Grace Napoleon of Folk Couture: Wearable Art for the Daring

We captured some of the essence that makes Grace Napoleon of Folk Couture such an extraordinary entrepreneur and how she manages to offer an authentic experience to her customer.

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This past weekend, we decided to wander around the Brooklyn Flea, catch some sun, check out the vendors and pick up amazing finds.

As we were making our way through the Flea, we stumbled upon Grace Napoleon from Folk Couture who creates one of a kind hand-stitched clothes for women.

How long have you been in business?

I have been doing this full-time for 7 years. I don’t want to make 50 pieces of one, ever, in my entire life. If I was younger and starting today, maybe I could have a different business outlook but you know what? Frankly, I don’t want to work that hard.

Is each piece unique?

Absolutely. One of a kind. No one else will ever have it. I won’t be able to do it again because each piece is used clothing. I hunt the thrifts and I buy what I like. It comes into the studio and I don’t know what I am going to do with it when I buy it. I look at it in the pile, sometimes it takes a year for me to use something. It will get used.

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Waiting for it to speak to you?

Yes, and they will tell me what they want to be.

How did you get started doing this?

I have been an artist all my life so I have done many different things but probably about 8 or 9 years ago I bought a giant tee at Good Will for a dollar. It was huge with this great silkscreen on it but for a dollar I said I will buy it. It sat around for months and then one day I realized that I could cut the arms off and make a skirt out of it but I didn’t have a machine so I hand-stitched another piece of fabric, a patterned fabric, onto it to make a waistband.

Voilà! Folk couture was born and it just evolved from there.

What’s interesting is that when I first started, I thought my audience was going to be you guys, but it’s not. It’s me. It’s that lady who is 50 years old on the right. I sell mainly to 40 plus, I mean I sell to some of you guys but my prices are around 100 dollars, give or take. Older people have a little bit more expendable income and they also don’t give a shit anymore about what anybody says.

How would you describe Folk Couture as a style?

As a style, it’s for women who dare. Folk couture: for women who dare.

It’s all about fun and it’s about your own unique style. The right dress will always find the right woman. There’s a reason why somebody buys something. Somebody would look at that and say, that’s crazy, but somebody else might say remember the time we went diving and they will have a whole story as to why they buy that dress. Or that one. Any of them.

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Do you feel like your clothes have a soul or a story behind them? 

Absolutely. I was talking to a friend of mine who makes clothes and was on Project Runway quite a few years ago about how sometimes we are therapist. We have watched women grow with our clothes and it’s really an amazing thing. One day after coming home from a show, I asked him “do you feel like women are empowered by your clothes?” and he said yes. It’s true and sometimes I will get people who are not ready to buy it, like they love it, but they can’t get there yet. Then later, they’re ready and saying “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna rock it, and I’m not gonna care.”

It’s so funny because I get a lot of women who say “oh my god my daughter is gonna love this, I’ll go get her” and I say “you’re gonna bring your daughter back and she’s gonna give you the stink eye” and it’s exactly what happens. Not every time but a lot of the time because the kids are still into JCrew, it’s gotta be this or it’s gotta be that.

Do you think you have a piece of clothing that’s like that for you specifically?

No, they all want to go to other people. I have never made something for myself. Once in a while I will make something and I will go I think this might fit, I will put it on and I will keep it but I don’t make clothes for myself. I do teach project runway, up in Connecticut, in the summer at a camp. I teach duck tape too since everything is hand-stitched. I can alter things for people – they will say “oh my god it has long sleeves!” and I will reply “I have scissors!”

It’s not rocket science what I do. But, I have an eye that other people don’t.

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Tell us about an idea that you have for sharing knowledge.

My parents used to do the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show in Greenwich Village in the 60’s. Something that I think would be great to do is to have an intensive seminar, like a one day or two day thing, on doing shows. Having three different persons, and people traveling in small groups, will go from one person to the next. I am talking about setup. Another person is talking about doing photography for your application. Somebody else is talking about why you are applying to certain shows.

I spoke on a panel recently in Manhattan about doing markets and I found that people were so interested – I couldn’t believe the energy in the room.  There is thirst for this knowledge because it’s not being taught.

I have a lot of knowledge and I don’t mind talking! It’s hard work and I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love it.

Why choose Brooklyn?

Brooklyn’s cool! I started with the Flea years ago, and it’s kind of a happening place.