Inside the launch of Bode’s new womenswear

A few years ago, at the 2021 Met Gala, Lorde hit the red carpet in one of the weirdest and weirdest ensembles in Met Gala history. It was a white silk skirt and open-fronted jacket, decorated with delicate metallic beading and dotted with cabochons, and she had little white slippers on her feet and a crown by New York jeweler Jean Prounis on her head. It was sexy, quirky, luxurious and not what you might expect from Emily Adams Bode Aujla, the woman who made a name for herself with darling men’s jackets made from old quilts. Lorde looked not only dressed, but also adorned. Somehow, too, there was a sense that the outfit, although designed for one of the most publicity-frenzied events in the world of entertainment and fashion, was actually Lorde’s. That they had some history and personal meaning for them; that she had some kind of deep and enchanting connection with the fabric.

Bode Aulja has left a very influential mark on men’s fashion since launching her line of jackets and trousers in 2016 cut into simple silhouettes from old quilts and vintage textile reproductions. But that moment at the Met Gala hinted that he has a lot to say about womenswear.

met gala 2021, which celebrates the lexicon of fashion arrivals in America

Lorde at Met Gala 2021.

Taylor Hill//Getty Images

A year and a half later, Bode Aujla gives her first fully articulated expression of what could be her world of womenswear. Today in Paris, showing on the men’s calendar, she debuted her first full Bode womenswear collection, a dazzling and wonderfully surprising presentation of evening gowns, formal coats, suits and new knitwear. Here and there she has made a few pieces for women, especially for private clients, and of course, women are already buying her menswear. But this show marks the beginning of a fully realized female universe to complement the male one.

Bode Aujla said in an interview last week that part of her motivation is that her vision of womenswear is so different from what she does with menswear. Most people might assume they know what her womenswear might look like, especially since so many women already wear menswear, but, “I wanted to show people that the womenswear I would design was not the way most people would think Bode womenswear would be, unless they were very close to me or accompanied me through the design process.”

Many of her menswear collections have focused on the biographical history of her family or loved ones, such as her Pre-Fall 2022 collection that drew on her own recent weddings or the Fall 2020 shows that drew on her husband’s former Shaker business partner’s education village. This collection was inspired by Bode Aujla’s mother, who after college in the 1970s worked on the estate of an aging doyen who wore his 1920s evening gowns to eat alone at a huge table.. “She had an extreme, idiosyncratic demeanor,” , the designer explained about her mother’s employer, and the show is “actually about how my mother, looking at that person, in a way defined who she became and what she thought was interesting.”

Special features in the collection are drawn from that decadent narrative, particularly the many beaded recreations of 1920s gowns and dresses, such as a sage-colored sheer dress with a bronze bodice and skirt and yellow and teal beaded or gold beaded A-line dresses with a wraparound cape. (Bode makes all of her beads in India.) The designer told me she hasn’t had any requests for an Oscar dress yet, but one would imagine they would make a fantastic look for awards season. There are also beaded and hand-crocheted sheer tops, designed to be worn with embellished trousers, or under a buttery yellow shawl-collar suit or over a ribbon bralette and a pair of silk shorts. Unlike her menswear, and very similar to the outfit she did for Lorde, the outfit is sexy, in a sensible, eccentric way. One model wore a sheer sequined skirt with a chunky novelty sweater. That sweater and others were recreations of pieces from her mother’s wardrobe, one with a spiky yoke pattern made by a Norwegian knitter who works with historic knits.

Bode’s clothes are so beautiful that normal fashion show questions, like whether women want to dress up more or whether they’re going to convince themselves they need a coat, suddenly seem irrelevant. You see something like a billiard green evening coat that fastens just around the neck, or a heavy burgundy velvet dress, and suddenly you begin to imagine what an amazing life you would live in that piece: from a course you need an opera coat! There are fashion designers who respond to the way we live, who want to make clothes that fit into the routine of modern life; and then there are fashion designers who propose a gentler or more elegant way of life, like Grace Wales Bonner, or Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen from The Row, or Bode Aujla.

Looking at Bode clothing in a FaceTime conversation last week, I was struck by how collectible everything seemed. And not in the hot way we’re so used to in women’s clothing; more like the painful rush I get from finding the perfect 1970s Saint Laurent jacket, or 1990s Yohji Yamamoto cape, or Schiaparelli hat. You know, the feeling of a great vintage find, where you’re excited about who might have worn these strange and special clothes before and how you could honor them by giving their old stuff a new lease of life. Bode Aujla’s clothes are either new or reproductions, though, which makes me think of what Yves Saint Laurent was doing in his waning 1970s, recreating clothes from history, be it 19th-century Russia or 1940s Paris, with attractive, passionate opulence. Saint Laurent was a revisionist, who grabbed something real but then let the imagination run free. Bode Aujla is more interested in personal history, which makes her work so relevant today. Who needs far-fetched myths when you have your own family history to preserve and research?

Bode Aujla once told me that she wanted to start Bode to change the culture around the way men dress. She certainly succeeded, as her defiantly trendy pieces built a seductive and unique universe of beauty and taste. Her New York store, located on Hester Street and designed by her husband’s firm, Green River Projects, is always bustling with customers (in fact, last weekend I saw two women buying men’s pants for themselves), as well as a cafe that opened the neighboring door. This space also serves as a tailor’s shop, where clients are encouraged to repair their pieces. Each garment comes with a label that explains the inspiration and story behind the garment. In short, her clothes seem to exude a precious weight of history, almost as if her customers are custodians of clothing with a story, embedding their own stories into them. Only the stories inside that much more complex (and, in a fantastic way, weirder) women’s clothing are even richer.

Bode’s growth has been explosive, especially in the last two years. With the launch of the women’s, it appears to be well on its way to creating a new blueprint for American luxury.

Head shot of Rachel Tashjian

Rachel Tashjian is the director of fashion news at Harper’s Bazaar, working on print and digital platforms. She was before GQthe first fashion critic, and he also worked as a deputy editor GARAGE and as a writer on vanity fair. She has written for publications including Bookforum and Artforumand is the creator of the invitation-only Opulent Tips newsletter.

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