A few days before Afropunk took over Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park this past weekend, singer-songwriter Leon Bridges stopped by designer Emily Bode’s sun-dappled Chinatown studio to pick out the perfect onstage look. Bridges first discovered Bode when he was getting a suit tailored at Martin Greenfield a few years ago, and spotted one of her shirts hanging in the shop. “I had never seen anything like it,” says Bridges. “I thought it was such an interesting piece.”
The musician's style has evolved over the years, and Bode has played a central role in that transition. “I started out with a very specific ’50s, ’60s kind of thing—suits only—and the more I’ve grown and matured, I’ve wanted to keep that same aesthetic but do it in a more modern way.” When it came to updating Bridges's wardrobe, Bode was the obvious answer. From the day he first laid eyes on Bode’s work, the pair have developed a fruitful working relationship: Bridges memorably wore a custom mustard yellow Bode suit—covered with hand-drawn references to Bridges’s home state of Texas—to the Grammys this past year. Surprisingly, perhaps, the two have only just met for the first time in person.
Bridges, dressed in an olive green bowling shirt, flared black pants, and gold-accented Gucci loafers, carefully combs through the racks of Bode’s historically-grounded handiwork. “The foundation of the brand is domestic textiles that are female-centric in nature, so quilting, mending, appliqué,” Bode says, while Bridges picks out three pieces that exemplify this ethos. First, there's a linen jacket made in India emblazoned with a classic tiger patch, which Bode recreated from the central emblem of a ’50s sports sweater that she originally bought while at college. Then, Bridges sets aside two different shirts made from souvenir tablecloths: typically purchased by World War II soldiers who were stationed abroad, one is more sheer than the other. “They purchased them for their wives or their girlfriends who were back home,” Bode says. “I have one from my grandfather. You see it a lot in vintage stores–sometimes they’re table runners, or sometimes they’re silk underwear from the ’40s that are too delicate to be touched.”
Bridges knew that he wanted to wear one of Bode’s standout pieces to Afropunk. It's partly thanks to her breathable pieces being capable of withstanding the New York City summer heat, but also because the festival shifted his understanding of his audience in a crucial way early on in his career. “I played Afropunk Paris when I released my first album, and it was a beautiful experience—just beautiful black people. At that time I had the perception that my music wasn’t reaching the black community in a way, but that totally squashed that perception.”
By the time Bridges takes the stage at the festival itself, he's narrowed down his selection to the more lightweight shirt of the two: embroidered with miniature trees and pagodas, it serves as a neat reminder of the textile's WWII-era origins. Bridges has worn two jackets from Bode in that same silhouette in the past. “It’s kind of cropped—soldiers would take military shirts and crop them themselves and have them embroidered, so that’s the idea that we translate into our classic silhouettes,” Bode says.
It's this preoccupation with the past that is woven through both Bode and Bridges’s work, and makes their partnership feel completely natural. “I feel like with our brand, the goal is to have shapes that are classic and materials that are comfortable and historic,” adds Bode. "You can take one of our garments and put it in a photograph and not really know what period it’s from. I think Leon's music speaks to that as well." She's right: the very same could be said of the sight of Bridges onstage at Afropunk. Dressed in that sheer shirt and classic blue jeans, his outfit feels somehow both utterly timeless, and perfectly of the moment.
Originally Appeared on Vogue