This post was originally published on sothebysrealty.com
Emily Adams Bode hadn’t planned to revolutionize menswear. Not at first.
When looking for work after college, one interviewer informed her she’d be the only woman in the menswear design room, and he wasn’t quite sure it would work. “It’s crazy to think—it wasn’t that long ago,” she says, laughing. “He was just being honest. But that conversation couldn’t happen today.”
There are women—like Donatella Versace, Stella McCartney, or Givenchy’s former creative director Clare Waight Keller—who gain acclaim for their men’s collections. Those rare outliers tend to be womenswear designers who slide into menswear. Rarer still are the women who design for men—and men only.
Of those, Bode (that’s BOH-dee) is arguably leading the pack. She won U.S. fashion’s prestigious CFDA emerging artist award in 2019, and now her cult brand is breaking out and scaling up in a way that has surprised, and impressed, many in the industry.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Bode, 31, spent childhood summers in her parents’ native New England. In a tech-obsessed era, she loved sewing, quilting, and antiquing. She attended The New School, graduating with a dual degree in menswear design from Parsons and philosophy from Eugene Lang College.
After interning at Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren, she launched her own brand, Bode, in 2016. It started small, with crafty, embroidered, limited-edition garments made on upcycled and recycled fabrics, from patchwork quilts to deadstock denim, scored at vintage shops from Atlanta to Cape Cod to Paris. Think old-timey workwear silhouettes, but with an of-the-moment gender-casual vibe.
Bode today offers a vibrant mix of bowling shirts and beaded rugby shorts (around $425), horse-blanket cardigans (yes, made from blankets, $1,275) and corduroy jackets inspired by Boy Scout “jac-shirts,” complete with vintage patches ($2,100). It’s a look sought-after by trendsetting celebs (Harry Styles, Jay-Z) and high-end retailers (Bergdorf Goodman, Ssense.com). Bode recently took time out with RESIDE® to talk about two passions—vintage clothing and sustainability.
Let’s hit the obvious question first. Why menswear? Men design for women all the time but women don’t usually design for men.
Yeah, and no one questions it. In school, no one asks the guys, hmm, why womenswear? But people ask me all the time.
Are you sick of the question?
No. I understand. Fashion has largely been a men’s club. Women have done well in menswear, especially in the U.K., but not many Americans. As for me, I don’t know—I’ve always been attracted to menswear. I’d saved my grandfather’s bowties, and I was obsessed with my dad’s style. He doesn’t believe in blue jeans, and only wears khakis to garden. The vintage I’ve collected is primarily menswear—sweaters, uniforms, 1940s athletic clothes. And I always liked dressing my boyfriends. To make a men’s collection felt like I was creating a world for someone. It was a challenge. And that intrigued me.
Why are you so drawn to vintage?
It’s this idea of preservation. As a kid, I’d go to these big antique and flea markets they’d have in the South—like Scott Antique Markets [based in Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio]. I’d listen to people selling things that would otherwise be discarded. I thought, if I don’t take it and tell the story, what’s going to happen to it? I collected out of fear. Even my own family heritage—I record conversations and…oral histories that would otherwise be completely forgotten.
Is there a “Bode man”?
Some people like the prints, maybe they want a fun shirt for a wedding. A lot of guys would come [to the Bode shop in Chinatown]—pre-Covid, of course—shopping for an event or vacation. Others love the fabrics’ history. They soak it up. We also make custom suits for weddings, and trousers for work. People know our quilts and embroideries but we have shirts in antique white linen or 1940s plaids that work well in more traditional environments. [She chuckles.] It’s not all eyelet and scalloped edges.
It seems the fashion industry was just starting to tackle sustainability—evaluating supply chains, incorporating recycled fabrics. Then came the pandemic, and financial crisis. Are you worried brands will put off sustainability efforts, claiming they just can’t afford it right now?
I think that’ll happen, but people will be held accountable for it. The way we’re making things today is much more intentional. So while brands might want to skimp on that, and they may get away with it for the next five years, they won’t for the next 10. Because the people within these organizations [are concerned]. If it’s not sustainable fabrics, then maybe it’s working with a women-owned factory, or reducing a carbon footprint.
So sustainability may not be driven top-down but bottom-up. You sound optimistic.
We have a much bigger worldview now. There’s a cultural shift happening. And the people who make up these companies, I don’t know…it’s going to be extremely important to them to work for organizations that believe in better processes.