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THE UNDRESSING: JOHN PATRICK ORGANIC
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

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Eco Fashion World: Where are you now? Can you describe the environment that surrounds you as you’re answering these questions?

John Patrick: I am in my studio in Brooklyn Heights - it’s an old carriage house that I am living and working in because a friend who is a model gave me the keys last summer. She knew I needed a place in the city. I am so grateful to be working here. It’s always here - we have a new intern that just started who is very lively. I was shooting a black and white last month and one wall is covered with black and white stencils I did. I am digging up the 1910-2010 relations for the next collection. Time and archeology play a big role in our work here. Sometimes it feels like a slapstick movie in my studio. You never know who or what will turn up. There are a bunch of houseplants that seem very happy also. At the kitchen table I paint watercolors - I had been using black china ink and recently have switched to "Antwerp blue"- it’s an amazing quality of blue ranges.

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SPRING 2008
EFW: You were raised macrobiotic, grew up soaking the cultural revolution of the 60’s, lived on a commune on the Hudson River in the early 70’s yet were inspired to become a designer by reading about Halston and leafing through W. How did it all come together to inspire the creation of John Patrick Organic (which launched in 2007)? Tell us about the journey that brought you to where you are today.

JP: People always say I should write a book. Living and hanging out in a series of old farmhouses and abandoned buildings was sort of “de rigueur” for my friends and myself in the 1970's. Designer clothes were only a dream. We took what we loved from the past like cat eye glasses and pointed shoes and mixed it up, people then told us we were "punk" - I had a little store called the stolen kiss in the 1970's in Saratoga Springs with a great friend and we just filled it with stuff from the thrift shop. We would sell the clothes that we wore off of our backs. In 1982 I designed my first hat collection and Barneys bought it, then I spent the next 20 years figuring out how to make clothing.

I have never worked for any "designers". I bought an old farm in the late 1980's and would spend a lot time there growing things in between working in NYC. Finally by 2003 we moved out of NYC and just lived "upstate" - I got an abandoned warehouse building in Albany New York for all of our junk (archives) from all of those years and my friend Gerard said "paint it white" so we did, and then we started to work. Walter, my partner, is very organized with desks and papers and stuff, he fixed it up and Jessica came and started to help. Then we got more and more serious about designing the clothes and I went to South America, to Lima in Peru, to develop fabrics and embroideries and bags and even got someone to make organic sneakers. Finally, we started to "show" during fashion week, a very small organic collection, and people liked what we were making. It all happened very naturally with a lot of creativity and a million ideas floating around.

EFW: What kind of challenges did you encounter in starting your ethical fashion label? You first started doing shirts out of organic cotton bed sheets when you couldn’t find organic shirting material, do you think some of those challenges actually became inspirations for staples of your collection?

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FALL 2008

JP: There were literally no fabrics to select. There was no reason to visit Premier Vision in Paris back in 2003 because NO ONE was showing anything organic except for a few yarn companies. The 1st real great organic "collection" from a mill was from AVANTI in JAPAN. I found them even before they showed in Paris. They use Texas organic cotton for many of their fabrics.

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RESORT 2009
Chronologically I actually was showing "organic" in Paris in 2005 at the Vendome Show. Carole De Bona, the organizer, was an early supporter and believer in the collection as was Penelope (a store in Italy, Brescia). I just begged the mills and factories to make fabrics and yarns and learned as much as I could from everyone, be it the Organic Exchange or archeologists. I still learn something every day that helps us make a better product. The challenges for sure made me design things from a very clear point of view. My design process is pretty rigorous and demanding. Things have to hold up over time. We kick around the fabrics and wash them and talk about them as if they were car parts or something.

EFW: The UN has declared 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibers. Your collection seems to be mostly made of such fibers. I read a very interesting interview you did for Sprig where you talk about how you discovered that organic cotton can actually GROW in different colors like purple and green or that you can make denim form blue corn. You’re also a big supporter of organic Vermont wool, you use flax that you grow yourself as well as recycled natural fabrics. How do you find these natural fibers?

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SPRINGSUMMER 2009
JP: Random accidents have led me to some of the most interesting developments that I have discovered. Agrarian culture has the power now. I’m increasingly looking to the farmers and the keepers of the land for inspiration. I met a woman named Senoia Cespedes from the Peruvian Amazon a few years back and we spent a year growing "jungle cotton" with 10 farmers. We used it to make men’s tee shirts. Some of the customers complained that "It was too rough"; these modern people are too soft is my answer to that! I am using the yarn again this season for men and I’m only offering it to the Japanese clients. The Japanese have an incredible sensitivity and appreciation of my work. I keep telling everyone I’m going to move there!

EFW: Generally speaking, how would you describe the style of John Patrick Organic? What are your art and design inspirations? Who are your icons?

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SPRINGSUMMER 2009
JP: John Patrick organic style is individual and irreverent. We are making modern work wear. Sensible clothing that is beautiful and affordable and ethical and transparent. It is what it is.

