“I make art to remind people that every day is a miracle.” –Rachel Znerold
In San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, about one hundred hipsters gathered recently at fashion house Loft 1315. They were present for Sun Rays and Summer Waves, a playful fashion show at which Rachel Znerold premiered her latest collection of outfits and accessories.
Znerold—an enthusiastic, freckled blonde on the cusp of 30-years-old—wears many (funky, vogue) hats, including performance artist, visual artist, and upcycle clothing designer. DIY eco-fashion maven Rachel Znerold is changing the world—one fresh, fabulous garment at a time.
Post-show, attendee Marlon Sims—a handsome, tawny man with a meticulously shaved scalp—summed up the collection in a single, heavy breath: “flirty, seductive, fun, lacy, floral, and summery.” Sims chalked up his fashion fluency to being a Project Runway fiend.
Sims might have captured the glam and punch of Znerold’s collection, but her “community couture” derives from a sensitive, political core. A passionate progressive, she believes that the fashion industry has the power to generate vital commentary about social and environmental justice. “It’s one of the largest consumer markets, and therefore a significant contributor to the world’s natural resource and waste challenges.”
The DIY designer thinks of the industry as a “huge and powerful animal” to be harnessed as an activist vehicle for “blazing the trails into a more conscious, environmentally focused world. It’s about accepting the responsibility of softening our footprint on the earth and creating perpetual beauty.”
Znerold adheres to these principles by cutting her garments from a zero-impact cloth. “My fashion line is made by upcycling vintage materials into fresh, funky new designs, which allows me to infuse my passions and ideas into a piece of fabric that has its own, personal history.”
Her fashion ethos? “Reuse and recycle, baby!” For her Sun Rays and Summer Waves line, she upcycled floral-print 80s dresses recently gifted to her by her mother. The artist describes her latest collection as a synthesis of “50s surf culture, pin-up girls like Betty Page, 80s floral prints, and classic childhood summertime wear that evokes comfort, freedom, playfulness, and joy—think rompers.”
As part of her creative process, she invites a wide range of friends to sample her garments in order to learn how the pieces flatter various body types. “I like my pieces to be adjustable enough to fit several different shapes. I’m constantly draping and pinning on myself and trying on designs throughout to make sure that the garments fit curves,” she said.
Five hours before the show began, Znerold—at this point, wearing a gray flannel and distressed gray jeans—managed to fit one photographer, one videographer, one makeup artist, three hair stylists, one seamstress’ assistant, nine models, and a cluster of supporters into her rarefied, fifth-story Mission District apartment.
Throughout the flurry of expectant chatter, hot rollers and hairspray, eye liner and rouge, pre-show photos, and last-minute garment touchups, Znerold kept everybody’s stress levels low by offering generous personal attention: “I’m fortunate to have you on this project. You’re beautiful. I’m thankful for you.”
That night at Loft 1315, throngs of distinctly San Franciscan bohemians—think Rasta-gypsy-meets-Tupac-cutoff-tee-shirt—milled about the backyard, patio, fashion gallery and boutique. They nursed the night’s signature tequila-based pineapple elixir, sucked at straws punched into fresh coconuts, noshed on guac and Greek olives, and moved to the DJ’s reggae beats.
Backstage, Znerold, now clad in one of her own flouncy, handmade dresses—a royal-blue floral affair with lace detail—rallied the models with a flushed-with-excitement-and-wine pep-talk. “Remember, this isn’t about the audience thinking, ‘I want to be like her.’ It’s about them thinking, ‘Wow, I really want to be friends with her.’” Instead of sauntering impassively with an expressionless face, Znerold encouraged her team to dance the catwalk, acting like smart tarts brimming with giddy sexuality.
Onstage, the girls seemed to have the time of their lives, and their peppy performativity complemented the whimsical collection. The audience not only got to experience a libidinal, art-struck thrill, but also the opportunity to purchase fresh-off-the-models fashion.
Znerold plays hard. And her hard work is garnering ever more publicity. The artist-activist has recently been profiled by Juxtapoz Magazine, i livehere: SF, and SF Indie Fashion. She’s using the attention to share a positive, personal message: “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Be generous and value people. Give lots of hugs. Laugh a lot. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
An exuberant optimist, Znerold gives advice to those looking to carve out a singular, creative place in the world: “Practice your art every single day. If you treat your art like a real job, it will be.” Her guiding principle? “You actually can change the world!”
*All photographs by Julie Michelle.