The famed Dr. Romanelli discusses the inspirations and design process of his new cut-and-sew collection for Coca-Cola.
Dr. Romanelli brings his knack for deconstructing and repurposing vintage clothes to create new and unique designs for the heritage brand of Coca-Cola. The 200-piece collaboration encompasses one-of-a-kind driving jackets, lab coats, buttondown tunics and tie-dye shirts, made from hand-cut-and-sewn Coke workwear dating all the way back to the 1940s. DRx kept the authenticity and pride of the uniforms of every deliveryman, factory worker, and restaurant server of yesteryear’s Coca-Cola by keeping their names stitched onto every garment, while updating their looks to suit today’s fondness of Americana-inspired streetwear. Traditional chain-stitching, baseball stripes and patches can be found on clothes that DRx personally tagged with Polaroids he took of the before-and-after process, complete with handwritten captions. We sat down with the famed artist and designer to talk about how he approached reinterpreting the Coca-Cola brand, the process of making each piece and his future plans.
For me, a lot of the collaborations usually stem from connections I have with the brand from my childhood. Those brands that you mentioned, I grew up rocking or wearing. Who doesn’t drink Coke growing up, right? It’s just been a staple since I’ve been a kid. It felt really natural to work with them.
What do you think drew Coke to you to be the next collaborator?
Maybe because of my love for brands’ archives and history and they have such a deep history. I’ve been reworking with brands’ archives for a little over a decade now, so we connected. The passion was there from both sides.
How long have you been collecting retro Coke clothing?
Whether it’s vintage sourcing from the internet, the Rosebowl Swap Meet, or working with a friend of mine who goes out and works with collectors — I’ve developed a network over the last ten years to help me find pieces. Coke didn’t have the pieces so I had to source them all myself. I had a year from the inception [of the project] to when I started reconstructing, so I had a nice product range to work with. Some of these vintage pieces cost a lot which is why it’s difficult to cut stuff up sometimes. It was an expensive project.
I’m actually deconstructing authentic vintage pieces. But there’s also a cut-and-sew element. Half the collection is reconstructed Romanelli-style, authentic vintage Coca-Cola items that have been reinterpreted for modern silhouettes. Then there’s the traditional t-shirt range: there are some tie-dyes, paying homage to the “happy factor” of Coke from the late ’70s and early ’80s, and there’s a faux panel shirt sublimated with some traditional logo hits. The way [this collection] is different is that there are one-of-a-kind pieces in the collection, so it’s more collectible.
How do you think this collection is similar to the other designer Coca-Cola collections?
There is a feeling you get when you see any of the Coke symbols or logos. On that level, it exudes the same energy.
How were you inspired to deconstruct the Coke brand? How did you approach the process?
I approached the vintage in a couple of different categories. I love Americana, so there was all the workwear of the delivery guys and people that worked in the factories. And then there was this awesome era of Coke streetwear — which is really incredible — [in] the late ’80s and early ’90s. A lot of these different moments in time were really important from the clothing perspective. I was inspired that there wasn’t just one story. So much history there — 127 years! A lot of it gets lost for the consumer when you just see the piece, but I wanted to educate as much as possible. It’s about reinterpreting and modernizing the classic in a way for the youth generation who might not be so educated on the brand’s history. My goal was to flip it for them so it’s more relevant.
How did you actually make the one-of-a-kind pieces?
I cut everything, but I have a sewer I’ve been working with forever who’s like my right brain. I took Polaroids and tagged every one-of-a-kind piece to show the before and after, which I’m obsessed with. I kept the chain-stitched names of each worker for authenticity and to pay homage to them. Back then, it was such an important job [to work for Coca-Cola].
How much was Coca-Cola involved in the creative process?
I worked closely with their creative director. They were pretty open to me freestyling on the deconstructed pieces. Like with any brand, they were very protective of their DNA, but the whole idea felt really good.
Does this collection also include accessories?
For Phase 1, we are focusing on apparel. We did awesome bottle openers as hang tags which are great as accessories.
So there will be other “Phases”?
It seems like it’s going that way. So far so good.
What are your future plans?
Coca-Cola and I have been working on each [geographical] territory very differently. Next is Korea. I showed at BOON the SHOP eight years ago and I loved it. Then I met SEOULscape through a mutual friend from one of my pancake-epidemic-Friday things. I’m flying there in December.
Which retailers will this collection be in?
Opening Ceremony in New York and London, Juice Hong Kong, Colette Paris, United Arrows Japan. And a couple of smaller boutiques like UNKNWN, LeBron‘s store in Miami, and Fruition Las Vegas. It’s more friends-and-family for Phrase 1.
Shop the Coca-Cola by DRx collaboration now, with prices ranging from $35 to $50 for t-shirts and $450 to $1,650 for the cut-and-sew collection.