The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Quilts, All The Fashion
Is this jacket by designer Isabel Marant supposed to look like a quilt? Because it does, and I am waiting for it to go on sale. Image: Pinterest screenshot..
Every once in awhile, when clicking through my favorite online shopping retailers—surely I must be one of their favorite customers by now—I come across a work of fashion I feel I must have.
Never mind that I don’t “need” whatever shoe or dress has come over the internet transom. Let’s be honest: A decade could pass, probably, before I would need to add any clothing or shoes to my collection—er, closet. But when I see this particular kind of fashion item, it feels so necessary that it should become mine I feel almost wronged if I am unable to procure it. (More on that in a minute.)
The fashion I’m talking about is any kind that features the patchwork quilt as its inspiration. You’ve seen it. Fashion that pulls from the world of the quilt is nothing new. In the 1950s, Pucci did it. In the 60s and 70s, Adolfo. Ralph Lauren did it in the 1980s. And it’s around now, obviously, since I’m seeing quilt-steeped fashion offered at online fashion retailers.
There are as many examples of this as there are different items of clothing. Perhaps I squeal over a coat printed in a Log Cabin pattern or a shoe might feature a Crazy quilt motif. There are scarves printed with geometric patterns that, even if the designer didn’t do it on purpose, look like many half-square or quarter-square triangles.
Investigating the relationship between quilts and fashion is one of my favorite topics; I’ve got an enormous research file on the matter at this point and one day, perhaps I’ll write a big book about it. As far as I know, there are no books about quilts and fashion; if there were one, I’d have read it. Perhaps my boundless curiosity for the topic is due to the personal connection I have to both sides of it: My favorite “look” is wearing some fabulous black cashmere sweater…with a few loose threads and maybe a dog ear sticking to it.Detail, Pucci print from last year. If that’s not quilts in fashion, I don’t know what is! Also, please someone buy me whatever this is. Image: Screenshot..
With me, though, a cigar cannot just be a cigar and a quilt is never “just” a quilt. If patchwork quilts—and I’m specifically talking about the wholesale lifting of quilt block motifs and classic patterns—are used in designer fashion, that means something. It means a lot of things, from where I sit, and I think anyone interested in quilts in the broader culture will enjoy ruminating on it, too.
For fashion, using quilts is a signifier that the designer is…down to earth? Paying homage to Americana? Or is the designer having a laugh at our expense, being ironic about the crossover of the quilt from the farm to the city? Maybe it’s all these things. Whatever it is, fashion likes quilts.
For quilts, surfacing in fashion means that once again, their relevance in pop culture is secure. It proves the enduring brilliance and versatility of patchwork; macramé shows up far less often at Fashion Week, trust me. Quilts in fashion also make people like me exceedingly happy, but this is the least of it—or is it? I am the customer, after all. If profits are the bottom line for a fashion brand and I keep clicking on patchwork jackets I can’t afford but buy anyway…hey’ll keep making patchwork jackets.
These Coach shoes recall Crazy quilts, or maybe just quilts, full stop. Image: Screenshot, Coach.com..
Most of the clothes I want—quilty or otherwise—I cannot afford. My mother has said for years that I can walk into absolutely any clothing store and, without looking at the pricetag or having any prior knowledge of the merchandise, march directly up to the most expensive thing in the place and declare my desire for it. I pass up so much fashion that communicates my love for quilts and I will never try to make a facsimile: The world does not need me making quilted pants.