I am fascinated by Swoon and Elbow Toe and the whole group of "street artists". Also C215 from Paris. They are amazing visually and Swoon has a place in Braddock Pittsburgh, which is right near an amazing organic community garden that I visited last summer. That was when I became aware of Swoon and her work. I think she is one of the most powerful artists working in the world today. My design inspirations are quite varied. It really depends on what gets thrown in front of me at the moment. But I am quite strict in my adherence to my self-set "rules" - I also love the work of Jacques Fath and Charles James from a sentimental point of view. I think it is of the utmost importance that we still allow ourselves to dream.

I would say my icons would be Joseph Beuys, Mother Theresa, Gertrude Stein, Germaine Krull, St. Francis, Pasolini, Tina Moddotti. Off of the top of my head.

EFW: Your latest collection “American Gothic”, was greatly inspired by the 30’s and the challenges facing us as we’re trying to “reboot the system”, how do you reconcile moving forward in fashion and embracing a simpler lifestyle? Tell us about “masstige”.

JP: Moving forward in fashion is about paring away what isn’t relevant anymore. It’s the undressing now. A simpler lifestyle becomes more about local things and food and questioning where things come from, how they were made. The design process itself, for me, is about the satisfaction at the end of the day. “What is it that we want from this? “ is a really good question to ask ourselves.

The anti-masstige is happening in Bushwick Brooklyn as we speak. More art galleries than coffee shops.

The masstige is the constant upbuilding of things we don’t need such as coffee shops that are cookie cutter and not “independently” owned, where you walk in and they are trying to sell you “gifts” and CDs when all you really want is a cup of coffee. These places need to be avoided as they are hazardous to local economies. Knowing exactly what you are supporting when you are shopping is extremely important. The collapse of a vast landscape of retail is happening as we speak. We should make sure that we replace and rebuild only what we can support and what is needed. Community arts + local foods + crafts = a sustainable environment that has meaning, where people can actually be proud. The effect of the masstige collapse can be felt around the world now, which is even more profound. As textile mills in Pakistan were forced to shut down at the beginning of January, a factory owner threatened to light himself on fire instead of letting go of 3000 employees. Because of lack of demand for goods and the astronomical increase in fuel and power costs and because the “west” is not ordering as much, increased yield has not made for an increased quality of life, sometimes less is more (see WWD, Jan 6th 2009, cover story: Mr Ul Haq).

JPO-THUMBNAIL.gif EFW: How did the CFDA nomination change things for you? If you had won, could you have seen yourself doing something like a JPO for Target collection like Rogan Gregory did after his CFDA win?

JP: I am incredibly honored by the VOGUE-CFDA nomination. It has brought me an incredible amount of recognition and for the entire "organic" movement as well. There are endless possibilities in the fashion world and that is what makes it so much fun to be a privileged position such as mine. I am thankful for all of the opportunities that are presented to me. I would love to be able to do a LOCALLY MADE REGIONAL PRODUCT for Target, produced within a 300 mile radius (for each store) and locally sourced.

Maybe all washed and laundered vintage with lots of hand embroidery and patchwork? Lets do it!

EFW: How do you see your label evolving in the future?

JP: The John Patrick Organic main collection will always my laboratory of ideas. I never want that to change. I am launching a new collection in a few weeks called simply "ORGANICPLAYA", which means beach. I have designed it to be sold constantly and never marked down. We always have summer somewhere and I love the idea of the perfect beach hat brought home and worn in the garden in autumn. Its a small capsule collection and I have even designed one beach towel that can, of course, be used at home. It's also meant for the new specialty retailers that are popping up who sell beautiful things for the home such as pottery and plants and even flowers. There is a store in Brooklyn called GRDN on Hoyt Street that inspired me to really push forward with this collection.

I would like to be able to support many farmers in remote places so that they may participate in the 21st century interest in all things organic and agrarian. We need to support individual farmers through fashion and think of the entire supply chain and who it really is feeding.

Comments (3)Add Comment
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written by susan cole, January 22, 2009
He mentions 'masstige' and how "these places need to be avoided as they are hazardous to local economies." The masstige example in fashion is the department store which is killing independent retail. And guess what, John Patrick sells to department stores and then talks about wanting to help the little guy. don't be fooled, he's just another phony.
Are department stores that bad?
written by Aaron J Handford, January 22, 2009
Are department stores that bad? Do you mean Wallmart? I have issues with that store, but department stores in general seem to fit a need in cities... Do you think the wage is lower in department stores?
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written by Me, May 02, 2009
I understand the issue with John Patrick selling to major chain corporations - because they have a negative effect on independent businesses. However, I also understand the importance of making an organic and ethically made product highly available in a market that severely lacks it. And, fortunately, consumers always have the choice of shopping locally. I recently bought an Organic John Patrick leather jacket at Tula in Chicago, a small boutique.

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