For her 20th anniversary, New York designer Rachel Comey staged a full-on happening at Spring Studios, a celebration of movement choreographed by contemporary dance and performance artist Beth Gill.
With the New York skyline in the floor-to-ceiling windows behind them, dancers wriggled out of rolling office chairs, communed on floor cushions, worked together to assemble a sawhorse, and slip in and out of dresses, exchanging outfits. It was a raw, relevant, vibrant scene.
“We were having a dialogue about intimacy and the things we missed this past year and a half,” said the Brooklyn designer with a strong connection to the New York art world. “Everyone across the globe is in a reflective moment, so it makes sense.”
It was a joy to watch, as were the clothes. Comey remixed new and old pieces, as part of a partnership with peer-to-peer resale site Recurate.
“We started with men’s wear, so we brought some of that back, working with the dancers and models to tell the story of recycling, respecting something that might seem old, and looking at it from new eyes,” the designer said. “I can’t tell you how many people tell me about pieces they’ve lost or left it somewhere, and we don’t do massive quantities so it’s hard to find them again. I love that piece of the puzzle.”
Worn by all genders, neon crocheted knits, comics patterns from a past season and psychedelic prints on camp shirts and easy pants, back-laced upcycled jeans, tinsel shorts and fab fringe suede ponchos were among the standout “special casual clothes,” as Comey calls them, in a collection that refreshingly didn’t take itself too seriously. And when the entire cast stood as one, swaying back and forth, it really was a perfect metaphor for the shifting times.
“I have always loved how people communicate through their clothing. That was something I was curious about,” said Comey of getting into the fashion business. “I have always also been into art, and studied sculpture, and by the time I was in my late 20s, I saw all these elements coming together.”
Comey was recently tapped to design a fall collection for Target, her first mass market collaboration.
“I have an incredible team there and it’s been really lovely. I like to focus on interesting, ambitious, busy women.…So many of them fell out of the workforce this year. So we have been thinking [about] how we can outfit them going back to work, looking for work, changing up their life. The price point is $15 to $80 and the size range is really broad.”
Like it has been for most designers, navigating the pandemic has been a roller coaster, said Comey, who in the earliest days of the shutdown gathered her family together to help sell past season clothes she had stored in her garage, as part of an online sample sale.
“I packed up boxes myself, wrote a little note to customers saying how much I liked their choice. They were buying sequins and flowers, even though it was a crazy pandemic and people were getting sick and dying. It gave me so much hope and meaning to think what I do brings joy to somebody and it matters.”
When the vaccine started rolling out, senior women were the first ones coming back to the store, said Comey, whose customers are of all ages. “These women hadn’t shopped in a year, and they were so excited. That set the stage for the months to come as people started getting back to their lives and events.…Now, we have to realize we’re living with Delta and people still have weddings and book tours. They still need clothes to make them feel good.”
Does she love the business as much now as she did 20 years ago?
“Well, it’s so different. I have learned a lot. There’s tons of more things to explore. I can’t believe I got to this point,” she said. “People are sending me pictures from 20 years ago, saying look how we’ve all aged. But I still feel like a kid on the inside.”