Spending about 10 hours a day doing embroideries in a modest cabin just outside Reykjavik, the British artist Merry James puts flowers and animals of his adopted homeland on vintage sportswear. Splitting his time between two cities of Iceland and Manhattan, he who grew up in a family of artists in rural Gloucestershire, in the southwest of England, has taken the stark contrast of both terrains as inspiration for his capsule collection of custom-stitched sweaters and T-shirts, which he will sell for the first time ever at Opening Ceremony.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but the sewing was definitely some kind of reaction against being stuck in a big city for longer than I was comfortable with,” says the 33-year old Merry. “Embroidering plant life is my very polite, very English form of protest against the urban. I’m taking the most street, mass-produced thing I could think of,” he says of the vintage athletic apparel he uses as canvas, “and transforming it into something that feels handmade and natural.”
Merry sews freehand directly onto the fabric to let the design develop more organically, often according to what grows around him at the moment he is working his piece. As for the garment he uses as a canvas – old-school sportswear he gathered via eBay and other sites, he says that certain sport brand logos are surreally aligned with particular plant life. For Nike, it’s primroses; Fila suits mushrooms and moss; and Kappa, he says, works with root vegetables that range from radishes to carrots.
The project, which is a time-consuming process that operates on a minute scale (Merry sometimes spends an entire day building a few centimeters of the circular formations of thread required to mimic the textural finish of moss), runs parallel with his role as a long time collaborator with Björk. In fact, it was her who introduced Merry to Humberto Leon, the creative director of Opening Ceremony.
“They’re like one-off pieces of art that you can wear,” says Leon of the collection. “You can feel the depth of emotion that goes into every embroidery. It’s not even about the logo – it reminds me of those buildings that have been left vacant and nature has taken over.” Available at Opening Ceremony’s SoHo flagship store from December 10th, the 18-piece limited edition retails from $800-$950 USD. Merry James will also take up residence for a live embroidery installation on the 10th through to December 13th.