Artist and clothing designer Greg Lauren is known for his wabi-sabi garments combining vintage Carhartt with cozy jersey knitwear, his penchant for old-school militaria, and collaborations with everyone from KITH's Ronnie Fieg to storied swimwear company Birdwell Beach Britches.
But he's also done plenty of time as a fine artist, honing his illustration skills to portray superheroes like Batman and Superman (he's a staunch DC guy) in a different light, usually through dramatic charcoal on Japanese paper. These days, he's toggling between designer life and #dadlife, helping his son with fractions (1:20) while coming to terms with his kid's love for Marvel heroes.
Speaking of heroes, he's also doing his part to help those on the frontline of Covid-19. A medical professional recommended ways to make masks out of air conditioning filters (8:34), which led to several Greg Lauren-designed masks. At the end of the day though, Lauren's glad to be in a place where he can continue to hone his creativity, and appreciates the return-to-roots perspective this time has given him (18:57), and he hopes others can find a similar sense of introspection.
The below Vibe Check interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jian DeLeon: What have your days been like?
Greg Lauren: I have a seven-and-a-half-year-old son, Sky, and it's amazing because my days right now are trying to be as creative as possible, finding moments — whatever corner of our place I can put myself in to start drawing or creating and sketching. Because all of a sudden, I've got to do a Zoom math class with my son. I'm rediscovering division by sharing, and yesterday was fractions and I thought: “Oh man, this is crazy.”
JD: That's the age when I started getting into superheroes. It must be a weird time to be that age right now, and in this era where superheroes are dominating pop culture, but it's also easier get into the escapism that they provide.
GL: Absolutely. I mean, he's obsessed. I certainly was exposed to heroes and the idea of heroes at that age. He's actually — and this is very difficult for me to accept — he's actually a Marvel guy. Even though I love Marvel movies, and I love the Avengers and everything about them, I'm loyal to my DC roots. It's reflected in my artwork because even when I do pay homage to those guys, it's the older school artwork that I grew up with, because that connects me to the innocence of it, before it became overly digitized. I appreciate the old school days of the penciler, followed by someone who did the inking, and then the colorist.
We're all looking for heroes, and I think that's incredibly important, whether it's real-life people, he respects his teachers more than ever, and he's closer to his grandparents. Not to make it sentimental, but I think this idea resonates with children, because if we're lucky enough to have them around, those are everyday heroes for us.
JD: Speaking of heroes, I know you're a very ardent supporter of those on the front lines right now. You've been working with organizations to help donate and get these necessary PPE to these frontline workers. Your masks have translated what you do with clothing in a really cool way too.
GL: I have a brother-in-law who's a doctor, and he said: “I know what you can make masks out of. Air conditioning filters.” And I replied, “What are you talking about?” He said if you can take the material from an air conditioning filter that has a rating of MERV 13 or FPR 10, it should function in a similar way to the N95s. I felt very compelled to try to come up with a creative solution to that problem. My brand is known for upcycling. It's what I've been about from day one and making things out of materials and objects that are not normally used for clothing. So while that's been my specialty over the years, I can tell you this — I have never upcycled an air conditioning filter before.
JD: Making things out of previously existing things and looking at the world in a new way has always been part of the Greg Lauren DNA. How do you think people are going to come back into the world after this reset period?
GL: Early on, I was obsessed with repurposing vintage fabrics and it was really about trying to come to terms with my own relationship to aspiration, to lifestyle, and what luxury means. My approach was very straightforward. I would try to take things that were no longer considered beautiful — discarded, dusty army duffle bags, things that were sitting around that had really been forgotten. I was determined to try to elevate those and turn those into what I considered to be beautiful garments.
That was something that I've been exploring for 10 years. I would destroy luxury fabrics, put them through processes that were normally used on rugged, rough fabrics because I was trying to tear down some of the things that were put on such a pedestal, cashmeres and fabrics that were so expensive and so excessive. It's really strengthened what was already the beginning of a commitment to doing things differently, and not just for the aesthetic, but to have a more responsible approach to making things. I know that for my next collection, I'm committed to doing as much of that collection using our scraps or deadstock and vintage materials as possible. We're going to continue making things out of what we have, and not trying to create more waste.
Stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.