DRESSING FOR GOD
Mayan Toledano is a recently graduated fashion designer and art director currently based in New York City. Forging somewhat of a power trio with fellow designer Julia Baylis and model/photographer Petra Collins, they are creating their own brand of unabashedly feminine style, where friendship is adorned with the peachy romanticism of carefree girlhood. The emerging talent’s work has already appeared in i-D magazine among others, and with a growing network of addicted fans following her world, Toledano is poised for major success in the mainstream.
In her most recent project Sunday Best, Toledano portrays the women of Harlem as they attend Sunday church services – shot beautifully by Toledano and presented as a printed zine, eventually used as the inspiration for her debut collection. Not only does it capture a rare perspective on the weekly meetings of a close-knit community; it celebrates the enduring creativity of these women who embody spiritual devotion in exquisite decoration.
Talk me through the new Sunday Best zine. How did you first get the idea to head to Harlem?
The idea for this project actually came to me a little over a year ago when I was sitting in a restaurant in Brooklyn. It was raining and I noticed a lady that stepped in to hide from the rain, she wore a really crazy outfit with a floor length gold jacket, matching handbag, shoes, big hat and everything. So I snapped a photo on my phone and I realized that it wasn’t only that I was attracted aesthetically to what she wore but it was also the recognition that she was going to church on that day. It made me realize how recognizable religious clothing can be and mad me think a lot about tradition and how it is passed on. I am someone whose really inspired by long lasting things in this world and I love to see how certain rituals in our society remain the same over time.
That’s definitely refreshing to hear, especially from inside the fashion world where everything and everyone seems so disposable. Where the ladies happy to be photographed? How did they react to you?
A lot of them were super excited and open, I was actually surprised by how accepting and warm they were. The visits to Harlem became my ritual too and I was excited to share that ceremony with them. They inspired me so much that it really kept me going in a year that is full of deadlines and commitments.
Did you attend the services too?
I did, it was a great part of my research. I found that it meant a lot for them when I attended service and I really wanted to respect them and the religious aspect as well. I believe that there isn’t a better way to study a culture but to truly immerse in it and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than just go to church. I tried to learn as much as I can, rather than trying to reflect upon it through observation alone.
Did you connect in any way with the spiritual aspects of the Sunday ritual?
I was definitely moved by the energy and the strong sense of community they share. Being raised Jewish in Israel, I find the religious practices in Harlem special, festive and celebrative. Based on my background I see how religion can bring people together, but also how it can set people apart. That’s part of the reason why I chose to focus around tradition, I do find the ceremonial aspect of religions to correspond and there’s an interesting tension there that I’d love to explore going forward.
How have you transferred the images into your fashion design work back in the studio? I can see a visual connection in the textures of the fabrics and colour palettes…
It was definitely in the colors and fabric selection. But I was also interested in translating tradition through methods of craft and imagery that I used. What I really loved about the ladies is how bold they were and sort of unapologetically decorative in their outfits. I tried to develop my own fabrics and treatments to give myself that extra freedom, thinking about how they themselves create and design their own clothes in many cases.
You mentioned this aspect of being unapolgetically decorative – about this pride in appearance being a reflection of taking pride in community. How important are the outfits in this?
I feel that naturally these are subjects I’m attracted to and seeing a group of strong women holding hands outside of church and celebrating their ability to dress so uniquely made it all come together. I was thinking about femininity in the traditional sense, like how they all wear skirts or how they make their own outfits. There is something so sweet and girly about how they dress but they are all strong, powerful women. The need to “decorate” is also what started female art I think that female craft is important to my collection too.
Who was your favourite lady to photograph, or your favourite outfit?
Eileen. I felt lucky every time I photographed her walking down Adam Clayton blvd with her two grandkids. I have three photos of her and her colors definitely informed my collection: white, pink and purple. She’s unforgettable.
Will the collection be on sale?
What are you working on next?
Me and my friend Julia Baylis are collaborating on a collection of dresses, tshirts and custom pieces. It’s super cute, fun and girly and sort of a relief from school for both of us. I feel so fortunate to have met her, we inspire each other and get super excited in the process. We’re also lucky to have our friend Petra Collins, who was also modeling for me when I shot my collection, working with us on the look book.