brand as a repository of history that encourages consumers to think of their clothing as objects to maintain rather than mere grails to cop. Each of her pieces is sold with a tag that explains the history of the source textile.
Given the imperative at the center of Bode’s work, such a direct facsimile in both appearance and intent feels particularly troubling. As Stan’s website reads, “Our sustainable mission is to breathe life into antique textiles, upscaling them into eccentric, one-of-a-kind handcrafted jackets. [Stan] aims to make clothes that are as interesting as they are conscientious.” Knocking off a brand’s aesthetic is part and parcel of the fashion industry. But knocking off another brand’s conscientious ethics feels like something else entirely. Call it spiritual greenwashing.
Detwiler’s website, as well as that of Rowing Blazers, which has sold the brand since last spring, repeatedly refer to his jackets as “one of a kind.” The material realities of using a quilt may mean that no piece is exactly like another. But making that distinction feels a little bit like pointing out the differences between two snowflakes—pretty, but almost impossible to notice.