Emily Adams Bode wasn’t quite the opening act of Paris Men’s Fashion Week — she had the second slot on Day One — but it was one of the most highly anticipated.
Editors rolled up to see the New York-based designer, who was recently crowned with the CFDA’s Emerging Designer of the Year award, and who is also among the eight finalists competing for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers.
Bode decided to make her runway debut in the French capital since most of her buyers are in Europe and Japan, but her theme couldn’t have been more homegrown: the collection was inspired by her family’s history as wagonmakers for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the early 1900s.
A circus theme is notoriously tricky, but Bode kept it well-grounded in her delicate vintage sensibility, with whimsical details such as childlike drawings on corduroy shorts, crochet tops and a pajama suit made of horse-show ribbons, inspired by the homemade costumes of circus performers.
Like the ringmaster of her own eclectic menagerie, she trotted out a mashup of styles: ballet flats, worn with a striped sateen suit or beige workman overalls; patchwork tops, including one made of colorful jockey silks; tent-stripe jackets and coats, or a suede welding jacket.
The designer dipped into her bag of vintage treasures to add quirky accessories such as a Plexiglas moth brooch, or an eerie 19th-century mesh mask used in Odd Fellows fraternity rituals. And was that gray suede cap with the floppy ties a sideways nod to Tim Burton’s remake of “Dumbo”?
Bode started out producing one-of-a-kind clothing from antique fabrics, including Victorian quilts, old grain sacks and French bed linens from the Twenties. She has adapted her production methods as she grows her three-year-old men’s brand, which is now carried by around 50 retailers worldwide.
“Everything that you see on the runway is technically reproduced or reproducible,” she explained, noting that the opening look — a striped duster coat — was based on a Twenties curtain fabric she bought in Paris two years ago, which she had replicated by a U.S. mill.
“What I’m most intrigued by is taking those historical techniques and really going more in-depth with the processes of making them and being able to produce them in our way,” Bode said.
With its cast of gangly models proceeding at a glacial pace, the show could have used a bit more big-top energy. But the front-row presence of NBA stars P.J. Tucker and Rudy Gay suggested Bode’s Olde Worlde sportswear aesthetic is ready to break out onto a bigger stage.