Photography: Benjamin Langford
“What can you do when you’re broke, unemployed, at your house and know so many inspiring people in New York?” asked Ruby McCollister, co-designer behind NYC’s newest brand Sofia Paris, made in collaboration with stylist Jake Levy. “You take your old fucking clothes and sew them together.”
The project, which debuted this NYFW for spring ’17, was largely assembled in less than a month, but a brand between McCollister and Levy was long overdue. Friends since 14, the pair went to high school together in LA where they found a mutual interest in theater. Now roommates in Flatbush, Brooklyn, McCollister has become an actress, while Levy’s taken his theatrical roots to fashion—a dichotomy that naturally made for a playful collection fluttering with self-aware whimsy.
“The earliest prototypes for Sofia Paris started six months ago, when we were both miserable and without jobs,” Levy said. “We had all these clothes we knew we couldn’t sell to Beacon’s Closet because they were worth nothing, but we were like, ‘We can’t just throw these away.’ We had so much time on our hands being unemployed, so the involvement for this brand was really about a mutual necessity to entertain ourselves.”
As a result, Levy and McCollister began reworking their old clothing, deconstructing liners and making unusual combinations—practice that short-term appeased their boredom, but long-term sparked a journey of playing “fashion designers” and creating a “fashion collection” in the most childlike, innocent way. With minimal resources and unrefined technical skills, the two developed looks that flirted with reality and fantasy, capturing the naiveté we felt as kids when fairytales were non-fiction and the future felt limitless.
Ruby McAllister & Jake Levy
In Chinatown’s MX Gallery, models each took turns walking from the roof, slowly down a staircase and around a collection of empty wine bottles and beer cans—some filled with candles, adding a humble sense of DIY romanticism to the space. Sofia Paris’ debut was soft and inviting, like the models had just finished rummaging through a bin of costumes and pieced together looks to show their parents in a makeshift, post-dinner party runway show.
“I’m always fascinated by people trying to create their fantasies, and the error between fantasy and reality,” McCollister said. “I sewed everything in this collection intuitively and didn’t measure anything, because it was like, ‘I have this idea and I’m going to try to make it.’ Obviously, nothing looked exactly as I’d imagined it would, but that median point is so interesting to me—not aiming for perfection, but for your own satisfaction.”
When creating Sofia Paris’ brand aesthetic for its first season, Levy said they didn’t develop any early moodboards, and instead let the individual pieces define the brand as they were created one-by-one. From the scraps of recycled garments and dollar store fabric, he eventually saw a narrative unearth that reflected his and McCollister’s interests.
Ruby McCollister & Jake Levy
“We’re seeing the idea of a ‘fashion show’ across genres and homogenizing that, “he said. “We’re really into cliches and novelties, and [specifically] thinking about the cliches and novelties of a fashion show. With backstage culture, we see Diet Cokes, we see Marlboro Reds, we see waifs.”
Further examining and exaggerating the archetype of a fashion show, McCollister wanted to highlight a “performed seriousness” among models, which the industry has made standard for runway. This attitude is also similar to how you’d perform alone in your teenager bedroom, she said, when your first instinct is high-drama, ultra-fierce expression only because that’s a cliché fashion has taught us is expected.
“I would love for people to wear these [Sofia Paris] pieces as performances, and to give people performances they can wear that aren’t costumes, but are things that illuminate their true selves,” she said. “There’s this idea in acting, when directors say, ‘Oh, just be yourself,’ or, ‘Take that character and apply it to yourself.’ In some way, I would like these clothes to do that for whomever wears them.”