“You have to check the soil and make sure it’s clay and smells good,” says designer Rozae Nichols, who pats corn stalks in the 3,500 square meter garden behind her Flora Animalia design studio in Los Angeles. “Part of the fun is saying,” Hey, how are you? ‘”
Nichols, a 35-year veteran of the LA fashion scene, had no intention of getting back into it after the closure of Clover Canyon. Her self-financed contemporary label had 80 employees at its peak, showed itself at New York Fashion Week and was on the move in digital textile printing until 2016.
“For years I had the dream of having space for a full-blown edible garden to create this platonic place of entertainment and community workshops on food justice, farm animal rights, vegan cooking, nutrition and all the things that matter to me. Says Nichols about her plan for fashion.
She found it in 2017 on Washington Boulevard in Mid-City, a commercial building with a large yard that she had turned into a garden with passion fruit, persimmon, and pomegranate trees and raised beds for herbs and blueberries.
While working the soil, she realized a personal need for simple, stylish, organic clothing – especially an apron – that she could wear in the garden and beyond. Fast forward to Flora Animalia, their new collection of cut and sewn pieces made in small quantities and mostly GOTS certified organic fabrics. In addition to good-looking Italian half, full and cross-back aprons made from recycled dark denim, the line consists of “perennial classics” that combine robust, vintage-inspired workwear and soft, unstructured femininity.
“Gardening is the most basic thing anyone can do. I think that’s why people do it,” says Nichols of the collective moment of stopping and smelling the roses. “It’s therapeutic and it’s so rewarding when you can feed yourself.”
According to Google Trends, searches for “gardening” were higher this spring and summer pandemic than in the last five years. And Nichols isn’t the only designer feeling the call of nature.
In addition to bowls, teapots and prayer beads, LA jewelry designer Sonia Boyajian has also dedicated herself to making porcelain seedlings that were inspired by her work in her garden. When the quarantine came, I said, ‘Who needs jewelry? What people need are things to comfort them and serve a purpose, but which they will enjoy when things are uncertain and unstable. “
Stussy’s recently released Birkenstock collaboration features images of the classic corduroy “Boston” chog worn by a model with hedge trimmers, and the essential home shoe for fall evolves into a studded Wellington by Bottega Veneta, Prada, Dior, Ganni or dozens of other labels doing a version.
Flora Animalia also works well for the casual quarantine lifestyle, offering pajama pants, utility vests, work coats, peasant tops and scout shorts that are generously cut for unisex fits, as well as selvedge details or multiple pockets for tools. There are also Belgian linen tent dresses with hems that fold into a harvest bag envelope, or cotton lawns with hand-printed drawings of herbs. Prices start at $ 250 at FloraAnimalia.com.
Nichols will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Mercy for Animals and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and production will be limited. “I’m not going back to what things were,” she says, referring to the old days when she put out a 150-piece collection every few weeks. “I felt the excess of my entire career.”
Once the pandemic is under control, the garden will be central to the Flora Animalia world, hosting events and workshops. “I don’t want to be a gentrifier who takes and doesn’t give,” says the designer, who shares her fruit and vegetables with the taqueria next door and asks the children of her neighbors to model in her lookbook.
Gardening has actually been in the air of fashion for a couple of seasons. During the spring 2020 men’s runway collections in Europe, Silvia Venturini Fendi’s show was a stroll through the gardens of Villa Reale, complete with a bag shaped like a watering can. In Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh sent out flower-adorned dishes, service suits and gardening gloves.
The model who ended Abloh’s show was Delfin Finley, an LA artist and son of Ron Finley, the urban gardening pioneer whose headquarters are about a mile from Nichols – and who has his own interest in fashion.
“He’s the godfather of all of this,” says Nichols of the motivational figure who founded the Ron Finley nonprofit project to encourage people not to develop their own as a hobby but to turn food deserts into oases for communities in need.
Known as the “Gangsta Gardener” (“Drugs, robbery – this ain’t gangsta. Community building – this is gangsta. I’m changing the slang,” he said) Finley began fresh produce in the neglected parkways of South Central in 2010 Plant LA. and has fought against the city of LA to change laws that allow public land to be used for urban agriculture. Finley is the subject of a 2015 documentary manager produced by John Legend, “Can You Dig This”. He has a TED talk that has been viewed over 3 million times and one of the most popular master classes, Ron Finley Teaches Gardening.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Finley had a successful LA fashion label – Drop Dead Collection – of bespoke woven suits and jeans that was stocked in large department stores and worn by Robert Horry and other LA Lakers and celebs.
“Where does the substance come from? Polyester comes from guano. Where do fibers come from? The earth. I tell people if you wear clothes, buy groceries, and eat, you are in the farming business, ”Finley explains the similarities between gardening and fashion he left after the 2008 recession, explaining that he is both racism and Reverse sexism was also exposed to his efforts to take his business to the next level.
But now he’s ready to plant a new seed. A four-part capsule collection with LA-based label Everybody World will start in September, including tailor-made basics made from 100 percent recycled cotton, a cotton bag with lots of pockets for the garden and an original design.
The graphics are designed by another of his three sons, the artist Kohshin Finley. All proceeds will be donated to the Ron Finley Project. The original piece will be a mixture of two designs from his previous life. “I saw a number of samples from the collection and it was so far ahead of its time … things that would hang next to corner houses Latta, Telfar and Barragan today,” said Everybody World Creative Director Iris Alonzo.
“We are very happy to be able to use this archive, but we are especially grateful to be able to spend time in his garden and get to know the man behind it,” she says of the capsule, which bows in mid to late September. “He’s a real inspiration on many levels.”
Prior to gardening, “tailoring taught me patience,” Finley says, adding that he’s also interested in getting back into serious clothing, perhaps with a regenerative model. “This is not about the money, but about how we can change this planet,” he says.
When it comes to fashion, he no longer follows the way he used to, and he has mixed feelings about the green thumb trend: Finnish brand Fiskars is doing it right, but a garden kit recently made by Adidas “looked like clown clothes”.
He traveled to Paris last year to see his son run on the runway and has nothing but praise for Abloh’s inventions, styling and details. So if Louis Vuitton asked Finley to do a regenerative fashion collection, would he? “Immediately,” he says.