The Road to Bode’s Back-to-Back Menswear Designer of the Year Trophies

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On Monday, designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla of Bode secured one of the CFDA’s most prestigious titles — Menswear Designer of the Year — for the second consecutive go-around. Beating out Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo, AMIRI’s Mike Amiri, Thom Browne and Willy Chavarria, the twice-crowned visionary has achieved a feat in fashion that only the likes of Thom Browne, Tom Ford and John Varvatos have accomplished before her. Seated amongst the industry’s finest talents, Bode’s namesake label now comfortably operates at the helm of American menswear. The question is: how did she do it?

Born and bred in Atlanta, Georgia, Bode was raised by a family of heirloom connoisseurs. She became an avid patron of the city’s antique stores and fairs, thanks to her mother and aunt’s penchant for scouring vintage markets. Her grandfather, a collector of American antiques, gifted her an appreciation for aged relics as well. Upon moving to New York in 2008 to attend the Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College, Bode found that her family’s heritage in antiquity — or the “Bode bug,” as fashion calls it — had stuck. With her BA-BFA dual degrees in menswear design and philosophy, the rising designer began to breathe new life into vintage and deadstock textiles through fashion.

In 2016, following stints at Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, Bode founded her namesake menswear label in her Lower East Side apartment. Originally, the imprint existed as a couture studio, producing pieces one by one out of antique textiles including New England quilts, hand-spun Indian fabrications, decades-old handkerchiefs and blankets from flea markets across the globe. The result was a burgeoning portfolio of original, pragmatic menswear. Though critics initially scoffed at the idea of purple blankets and embroidered tops hanging in men’s wardrobes, Bode was undeterred.

“Even though I’m making pink quilts, or embroidered shirts, it’s guys [who are] wearing it,” she told The Fader seven months after launching her label. “The colors are bright: it’s fun, it’s whimsical, but it’s still very much menswear. It’s weird reading people say, ‘It doesn’t look like menswear.’”

Suffice to say, Bode’s subtle opposition to the status quo had New York’s fashion scene affixing itself to her thought-provoking — and sustainably-minded — designs. In 2018, Bode became the first female designer to show during New York Men’s Week. Opening a new door for women in menswear, Bode presented a collection that transformed materials spanning mattress covers to vinyl upholstery and tapestries to centuries-old cloth into contemporary, art-filled men’s silhouettes. Following this triumphant debut, she was named a runner-up in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

In 2019, Bode was awarded the CFDA’s Emerging Designer of the Year title, an impressive accomplishment after only three years at the helm of her fledgling label. And according to Forbes, business was booming: she appeared on the magazine’s prestigious “30 Under 30” list.

In June of that same year, she traveled overseas for another first: a show during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris. On opening day, Bode’s fully-fledged Spring/Summer 2020 runway show offered a high-fashion upgrade for her brand; the label, which once associated itself with intimate living spaces and art studios, commanded a grand, 16th arrondissement townhouse with patchwork coats, crochet shirts, belted jumpsuits, welding jackets, jersey pants and ballet slippers. At her highest caliber, Bode stayed true to her roots, noting that the collection’s circus theme was inspired by her family’s ties to a wagon shop contracted by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

It was at that time that Bode reached another pivotal milestone. Aside from the obvious accolades and international acclaim, the designer told GQ that people had finally started pronouncing her label’s moniker — and her last name — correctly. It seems small now, but at the time, it was an important moment for the humble designer, whose work is essentially a physical manifestation of her family’s history and antiques. Hence, we’re going on the record: it’s pronounced BOH-dee.

Upon returning to Paris Fashion Week for her Fall 2020 runway, Bode’s style codes were succinctly identifiable. The designer’s affinity for blending age-old textiles into masterfully-cut arrangements of bed linens, delicate suedes, and of course, vivid quilts, spoke for itself across totally unique, patchworked trucker jackets, faux-fur-printed coats and gold-embellished trenches. It was evident that the daring color palette she chose — cherry red, mint green, light blue, charcoal gray, mustard yellow and burgundy — suited menswear just right.

In 2020, Bode won the inaugural Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation at the International Woolmark Prize. The prestigious award association, which has previously crowned Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani and Lagerfeld winners, not only earned Bode the industry-leading nod from the title’s prestigious judges, which included British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, Dior Men’s Artistic Director Kim Jones, Vogue International Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles, Business of Fashion Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks and more, but also granted her a $100,000 AUD ($65,000 USD) prize to expand her manufacturing processes.

“Being innovative doesn’t mean coming up with new techniques,” she told Vogue after her victory. “To be awarded the prize when the brand is grounded in family-owned mills and historical techniques sheds a light on where we’re headed as an industry.”

“[Fashion] doesn’t always have to be new, we can look back.”

The following April, Bode simultaneously presented her Spring/Summer 2021 and Fall/Winter 2021 collections, both paying tribute to her uncle Bill Bode and nodding to the tumultuous effects of the COVID pandemic under the title “A Year Off.” Set inside a vintage college dorm room that recalled the last time her uncle was without his wife Mahri (who died in 2019), the collection put knitwear at its fore, made possible in part by her win at Woolmark, which provided access to certified suppliers in India and Peru producing merino wool and various other knits. Still, Bode signatures like staple patchwork, hand-drawn imagery and antique fabrics ran through the veins of the range.

Later that year, Bode took home her first Menswear Designer of the Year trophy at the CFDA Fashion Awards over Jerry Lorenzo for Fear of God, Mike Amiri for AMIRI, Telfar Clemens for Telfar and Thom Browne, placing her line at the pinnacle of American menswear.

With large shoes to fill, Bode returned with a Pre-Fall 2022 collection in June of this year. Looking inward at her marriage to her partner Aaron Aujla, the line comprised eccentric formalwear donning unconventional patterns and hues. It was a slight departure from what Bode would normally produce, but with closer inspection, it was clear that elements of the designer’s traditional design techniques held each iteration together.

Then, in September, the visionary introduced her Fall 2022 collection, which stylistically entered the brand’s archives to revisit Bode’s debut effort. Celebrating the imprint’s journey, the latest range recalled the no-holds-barred approach that first catapulted the designer onto New York’s fashion radar. There was no shortage of antique inclusions, technical applications, intricate embroidery or heavy pigmentation. It was simply Bode, at its finest. So fine, evidently, that it, alongside her now-firmly-cemented hold on American men’s style, earned her a second consecutive Menswear Designer of the Year award at this year’s CFDA ceremony.

For her fashionable efforts to reinvigorate and protect bygone portraits of America, the secondary title feels fitting. Between this year and last, Bode effectively championed herself, with collections celebrating the story of an American girl whose trailblazing approach to menswear design built new avenues for women in the industry — and, on a more personal level, whose romance sparked sartorial influence over an entire collection meant for men.

Where Bode once sought inspiration from her family members’ plotlines, she now finds herself reenvisioning her own for the future of others. It’s safe to assume that she’ll continue crafting her signature silhouettes through both her family’s stories and her personal anecdotes, but regardless of where each season begins, her award-winning success continues to lie in her consistently reinventive design approach.

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