(Re)Maker: Atelelier & Repairs | Pop-In@Nordstrom: Faded
This month’s Olivia Kim-curated Pop-In shop – Pop-In@Nordstrom: Faded – focuses on unique, easygoing style for men and women, combining broken-in fabrics and precision craft. Here we zero in on one of our featured brands, Atelier & Repairs.
As embedded in the fashion industry as Maurizio Donadi is—he’s worked for major brands and consults for several more—he’s ambivalent about it in general, questioning what it is and why it operates the way it does. Why so much mass-produced excess? And why so serious?
With Atelier & Repairs, he creates a unisex line in limited quantities where every piece is completely unique. Perhaps most characteristic of his approach are A&R’s vintage military pants, reinforced with fun/functional patchwork and artistic crotch gussets.
He spoke to us on the phone about the difference between transformation and production, his concept of “de-militarizing” military clothes and how he doesn’t ship internationally because he doesn’t want to burn airplane fuel.
You have a long history in apparel. What was the motivation for starting Atelier & Repairs?
I was lucky enough to work with brands I like and respect. I had the idea of having my own brand—I thought about it a few times—but I couldn’t come up with anything that satisfied me as a concept. I’ve been a fan of vintage for a long time. And then I thought, “The world doesn’t need another brand. There is so much excess in the world.” And it didn’t make me feel good that I was going to add to that. I wanted to be part of the industry with something that was dear to me. When I worked with other brands, we had plans and strategies, and I wanted things to be simpler and more emotional. What made me feel good about this is that I’m not a real designer. I’m not comfortable with the idea of producing because of all this excess. So I thought, “What if I transform something that exists into something brand new? Give pieces new life?” I looked into second-hand, defected items, military surplus, brands that have been discontinued. After looking around, I realized there’s a lot of it. So that’s my production, if you will. The idea of servicing the reduction of excess makes me feel good. I also want to have a little fun. So what I make is colorful. I’ll give you an example. I do a lot of military, a lot of camouflage. I’m a pacifist, very peaceful. The idea of war or violence of any kind is repelling to me. So I said, “Why don’t I de-militarize military clothing?” The idea of taking something that was a tool of war and making it a tool of peace is interesting to me. Another thing about Atelier & Repairs is that every piece is totally unique. Nobody will have your pants except you.
Were you always conflicted about working in this industry and generating waste?
In the early ’90s, I had a small second-hand shop in Miami called Outlander for a year. That was when I realized the emotion of taking something that is still good, cleaning it up and making sure someone else in the world will want it. Denim is something we were doing quite well at that time. Denim is usually blue, and blue is a living color. The fading is quite beautiful. I was always in fashion without being a fashion person. I studied the way people wear things and put things together. I don’t care about the coats of the season. I’m more interested in clothing that is flexible when I travel, has a component of utility. That’s why I like military clothes. They have pockets, they’re strong, they’re made to last a long time. They’re made, really, to last a war. I always liked what I liked. Trends make me uncomfortable. With Atelier & Repairs, we have no seasons. We look at what’s available, make what we think is fun and interesting, and that’s about it.
You worked at Levi’s. Did you do any reconstruction of pants with previously existing materials while you worked there?
No, I would say absolutely not. There was a lot of study in reproducing vintage. We needed to produce something new, but wash it so it looks 50 years old. Levi’s takes that very seriously. But there wasn’t any repairs or reconstruction at the time when I was there. What we do now, we take pants, open them up, reinforce them, do surgery. It takes time. To do the work we do, it takes more than making a new pair of pants.
What is your role in the construction of a pair of pants?
Well, I’m not a designer and I’m not a technician. Let’s just say that very honestly. But I like to do the sourcing, pick the materials, patch the pants or make the gusset. Oftentimes the crotch is weak. We cut it and put a gusset inside to replace it. I think I am a custodian of this concept. When you’re dealing with transformation, cutting pants open, a lot can happen. Sometimes you realize it’s not working. My job is consistency. Making sure the fabric for the pants is right, or that series of pants. I have a great team of people helping me with sewing machines and driving home this concept of reducing excess. We started this in London, even though we are based in Los Angeles. My wife and I decided to open a small atelier in London with two tailors. It’s a basement, a humble place. We did repairs, hemming and adding patches to elbows in a generic way. Then we started doing more creative work, doing more of our own sourcing. And we decided we wanted to do this in Los Angeles as well. We ship Atelier & Repairs in Europe from our London shop. And for the U.S. and Japan, we will use Los Angeles.
