Muted oranges, deep browns and soft berry pinks make up the childhood palette of New York-based designer, Emily Dawn Long. With a growing Instagram following, the designer is making pioneering steps in the industry towards recycling and reusing things we would otherwise throw out. William Morris said: ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to beautiful’, and Emily Dawn Long proves that even the humblest carrot, onion or cabbage leaf can be, in fact, both.
Long Dawn Emily, Dawn Long’s label, has a distinct, psychedelic feel. The childish splashes of colour are not chaotic but carefully placed on pieces that include, but are not limited to, shirts, skirts, socks and hats. The influence of a childhood aesthetic is clear in her style; she has spoken to Vogue about staining overalls with berries as a child, in the embryonic stages of her idiosyncratic designs. Her affinity for her garish, distinctive style continued when she studied textile development and design at undergraduate level. She sees dyeing fabric as a process of trial and error, and her pieces certainly speak of the nostalgic, DIY feel of tie-dye.
Dawn Long has tapped into a reawakening social zeitgeist. An image of 1960s counterculture sartorial success, tie-dye has enjoyed fluctuating levels of popularity since its nativity at Woodstock. Dior’s Spring/Summer collection of 2019 featured kaleidoscopic, tie-dyed dresses, conforming to the collection’s emphasis on the movement of the body, highlighting our own bodily-ness. Dawn Long’s collection is visual fluidity made manifest; the flowers, splashes, swirls and faces bleed into the blank fabric, mirroring the curves of the human form, as the pieces themselves become a frame for the body’s portrait.
Dawn Long’s collections are steeped in regeneration. She has recently revealed that her favourite dyes are saffron, cabbage and avocado pits, making her process close to completely zero-waste. The rising threats of fast fashion and food waste are no match for Dawn Long’s environmentally savvy label, whose unique and varied designs have a feeling of the bespoke. Not only bespoke, but personal; she often uses leftovers from group dinners, a tradition that began when she simmered down leftover sweet potato skins into a deep brown dye. She has also spoken about rescuing left over vegetables from juice shops in her native New York, making what would otherwise be waste into something unique, wearable and beautiful.
It’s not only the dyes that are salvaged. She also uses vintage or thrifted pieces as her fabric bases, breathing new life into otherwise discarded items. Dawn Long’s emphasis is on purchasing pieces that wouldn’t otherwise be bought by large wholesale companies; her ethos seems to be the creation of something fresh and original with something classic. Stained clothes are welcome in her armoury of pieces, especially when they would have been thrown away. She doesn’t see something stained as ruined, but rather an opportunity for new design exploration. She’s a specialist in sartorial necromancy.
Her eclectic, unique garments have garnered considerable attention on social media. Her popularity is testament to the ever-increasing power of social media marketing campaigns; designers and their labels have become more accessible, more relatable. I follow Emily Dawn Long on Instagram. Her comparatively meagre following of fewer than 10,000 makes it feel like an exclusive club, or as if I’m witness to the nativity of a soon-to-be explosively famous label. Her posts are fragmentary and cryptic, making her feed more of a curated exhibition of hand-picked, beautiful objects than a commercialised, product-selling machine. The mysterious and enigmatic continues with her dedication to gentle anonymity: images of her own face are few and far between, hidden behind her phone in a mirror selfie or cut off at the chin. Her own art becomes synecdochic of herself.
Dawn Long’s philosophy of resourcefulness and renewal brings a fresh, youthful newness to the current fashion scene. Every item touches her own hands, created in her own apartment in New York. The natural, handmade approach is a splash of restorative colour in a world that grows more impersonal, commercialised and separate by the minute.