Layers and chaos. Those were the two words Eli Russell Linnetz used when describing how he wanted A$AP Rocky's Met Gala outfit to look to quilter Zak Foster. Quilts can easily take 40 to 50 hours to make. Foster was given six days. As a full-time public school teacher (Foster has since left his job to pursue quilting full time), Foster, who learned how to quilt "like anybody learns anything these days: YouTube and Instagram," knew this wasn't going to be an easy feat. "There were days where I worked all day at school, and then came home and sewed 'til bedtime," he recalls.
Padora first reached out on behalf of Linnetz, whose eponymous label ERL is known as the pinnacle of west coast cool. Linnetz found Foster and the original intention was to remake a vintage puff quilt that he had found at a thrift shop near his office in Southern California.
The quilts origin story, as it turns out, is quite atypical — as atypical as wearing a quilt is to an event as esteemed as the Met Gala. According to a person named Sarah with the Instagram account @books_n_babies, the quilt was a family heirloom. "So my great grandmother's quilt was donated to an antique/thrift store a while back," she wrote next to a side-by-side photo of the quilt and the rapper's Met Gala look. "When I saw the Met Gala photo, I realized instantly that it had to be the same quilt."
ERL designer Eli Russell Linnetz, who was responsible for the custom silk taffeta tuxedo that Rocky wore under the quilt, told Vogue that he found the vintage quilt at a thrift store. "I read the Vogue article about the designer finding the quilt in Southern California, and with his office not that far from us in Venice California, I demanded that my mom go look for the photos of it on our old bed," Sarah wrote on Instagram. "Looks like great grandma Mary went to the Met Gala with A$AP Rocky."
After Sarah's post went viral on social media, some baselessly accused Linnetz of stealing the quilt, which he had purchased from a thrift store. Sarah posted a follow-up on social media, clarifying her intent in sharing and making it clear that she'd since had discussions with both Linnetz and Foster, and was nothing if not elated at the coincidence. "I posted this because I found it amazing that some thing that my great grandmother made out of love for my mother, to be used to keep her warm, and was donated so that it might keep somebody else warm or sold to raise funds for a lovely charity, ended up being used for an amazing statement art piece by amazingly talented people who took it to the next level."
Foster believes Sarah's quilt to be thee quilt. "McCall's made a quilt pattern in 1978 and so we've seen a handful of these quilts surface in the last couple weeks, but given that Sarah was able to describe in detail parts of the quilt, coupled with the fact that her family in San Pedro had recently donated it to a thrift store, it adds up enough for me." And he loves it! "Generations of quilters never signed their work and therefore the maker and their story was easily separated from the work itself. It's so rare to track down the original maker, but given the high-visibility of this particular piece, it's been a real joy to witness."
Linnetz chose Foster to help repurpose the quilt because of his A) talent and B) specialty in burial and memory quilts. "There's an irony to it that I liked, using the clothing of the deceased to create this beautiful new quilt then [in their honor] that lasts forever," Linnetz told Vogue. Beyond that, Foster, even from our brief conversation, sees quilts as stories as much as they are multi-layered textiles. Or, in this cast, items of clothing.
Foster believes that it was working with clothing in such an intuitive and improvisational way that caught Linnetz's eye for the Met Gala project. "I don't often have a plan when I set out to make a quilt," he explains, adding that he just starts cutting and sees where it leads. "I have come to see quilts for their transformative properties. Quilts have a magic uniquely inherent to them, and tapping into that magic is what draws me back to the art form over and over. That magic has its roots in story and history and the life lived in the deconstructed garments I use in so many of my quilts. Knowing the roots can help us preserve memories, keep stories intact, remember loved ones and heal our grieving."
The original intention to remake the puff quilt shifted to using the original, but adding a red side, "which I was more excited about as it gave me a lot of creative latitude with design," Foster says, explaining that it made for a far more striking piece in that the original quilt had character built up through its history: It was faded, smushed in certain spots and, perhaps most importantly, an energy that cannot be replicated. He worked closely with Padora and Linnetz, swapping process photos back and forth until the layers and chaos were achieved.
"Knowing the roots can help us preserve memories, keep stories intact, remember loved ones and heal our grieving."
The trio — Foster, Pandora and Linnetz — finally met on the day of the final fitting in Brooklyn. Foster was invited to the Carlyle to accompany them in seeing the look come to life. While Foster admits "that's not my scene," he was "happy to just see the piece on the red carpet."
And that he got to do, along with millions, when Rocky and his date, Rihanna, landed on the carpet late into the event. Foster waited patiently to see when Rocky would open the coat to reveal his handiwork. "I was beginning to wonder if we'd even see the red side of the quilt. But he goes on smiling at the cameras, looking cute with Rihanna, taking the stairs one step at time, and finally when he reaches the top, he opens the quilt up revealing the red side and creating his own little patch of red carpet."
That, Foster said, was the best moment from the evening. "This felt like a victory for the quilting community as a whole. I got so many messages from folks who were as excited as I was because they'd seen a quilt on a red carpet. It was cool to have a hand in creating a moment like that not just for me, but for so many people."
Welcome to "Wear Me Out," a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.
Photos via Getty