In the canon of interior design, Sheila Bridges is a modern icon, becoming well-known by her trademark of infusing Blackness into the Eurocentric fabric art known as “Toile de Jouy” (most often simply referred to as “toile”). Traditionally, toile depicts pastoral scenes of frolicking French nobility and peasants of the Caucasian persuasion; Bridges’ spin on the classic fabric, “the Harlem Toile,” reminds the viewer that we Black folk like to frolic, too.
“I didn’t ever see myself represented in any of the designs...So, I created my own,” Bridges says in a statement provided to The Glow Up by classic sneaker brand Converse, which on Wednesday announced a capsule collection with the famed creative as part of Converse x Union, their ongoing collaboration with the 29-year-old independent designers’ collective and retailer Union, run by Chris Gibbs in Los Angeles.
This “All Star” collaboration is “part of Converse’s ongoing commitment to support Black creatives by amplifying their voices,” says the brand in its release. Bridges’ prints are put to artful use on classic Converse silhouettes and apparel, adding a subversive twist to a brand well-loved by Gen Z-ers and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris alike.
“Exhibiting a duality in expression, the toile depicts scenes of African American culture in the style of French toile and lampoons common stereotypes while also celebrating the culture,” says the brand, further explaining:
While the print has found a permanent home at some of the world’s most prominent museums, a desire for democratization led Gibbs and Bridges to Converse and the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star, long celebrated as a symbol of style, self-expression and accessibility. Marking the first iteration of the Harlem Toile on footwear, the sneaker’s classic white canvas serves as a base for Bridges’ design, which is punctuated by an expressive orange outsole and blue laces for alternate styling.
“It’s an indelibly designed shoe,” said Gibbs. “It’s that cool shoe. It’s the perfect canvas for intricate stories via print graphics.”
The collaboration, which Bridges intends as “a far more colorful, hopeful and youthful medium to celebrate the beauty of Black culture,” debuted with a short film directed by New York-born artist & filmmaker Raj Debah and filmed with Harlem as its backdrop (above). Celebrating the magic of both Harlem and the designer’s aesthetic, Debah’s film aims “to recontextualize the toile and reflect inner-city youth of today,” as Bridges shares. Filmed on location at notable neighborhood landmarks like Morningside Park, Marcus Garvey Park and the National Black Theater and starring young members of Harlem-based arts organizations Harlem School of the Arts, Hoops by the River, and National Double Dutch League, “Bridges hopes the film introduces the toile to the next generation of creatives and breathes ‘new life’ into the design,” says the brand.
Coincidentally, Debah’s wife, photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis, recently released her first Converse capsule on August 13. Her chromatic, double-exposed florals were a tribute to her late father (“give the man his flowers” she told the brand) and adorned the brand’s reworked Chuck Taylor All Star CX and accessories, as well as an accompanying cotton jersey pullover hoodie...understandably, the “floral fantasy” instantly sold out.
Also breathing new creative life into the Converse legacy is the brand’s aptly named Converse All Stars, “a global community powered by the next generation of emerging leaders in sport and culture,” which is opening to the public for the first time this fall. To expand their community, Converse inviting up to 250 creative individuals to join Converse All Stars through November 2020. New members will have access to the All Star Series, “an ongoing experience of one-of-a-kind workshops, conversations and performances facilitated by Converse’s extended creative family,” which has previously included sessions featuring creative forces Tobe Nwigwe, Virgil Abloh and Samuel Ross, and participation by Issa Rae and Tyler, the Creator.
From the brand:
As the original brand of youth culture, Converse’s iconic “All Star” canvas shoes have shown up in moments of rebellion, progress, change and creativity, as a means for expression. Through All Stars, Converse will play a more purposeful, two-way role with the communities that have always embraced us.
For more than two years, Converse has been engaging, steadily growing and creating this grassroots global community of individuals from more than 27 cities, spanning LA to Lima. At its core, the program hinges on a robust community-focused ecosystem of mentorship, commission and funding; Converse’s global network facilitating capacity building that helps young creatives gain professional experience and opportunity.
Additionally, the company launched a $1MM accelerator program dubbed Converse All Star Captains, “which aims to fast-track the progress of a dozen individual All Stars who strive to define a new possible through creative action in sustainability, inclusivity and diversity, and youth development—areas where progress is critically needed today.” In October, All Stars can submit proposals to Converse on ideas that will potentially “change the game”; the first annual class of Captains will each receive a year of funding, along with mentorship opportunities from Converse.
The Converse x Union Chuck Taylor All Star, pullover hoodie and bucket hat, each featuring Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile, will be available from $40-$100 at Converse.com and select retailers on beginning October 13, 2020. To learn more, including how to join Converse All Stars, please visit: converse.com/allstars.