A Fifth Avenue penthouse might be the last place you’d expect to spot thrift store treasures, but thanks to designer, Cate Brown, and her new line of pillows made from repurposed designer garments, bargain finds have never been chicer. We caught up with Brown and her newly appointed creative director, Dean Sidaway, to discuss why “green” is the new black.
DESIGNOW: Dean, you have a full-time gig as a professor at the Pratt Institute. How did you and Cate meet?
CATE: Our mutual friend, Tom, is an owner of the boutique Maison 10 on Fifth Avenue. Dean and I discovered that we shared an interest in sustainable design so we bonded over that.
DESIGNOW: Certainly there’s a big conversation in the fashion industry surrounding sustainability but it seems to be to a lesser extent in the interiors space.
CATE: Definitely, and obviously he’s a fashion designer and I’m an interiors person but we were discussing textile waste. Popping into places like Housing Works I began noticing the incredible volume of these amazing jackets and really thinking about the life cycle of the garment. The raw materials of say, a Chanel boucle coat are just incredible. And while donating unwanted clothing is admirable, when you begin to do research you realize that thrift stores only sell about 20% of their inventory--so what happens to the other 80? So I started thinking about how to reimagine them as luxury cushions.
DEAN: It’s true, and there have been times when we’re on the subway together and Cate’s nudging me to check out someone’s jacket because she thinks it could make a great pillow! And if more of us could see the value in things beyond their original intended use, there would be so much less waste. I came to a project of Cate’s on Park Avenue and seeing how she turned a $15 turquoise Ann Taylor skirt into a two striking toss pillows was incredible.
DESIGNOW: And so many people are overwhelmed by the generally packed racks that dominate the vintage shopping experience that they can’t envision doing something like this.
DEAN: Exactly. And just because a certain silhouette is no longer in style shouldn’t mean that a garment has no future, so we’re happy to open people’s eyes to the possibilities.
DESIGNOW: Do you tend to let the garments speak to you? And I imagine for decorator fabrics you’re looking for things that are fairly durable like tweeds?
CATE: Exactly, we buy quite a lot of the heavier wools and mens suiting. You can find unbelievably high quality fabrics for $15-$20. And all of the little details such a leather trims, buttons and pockets give them even more of a personality. To be clear it’s not so literal as that; they don’t resemble little jackets but it’s more about celebrating the details. And the Atelier line includes Chanel, Burberry, Hermes, you name it, so that a luxury garment can evolve into a luxury homegood. There are 52 micro seasons in fashion per year--what happened to four? Enough is enough.
DESIGNOW: So many people hold onto unworn garments for sentimental reasons. Have you ever had anyone reach out about custom commissions?
CATE: It’s funny you ask that because we’ve had a couple of clients ask for that. One has her grandmother’s Chanel jacket that doesn’t fit but it brings her joy because it reminds her of her grandmother who passed away. So the idea of turning it into something that could be on display and of use really appealed to her.
DESIGNOW: And were you already using vintage or antique furniture in your spaces?
CATE: Absolutely and my clients love the unique pieces that can’t be found anywhere else so this ties into that perfectly. The stigma of buying second hand has to be removed.