Why did you choose London?
We found the right tailors: Scott Boyd (master tailor) and Agne Rakauskaite (tailor). Scott has a past in costume design. He’s a technician with a sewing machine and a problem solver. We wanted tailors with 360 degrees of experience, not denim experts or something specialized. We don’t touch suiting, but we repair pretty much everything else. Filson bags, different jackets, whatever. Scott always finds the best way to reinforce the item. And Agne is equally talented, with a different and more feminine approach, which I really like and respect.
For a transformation, will you supply to the tailors a package: a pair of pants and miscellaneous materials for the gusset and patches?
No, I go to London and we source together. We buy in Europe mainly. We source enough for two or three months of production. I rarely ship anything from Los Angeles. It would not be right, if we’re trying to be careful with excess, to put a box on a Boeing 747 and burn all that gasoline.
What can you say about the Nordstrom A&R selection?
Nordstrom is getting a selection from one of our first “transformation” runs. We produce first, and when we have enough, we go out and sell. It’s very different from a regular brand, which makes samples that are sold in showrooms, then you take orders, then go into production, then six months later you get the merchandise. We are producing first, then we sell. We take names, basically. We can’t send merchandise to everyone who is asking. We produce 400-500 pieces at a time. Nordstrom is getting our first production run. Chinos, military pants and a few jeans. It’s an interesting assortment because it all complements each other.
You really use crotch gussets as a canvas for art. I didn’t know a crotch gusset could handle such expression.
It happens to be a fragile area, particularly when you source vintage pieces. There’s wear and tear. The fabric is weak there, so we replace it. And why not make it fun? Our gusset is very severe. It’s quite dramatic. We are doing pieces without gussets too. It really depends on what fabrics or pants we find. Sometimes we just buy one pair. Sometimes we buy four. Sometimes 20. The fits are really different. It’s hard for the consumer that way, but I wouldn’t know how to do it differently. I like that the pants find the consumer. Rather than the guy or girl looking for them. This is my approach to vintage. When I go to a flea market, not for Atelier & Repairs but just to go, there’s so much to see. It’s overwhelming. You end up buying things because they speak to you. Not because you were looking for them. If not, you’d be a tailor, looking for certain items. That’s my interpretation of buying vintage. It could be a chair, an old watch or something with no value at all. There’s a magnetic relationship.
Where do you source Atelier & Repairs fabrics? Flea markets we can all attend or specialty, members-only flea markets?
Flea markets, absolutely, public flea markets. I also do a lot of warehouses. I go to second-hand warehouses. I meet with brands who have defected items, old seasons, returned from customers. Forgotten clothes.
You work for other brands. Is Atelier & Repairs a passion project or do you hope it will become your main job?
Interesting question. This started as a hobby, a little tailor shop in London. A community shop where people in the neighborhood would come, and we’d fix their pants and jackets. Then it became something else, and now it’s becoming a business. How big? I don’t know. People like what we do and we don’t bother anybody. We don’t compete with anybody, and I don’t want to compete with anybody. I want to be a service not a brand. I don’t know if there is scale to what we do. My objective is survival, not to build a $100 million company. I want it to survive and to find the people who like it.
What started you on your path in this industry?
I was one of the worst students in Italy in the 1970s. I didn’t pass for three consecutive years. At that time, when you did that, you’re out of school and you go to work. I was a steel worker for three years and then couldn’t take it anymore. I applied at Benetton and started as a stock boy. I had no idea about what the apparel business was about. I still wonder what that is. But I found it colorful and full of characters. I was able to, through this industry, learn languages, learn about other people’s lives and cultures. People say the clothing industry is superficial. Maybe it is, but there’s an opportunity to take an intellectual view. It requires reading, being extremely curious not only about clothing but what makes people feel good about purchasing something. Clothing mirrors society. There is an affinity for colors that is different for every person. Those are the things that are interesting. I was lucky to work with Benetton when Benetton was great. I was lucky to work with DIESEL when it became a relevant brand globally. I learned luxury and what that means working with Armani. And I understood America by working with Ralph Lauren. I was lucky enough to work at Levi’s, a brand you cannot not like. It’s global culture. I worked hard, but I was lucky. The industry has allowed me to be who I am without compromise.
SHOP: Pop-In@Nordstrom: Faded