Atelier Jolie asks Simon Ungless for residency

By | February 21, 2024

Personalizing, repurposing, tailoring and repairing to give clothes a new life are at the heart of Atelier Jolie, Angelina Jolie’s sustainable fashion company.

This week, her New York store welcomes its first artist-in-residence, Simon Ungless, a graphic artist who emerged in London’s 1990s fashion scene, collaborating with the late Alexander McQueen and with Sarah Burton for the McQueen Spring 2024 men’s collection.

More from WWD

At the store at 57 Great Jones Street (Jean-Michel Basquiat’s former studio, appropriately enough), customers can bring their own pieces, or purchase something from Atelier Jolie’s own deadstock and vintage label, for Ungless to reimagine. He works in the ground floor studio, doing one-on-one screen printing for shoppers, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays he will lead the monoprinting clothing classes. The $25 tickets sold out within minutes of posting.

“Being here has given me the opportunity to work directly with customers and communicate that what they already own is all they need. They don’t have to keep buying more. One woman took off her shirt and I printed it with her,” says the designer. “What can you do to make you fall in love with a piece of clothing again and want to wear it, and perhaps keep it forever? That’s what I asked them.”

Based in Larkspur, California, Ungless recently left fashion school after 27 years to focus on When Simon Met Ralph, his hand-dyed and printed vintage and deadstock clothing line, which is sold at Atelier Jolie and online.

His unique pieces continue the punk tradition of 90s London, but with a Californian environmentalist anti-establishment attitude that now focuses on the waste of the fashion industry.

Ungless, 57, works from his apartment nestled among the redwoods, where he uses the backyard as a studio to print lace effects on a sweater, roadkill tapes on a ladylike faux sheepskin coat, and trompe l’oeil pleats on a sweater . Claude Montana jacket.

Some pieces are designer vintage, others don’t even have a label.

“It could be from any decade, it’s about whether it feels right in terms of fabrics and silhouette and what can I do to change it somehow,” he said during a recent interview on a rainy morning in Marin County, explaining that he sources through local charity shops and sometimes Goodwill when he can find something among what is increasingly becoming “a whole store of Shein.”

A model wearing white canvas dancing boots Ungless hand-painted poses in a multi-colored cotton plaid shirt dress, lovingly screen-printed, hand-dyed and bleached; a breathtakingly beautiful, sheer black lace dress with dripped black latex at the bodice; and a red party dress with puff sleeves and bow at the waist, monoprint with black pleats.

Jolie found Ungless through Instagram, the two met over a video call last year, and she started stocking his pieces when she opened the store last year.

“It makes sense to have Simon as our first artist-in-residence. That he is willing to share his skills and background and make his profession accessible to everyone is remarkable,” Jolie said in an email. “Those in the industry know Simon and his talent, but working with absolutely anyone who wants to upcycle a garment – ​​and offering an affordable class – is generous and breaks with gatekeepers. That’s what we really want to do with Atelier Jolie and our home at 57. Everyone should have the opportunity to create, learn and share ideas with the best artisans from around the world.”

“I think she did a little bit of research to find out what I’ve done in the past and she loved that I’ve been a teacher,” he said of Jolie’s search for creatives who can rework garments, whether that’s by cutting and sewing, dyeing or another technique. “It all goes back to being 10 years old and punk rock and not being able to afford to go to Sex and Seditionaries,” he said of his DIY aesthetic.

He has been using the same techniques since 1992, when his prints of the Robert De Niro character Travis Bickle appeared in McQueen’s ‘Taxi Driver’ collection, which he helped create with his friend and roommate at Central Saint Martins. (Ungless recently recreated that collection, which famously introduced bumster pants and was subsequently stolen from a London bar, for the ‘Rebel Fashion: 30 Years of London Fashion’ exhibition at the Design Museum in London.)

Rubber drip effects on dresses and sweatshirts also hark back to that era, which marked the start of several years of print collaborations with McQueen, from whom he received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Arts in 2006.

