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Williamsburg designer on the process behind her literary-inspired jackets

Literature is in style for one Williamsburg designer.

Stephanie Marano melds fiction with fashion in a series of customized, handmade letter jackets. 

Characters, themes and plots are portrayed by pins, patches, quotes, crests and other adornments that tell a fictional story via street style-inspired couture. 

amNewYork chatted with Marano, 31, about how a chance subway encounter launched her business, God Save the Misanthropes, and where she finds inspiration to create her immensely intricate, wearable works of art.

Stephanie Marano, founder of God Save the Misanthropes,
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

Where did the idea for your book jackets come from?
I had gone to see a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” with a friend, and we happened to win a T-shirt. We decided that we would cut it up and split it — he got the image and I took the title script. I have always been into retro youth culture and so the project, the “Lolita” jacket [pictured above on Marano], kind of organically evolved.

What happened when you started wearing that jacket?
By chance, I ran into [Rookie editor-in-chief] Tavi Gevinson on the subway platform on the way home — I’m such a big fan of hers. I said hi but didn’t offer to make her anything. When I told my friends, they all asked why I didn’t offer to make her something. The whole idea of book jackets suited her really well because she’s such a literary person and such a great writer, so I reached out to all the email addresses on Rookie Mag’s website. Somehow she contacted me directly and was super interested in the idea. 

And so you made her “The Secret History” jacket?
That was the novel she wanted it based on. The day that she tagged me on Instagram, my account started going insane. I gained 1,000 followers. It was madness. I had to put my phone on do not disturb so it wouldn’t die.

Can you accommodate all of the requests?
I’m working on some patches that should be up for sale by the end of the month. And I have two more jackets officially lined up. I have one based on “The Golden Compass” series. The jackets take around seven to nine months to make, so that one should be done in November, and then I’ll have a “Great Gatsby” one coming up.

How do you decide what elements of each story go on a jacket? What is your design process? 
It starts with me reading the books or rereading them, just to get ideas in my head and take notes. After reading the text, I listen to the audiobooks while doing the designing process to keep everything flowing in my mind and see if anything else jumps out at me. I’ll research the designs and motifs that stand out and go from there. I like to work with vintage items and deconstruct them. I have a pretty broad catalog of vintage in my home and I also go and shop vintage and contemporary textiles or trends that lend themselves. I’ll go vintage with pins and things that I source. 

Your jackets are so detailed! How do you curate the design and know when it’s finished? 
The construction process is one of my favorite parts. The patch design is the most difficult — that’s where my hidden design details are centered. I spend weeks and weeks on the development of those, getting thread colors and embroidery correct. I stay up late hours and I know when a jacket is done as soon as I’m comfortable hand-sewing that last stitch in the lining. 

What other books do you want to make into jackets?
I would absolutely love to do one based on “The Catcher in the Rye” — it was the first novel that got me into reading. Reading was never something I particularly enjoyed — it always felt monotonous. I think reading “The Catcher in the Rye” was really relatable so I’d like to make that into a jacket. I’d also love to do “The Bell Jar” because I’d love to do something in PVC. 

The 'Secret' details

"The Secret History" jacket by God Save the
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

For Marano, her jackets are like “a treasure hunt” for those who have read the books. But if you need some help, she broke down some of the intricate details in her ode to “The Secret History,” made for Rookie's Tavi Gevinson. The 1992 bestselling novel by Donna Tartt tells the murder-filled story of six classics students (Henry, Camilla, Francis, Richard, Charles and Bunny) at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont. The jacket is rich with symbolism — of the book’s and Marano’s own making.

Fit and fabric

Henry detail on "The Secret History" jacket by
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

“I envision the jacket as having belonged to Henry, but worn by his lover, Camilla,” says Marano, who gave the jacket an oversized fit for Gevinson and sewed Henry’s name on the jacket’s right breast. As for the fabric, Marano knew she wanted to incorporate astrakhan — the curling fleece of young lambs — in some form based on several references in the book: an astrakhan coat is worn by Camilla, and Francis sings a song with the lyric, “We are little black sheep who have gone astray.” “That is precisely what these students are,” she says. She didn’t want to use real fur, but was able to find a “fantastic” vintage faux astrakhan coat to use in the design. 

Pins

Pins on "The Secret History" jacket by God
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

In the novel, Richard compares Henry and Camilla to Hades and Persephone. “I found a vintage cuff link with the image of Persephone on it and converted it into a pin to affix to the varsity letter so Henry would have his love close to his heart,” Marano says. The pin is joined by a tennis racket and playing cards. “Games are a common motif in literature and there’s no shortage of them here,” says Marano, from tennis at Francis’ country house to the gang’s card games. “All varsity jackets need some sports paraphernalia, so I represent this motif with the vintage tennis racket and playing card pins.”

Right sleeve patch

Right sleeve patch on "The Secret History" jacket
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

“The symbol of the raven is used throughout the novel,” says Marano. “They are a notable bad omen and this is discussed when Richard, Charles and Camilla encounter three in a dead tree while taking a walk through the forest near the base of the mountains.” She used this imagery in the patch. 

Chevron

Chevron detail on "The Secret History" jacket by
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

The three bars of the chevron — used to represent the number of years a student athlete has been on a team — is a nod to Bunny, a third-year student who uncovered a murder by the group and was killed after blackmailing them. “There is something arrow-like about the chevron’s shape, and I see it as a representation of Bunny’s fall to his death,” Marano says.

Psi patch

Psi detail on "The Secret History" jacket by
Photo Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Marano

“Tulips are a prominent symbol in this story,” Marano says. “I see them as a representation of spring and birth.” When Bunny is killed, tulips are in bloom, but a snowstorm buries his body. When Charles and Camilla take tulips home, “Richard notes that the Greek letter psi looks like a tulip,” Marano says. “How often am I going to be working with such a Greek-centric narrative? It was a necessary accent.”

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