I grew up with things being telegraphed, including how you should feel. So I’m not trying to do that,” Greg Lauren said. “I’m just trying to give people permission to feel what they’re authentically feeling.” Surrounded by rows of distressed clothing and walls covered in sketches, Lauren sat composed. He is the nephew of Ralph Lauren and the son of Jerry Lauren, who headed up men’s design for the family business. Lauren’s family played a significant role in American culture through the latter decades of the 20th century and, through clothing and advertising, shaped the goals and aspirations of an entire generation. Early on, he learned the close ties between clothing and identity.
“I was taught about heroic figures, often through photographs, and within that, their style, their sense of self or their confidence, because of what they were wearing,” Lauren said. Garments played a quintessential role in creating an identity for a generation that grew up without a major war. “I grew up being taught that if I was up early enough and understood the beauty of a perfect military jacket that I found at six a.m. at the Rose Bowl or at Brimfield or in the corner of Canal Street Army Navy, that was my victory,” Lauren said. “And I had earned whatever that garment was endowed with because I recognized its greatness, even if I didn’t do any of it.” Lauren’s close examination of clothing then shifted when he began to contemplate how manufactured images affected his own life.
Garments played a quintessential role in creating an identity for a generation that grew up without a major war.
“I started to be fascinated when the life and the world of my family, as portrayed in images and ads, started to almost become caricatures of themselves,” he said. “Where the tension began for me is when I found myself playing the part, which was not authentic to me, personally.” In response, Lauren — a trained artist — created works with pop-culture heroes like Batman and Superman in unpretentious settings. “I started to get interested in the pain beneath the beauty, the weakness and vulnerability behind the strength,” he said. A series of work titled I Do made strong comments on the plight of sex trafficking victims, but many critics felt the expression was not authentic. “Everyone is so intent on telling me who I am; I have to take a look at who they think I am,” Lauren said. “So I decided to make all this clothing out of paper just to see what it made me feel. That was the first time I really turned the microscope on my own life.”
In 2009, after teaching himself to sew with the help of a costume maker in L.A., Lauren put together an exhibition called Alteration. He constructed more than 50 iconic menswear garments from fragile, Japanese paper. “When I set out to do the pieces in paper, I called it an interrogation, but in reality I was simultaneously honoring and destroying the very things I had been taught to love, the heroes I had been given to appreciate,” Lauren said.
Garments frequently mix high and low — suit jackets and army canvas, bomber jackets and distressed denim.
“In order to do that, I had to build them first, and get to know them in a way that I hadn’t before. I had only known clothing from the outside in, and that was part of the problem.” After putting together the exhibition, Lauren began to connect with clothing in a new way. He made himself an unstructured jacket from the drop cloth in his studio, and began to experiment with construction and materials, questioning the implications of identity, heritage and memory. “Clothing was my window into looking at ourselves, starting with myself.”
Lauren’s clothing is purposefully pieced together and expertly tailored. Garments frequently mix high and low — suit jackets and army canvas, bomber jackets and distressed denim. His collections conjure up images of the romanticized nomad and the post-apocalyptic journeyman. When creating a new piece of clothing, he relies on memory and emotion to dictate his designs. “I’m going to use what I remember about it and what it makes me feel,” he said. Many of his garments alter classic pieces through juxtaposition, a representation of the complexity present within everyone. “By repurposing images, I do know that I often am using things that universally mean something to people.” His designs incorporate emotion and nostalgia, including the way a lapel crinkles after years of wear and how mended pockets hang askew.
“In my artwork and my clothing, if there was one thing that I could shoot for, I’d much rather have someone feel something than think something,” Lauren said. “In a perfect world, you get both.”
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