“That all came from working for Lee in our backyard. We stole a clothing form from Saint Martens, wrapped it in Saran Wrap to protect it from the paint we used on the clothing, and when we were done, we looked at it and said ‘that’s amazing,’” Ungless recalls of the painted-on plastic. “Lee cut it on the back, put a binding and a zipper in it and it went down the runway in ’94 for ‘Nihilism’ and became a signature. Everything he did from there… for years: the sculpted chest[plate] and corset came from that time. And I still do that in bits and pieces. I’ve made lace dresses that I wrap and cover in latex…I guess I’m kind of a one trick pony with my techniques,” he said.

Ungless also introduced McQueen to Sarah Burton, who would become the brand’s creative director following the designer’s death in 2010. Their longstanding friendship led to a print collaboration for the McQueen Spring 2024 men’s collection now in stores, one of her last before she left the house. .

Although the British designer remained closely associated with the London scene, he moved to San Francisco in 1996 to help found the Academy of Art University School of Fashion, eventually being appointed executive director in 2014. Almost immediately after arriving in California, Ungless saw the need for sustainability to be part of fashion education.

“It started in 1997, when I went to the Central Valley for a farm tour and was all old school, bouncing back and forth to Paris and London with Lee. I learned about the impact of cotton farming with all its pesticides on the environment,” Ungless said, recalling a pond full of polluted water that was below the flight line of where migratory birds nest. “They showed us all these pictures of deformed chicks, and I connected with that, the environment and its effect on wildlife… Then I started integrating it into the curriculum, including sponsoring students through sustainable fabrics and fiber producers.”

Even then, before the dominance of fast fashion, he knew sustainability would be a hard sell in the broader sector.

“But I thought if I could provide the students with information, they wouldn’t be hired as sustainable designers, but they could go to Ralph Lauren or wherever and spread the word. That’s how it happens, it’s a silent revolution.”

Ungless left university last year disillusioned with the fashion education system.

“I think education worldwide has turned into yet another level of toxic commerce. Filling seats, moving people through classes, no one fails. You know, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut resources. I lost so many members of my team: seventeen in one day. And then just the expectation that I could continue,” he said.

Today, he questions the viability of the system when there are so many more fashion programs every year that divert students with fewer opportunities and more debt.

“The fashion education sector is in the same state as the fashion industry. And I no longer felt comfortable perpetuating the dream that something is at the end.

The fashion industry is also suffering from toxic business practices, with pre-collections and monthly discounts flooding the market with products that feel less designed and thought through while harming the environment.

“It’s all about dollars and the bottom line,” he said. “What I love about Angelina is that she talks about the people during the process, straight from the farmer who grew the fiber. It’s this ethical way of thinking, where it’s not just about the profit, but also about the art and craft of it.”

It is certainly another way to use a celebrity platform in fashion, not necessarily to burnish one’s own reputation, but to uplift others with a wide range of perspectives, deep experience and skills.

“I don’t think it’s all about her,” said Ungless, characterizing her as a mentor.

Atelier Jolie plans to announce additional classes such as cooking classes at Eat Offbeat, salons and experiences with artisans and painters. People can also book customization and upcycling services on the website.

The premise of the pieces designed under the Atelier Jolie label, such as a jacket with three collars that can be buttoned on and off, is that they can be personalized. Prices range from $50 for a tie, to $440 for a deadstock silk trench coat, to $750 for a suit.

Ungless’ When Simon Met Ralph pieces start at $300 for a sweatshirt. In addition to selling at Atelier Jolie, he also posts and sells on his Instagram, where people sometimes copy his techniques and send him photos.

Part of achieving less waste is encouraging people to use their own supplies, and perhaps try their own DIY. “But it’s a bit of a fine line because I also want people to buy my stuff,” he said, adding that he has just started working with a new commercial manager and would like to sell at Dover Street Market.

Ungless will show his pieces on the runway on March 17 at Fashion Week El Paseo, a consumer-focused event in Palm Desert, California.

“It’s not about ambition or more money. I want to be comfortable and continue to live in Marin, which isn’t cheap, but it’s really about finding people to work with whose product or aesthetic I believe in. I worked on seven collections for Lee and received a total of £500. I even paid for my own fabric. That wasn’t the point. There are more benefits to doing something than financial.”

Launch Gallery: Angelina Jolie’s Atelier Jolie welcomes Simon Ungless

The best of WWD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *