Full disclosure: calling tapestry a “trend” feels silly. While it has made enough runway cameos to earn the credential, tapestry has a little more teeth in the game than other seasonal crazes. In its many evolutions, across countless countries and thousands of years, tapestry has remained nothing less than an art form. Although some of those evolutions ended up as grandma purses and thrift store rugs, this season has unveiled a slew of tapestry garments that make the weave feel anything but old. This knitwear is creeping into trend-territory, but tapestry has roots nearly as deep as fashion itself.
Recording textile history can be tricky—most fabrics decay into oblivion over the years, depending on climate and preservation—but the first trace of tapestry dates back to Ancient Egypt. Throughout the seventh century, linen and flax were woven into lightweight tunics and patterned shawls. Tapestry’s durability and breathability made it essential for the scorching desert—Egyptians even buried their dead in tapestry clothing.
One hundred years later, tapestry cropped up across Asia and South America. Silk-woven garments, iridescent and lightweight, decorated the nobility of eighth-century China. Around the same time, Andean cultures in Peru spun alpaca wool into geometric-patterned ponchos.
Through its European evolution, tapestry emerged as a medium of storytelling. The Catholic Church commissioned intricate, handwoven tapestries to bring Bible stories to life for illiterate congregations. Throughout the 1600s, tapestry’s narrative ability stretched—battles, landscapes, and everyday scenes were stitched into immortality. At this point, tapestry weavers were a legitimate sector of artists, and passed their craft down through generations.
In the centuries that followed, tapestries joined pantaloons, chamber pots, and monarchies as a relic of renaissance past. By the end of the twentieth century, the material itself was reserved for retiree luggage. But, in 2000, tapestry suddenly hopscotched into the high fashion vocabulary—thanks to none other than Rei Kawakubo.
For her Spring/Summer 2000 collection, the Comme des Garçons kingpin unveiled a parade of patchwork tapestry garments. Each one-of-one piece was allegedly made with scraps of material from Gobelins, a Parisian tapestry manufacturer that’s been operating since the 1600s. Twenty years later, the inimitable embroidered staples remain some of the most sought-after grails in CDG history.
Bode Needlepoint Jacquard Shirt, Spring/Summer 2020
In 2016, tapestry’s second coming arrived on the back of Emily Adams Bode and her namesake brand. Bode set out to construct upcycled heirlooms with vintage quilts, merit ribbons, soda caps, and—you guessed it—tapestry. The result was a form of repurposing that menswear had never seen before; Bode’s embroidered shirts and tapestried shorts became unexpected treasures within higher streetwear circles. Within one year, tapestry had swarmed the luxury industry.
For Spring/Summer 2017, Dries Van Noten released a series of tapestry trenches and shorts. Loewe dropped a genderless tapestry bag that same season, while Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, and Coach each showed tapestry-print bomber jackets. Two years later, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White sent an oversized knit tracksuit down the Spring/Summer 2019 runway. Gucci unveiled their oversized tapestry backpack six months after that, woven with a traditional floral pattern. For Spring/Summer 2020—her first Givenchy menswear collection—Clare Waight Keller revealed an array of tapestry coats inspired by poet Charles Baudelaire. Finally, Comme des Garçons brought the textile full-circle with an entirely Elizabethan collection, bookmarked by tapestry suiting.
Cub-Villain, an Atlanta-based brand specializing almost exclusively in tapestry, dropped a hoodie stitched with a tween Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional. Hip hop iconography has formed a full-blown industry within modern tapestry—Instagram sensation 4x1111 commemorates everything from Playboi Carti’s Die Lit to Tyler, the Creator’s Igor on his crewnecks, while Starving’s “Slatt Crewneck” portraits Young Thug. Even NBA stars have found themselves stitched into the trend—mostly thanks to The Pangaea, whose staples rotate a who’s who of MVPs from Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan.
For the tapestry purists (or streetwear skeptics), some young labels pay tribute to the weave’s history with religious or gothic themes. Worship95—a Chicago brand that, fittingly, explores the ways in which society worships pop figures—stitched Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper across a pair of tapestried shorts. In April, Meliora released a capsule of tapestry crewnecks, with renaissance-era symbolism from budded crosses to Victorian portraits. Cub-Villain stitched the Bible’s crucifixion scene across one of their oversized hoodies, a wearable take on tapestry’s first steps across the walls of medieval Catholic churches.
While the aesthetic of tapestry has tiptoed through luxury for the past decade or so, it’s streetwear’s love for the artistry itself that gives this ancient practice modern staying power. Tapestry’s resurgence, particularly among relatively underground designers, points to a growing appreciation towards craftsmanship and time-tested skill. Methods of craft like tapestry weaving play into a movement towards slower, more sustainable fashion—a movement that’s long overdue within streetwear, where nearly identical logo T-shirts fly in and out of style by the hour. The intricate designs and inimitable quality of tapestry clothing make it a true investment of quality. Each woven garment, whether it presents a pop culture snapshot or renaissance landscape, is much more than part of a trend—it's an heirloom in the making.