Greg Lauren has embarked upon many creative endeavors in his time—from acting to painting—but for years now he’s been immersed in his eponymous label, which produces ready-to-wear items rooted in respect for artistry, passion for vintage, dedication to upcycling, delighting in imperfection and the belief that true style is inherently personal. The LA-based brand just released its Spring/Summer 2021 collection, “Deconstructing Americana,” and Lauren says that the goal of every single garment they make is to have people feel something. “When you hold that piece, you feel a connection to a person that made it,” he says. “You feel that it’s well-made, that it’s comfortable and that it brings out something unique from you when you wear it.”
It may not be a surprise that Lauren—whose uncle is Ralph Lauren and father is Jerry Lauren, head of men’s design at the world-renowned brand—ended up in the fashion industry, but the most significant memories and outcomes of his upbringing reach beyond the expected fashion shows, fame and fortune; rather Lauren found his métier through other meaningful experiences.
“It’s almost impossible not to begin with the fact that I literally was born into being exposed to fashion and style because of my family. And what that means is very different than what most people imagine. It really was this very interesting and fascinating experience where everything was seen through the lens of style,” he explains. “I was exposed to Cary Grant movies, vintage clothing, going to flea markets and searching for these amazing, iconic pieces—whether it was the most incredible military jacket or, I hate to use the word ‘haul,’ but a great haul from a day of vintage shopping: the most incredible English tweed hacking jacket or a great pair of army pants, and an amazing vintage Cub Scout shirt. All of these things were part of a language that I responded to at a very young age.”
I saw fashion telling people who they should be, and who they should want to be. I needed to question that. I started to feel like, ‘Shouldn’t it embrace and bring out the authentic person from the inside?’
Lauren learned the importance of craftsmanship and fabric and developed a deep respect for style; he also found the fashion industry to be overly instructive. “At a very early age, I started to kind of understand it, but there was a voice that said ‘Wait, but what what do I want to say with it? What does this mean to me?'” he tells us. “For me, it started with a very simple idea: I saw fashion telling people who they should be, and who they should want to be. I needed to question that. I started to feel like, ‘Shouldn’t it embrace and bring out the authentic person from the inside?'” Ultimately this led him to a definitive belief, one that’s imbued in his brand: “I’ve always thought that the magic happens when the clothing meets the person who wears it, and it shouldn’t be the other way around.”
It was when Lauren made paper garments for his 2004 art show, Hero, that he flipped his way of seeing clothing. The storytelling aspect that connected each of his creative pursuits became crystal clear. “I had always learned about clothing from the outside in and, for the first time, I was getting to know clothing from the inside. I knew how to turn a lapel. I knew how to set a sleeve,” he explains. “I’d only experienced clothing from the most superficial sense—and I don’t mean materialistic, I mean there was an appreciation for the beauty, but now I actually understood it.”
My voice as a designer was magically forming because I was embracing every imperfection
As Lauren looked at his paper garments, he was struck with the compulsion to make something wearable. “I literally grabbed the paint-splattered, dust-covered drop-cloth that was in my studio and I attempted to make my first jacket,” he explains. “It was terrible. At first, I put the left sleeve on the right side, the right side on the left side; it was too short; it was crooked,” he says. “And yet, with every mistake and every imperfection—first of all, I loved it more and second of all, it was like in that moment, my voice as a designer was magically forming because I was embracing every imperfection.”
After unstitching and restitching, tweaking and tugging, altering and re-altering this drop-cloth blazer over and over, Lauren not only found a renewed appreciation for clothing, but also for the inherent appeal of upcycling. “This jacket was made out of my story; my drop-cloth, my creativity,” he says. “I wore it, and I loved it.” Lauren began making more one-off garments with any fabric he could find—old, new, deadstock, anything.
This rule-breaking spirit continues to inspire the Greg Lauren label—officially founded in 2011—which he approached not by way of being a brand boss, but being an artist. “I didn’t give a lot of thought to anything but artistry, product craftsmanship and what the pieces meant,” he explains. “I was determined to prove that I could create a business model based on an artisan approach to making clothing. And it worked.” Lauren and his team (many of whom were Hollywood costume designers) formed the fashion house through improvisation; an exercise in trial and error.
This approach forms the basis of the brand’s success, which skyrocketed in 2016 when they collaborated with Moncler. “If you would have come to our studio during that time, you would have seen what I feel is one of the most beautiful images,” he says. “A sea of mixed-cut pieces of shiny, high-tech nylon; vintage denim; vintage military scraps; all covering a concrete, Los Angeles parking lot. And there was a method to the madness and an organized chaos.” The collection, Lauren says, was a turning point for the brand, providing them with a global identity they hadn’t achieved before.
This also confronted the brand with a challenge: how to scale while maintaining their integrity, approach and style. “That was something I had to kind of really make peace with. It’s OK to scale… You know, there’s something to be said for having established an aesthetic and making a quality product that, as we move forward into the next phase, is more about responsibly sourcing the fabrics and responsibly making them. There’s a balance there.” As is Lauren’s wont, the team began experimenting in order to find that balance.
The aim now is, Lauren says, “making product that captures the aesthetic that we’re known for and making those products responsibly—even if we are using non-vintage fabrics. For example, in our sustainability initiative GL scraps, we now make so many things from the scraps of products that were using newly milled fabrics and that were not deconstructed vintage pieces or upcycled pieces. The main thing is I refuse to compromise the aesthetic, the craftsmanship, or anything about that product.”
The design process right now is no less aesthetic, but much more intentional
Another turning point fell in the year 2020. It pushed Lauren to look even deeper into his brand’s intention and processes. Whether it’s educating himself on soil-to-soil and regenerative wools, or having conversations with local farmers, he is dedicated to an ever-evolving approach. “For many, many years, I had the luxury of curating every scrap we used or every detail from a deconstructed or repurposed piece. It was somewhat of an excessive approach, even though I was using repurposed materials. Today, he explains, “the design process right now is no less aesthetic, but much more intentional. It’s exciting and I would argue that it’s more creative than ever.”
Lauren’s approach is also more widely understood. “The mainstream customer is more aware of—whatever reason for right or wrong or well-intended or not—words like ‘sustainability,’ and ‘responsibly made’ and words like ‘secondhand’ and ‘thrifted’ or ‘gently loved’ or ‘pre-loved.’ These are all words that describe some aspects of what we’ve always done,” he says. But what has changed, he explains, “I was approaching it from a style standpoint—from an exploration of fashion and identity—but we have a real crucial, urgent need to make things responsibly now.”
There’s no doubt that more sustainable fashion practices and paying competitive salaries is costly, landing brands like Greg Lauren in the luxury category—a sector that’s been historically exclusive to very wealthy white people. “Sustainability and equity can also be part of the new luxury,” he says. “I think that as people want those things, they’re wanted at every level.”
This all leads to his current challenge, which is written on a note that sits on his desk and reminds him to create more sustainability, equity and accessibility in the industry. He tells us, “What is very much on my mind is, and I don’t think we’re there yet, how can we do this in a way that serves more people? That’s one of the greatest challenges that I’m the most excited about accepting—and solving.”
Images courtesy of Greg Lauren