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my job at girbaud was really exciting, even though i was mostly doing “CAD” work illustrating specs for clothing, and my boss had daily meltdowns and yelled at everyone. i made friends with a graphic designer in the office down the hall, anthony goicolea, and he was my first friend who lived in brooklyn. he and his boyfriend had turned a storefront in williamsburg into an amazing apartment where everything was white (this is his current home).

a freelancer named karen who sometimes worked at girbaud told me about the fashion temp agency 24/seven, which sent her on short term jobs paying $20-40/hour. so i left girbaud to be a freelance CAD artist. I loved the flexibility and getting to peek into different companies without making a commitment to work there full-time. at every job people would complain incessantly, and it was nice to just observe from the periphery. i worked at the limited, tocca, and calvin klein. at calvin klein i freelanced for over a year and then was hired as the women’s graphic designer for the denim line. the head of HR had been reluctant to hire me full-time because i didn’t have a college degree, and i’m still thankful to my two bosses who pushed her to overlook it.

working for the CK jeans line was not the most creatively fulfilling job, but my bosses and co-workers were incredibly talented. it felt like a rigorous art school (in fact, they paid for their employees to take one class a semester if it was work-related, and i took courses at parsons and FIT in the evenings). i worked insane hours and made friends i’m really close with today– hi! the company sent us traveling to do market research and i loved going to london and LA (to shop!).

a lot of my inspiration at that time came from international magazines, especially japanese fashion mags. i followed the british/japanese clothing line eley kishimoto like a cult– their patterns made me want to be a textile designer. i loved sofia coppola’s clothing line milkfed, which mostly sold in japan. i’d see chloe sevigny on the subway sometimes and i loved her style. there were lots of small shops in the east village and lower east side that carried collections by independent designers. we shopped at TG170, johnsonalife, built by wendy, and the first steven alan store was in a small space on east 11th, and then later on wooster (where i was introduced to lines like katayone adeli and vanessa bruno). i met cal patch at her shop on rivington, patch 155, and a group of friends and i took a crochet class from her and it reignited my love for handcrafts. i also took classes at the make workshop– a quilting class with denyse schmidt felt life changing.

i interviewed for a job at jill stuart and accepted a position of graphic and textile designer. my second day at the new job was 9/11/01. i stepped out our front door and started to turn right to walk up to 14th street and catch the train, but i saw people staring towards downtown so i turned to look. one of the twin towers had a gaping hole. it looked so surreal. i ran back upstairs and told josh to look out the window. over the next hour we watched from our fire escape as both towers fell and hundreds of people walked up hudson street covered in debris. it was horrible…

the west village changed so much during the seven years we lived there. sex and the city started filming and then perry street became a tourist destination. magnolia bakery, a block from our place, had insane lines. we still loved living there, but basic amenities were disappearing… our laundromat became an expensive eyeglass store and our favorite chinese restaurant became a bank. the meat packing district changed even more drastically. florent closed.

my job at jill stuart turned out to be a disappointment. i wasn’t working directly for jill, but rather for a strange company that licensed her denim line, so i left after 9 months. i returned to freelancing and mainly worked for a small husband-and-wife company, angel textiles. there i learned to expertly make repeat patterns of the most complex designs. i loved the technicality of it and being surrounded by textile patterns all day– i felt like i had found my passion in textile design. i started designing and producing my own fabric, and making pillows under my own label.

most of our friends had moved to brooklyn by 2004. we were hesitant to leave manhattan and our cheap, cute apartment but we started looking at real estate listings. we didn’t know brooklyn well– just williamsburg and parts of park slope. we rented a zipcar and drove around for a day to check it out. we loved fort greene.

(top photo: snowy hudson street in 2001, bottom photos: photographing my own textiles in 2004)

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “

  1. ❤️❤️❤️ I hope you continue to tell more stories like this, Lena. It reminds me why this medium can be so special. (I realize that sounds kind of mushy & dorky, but it’s true.) I just wanna hug you through my screen!

  2. what a treat to read your story. i’ve loved reading these two posts and have followed you for many years and its nice to read more of your words again. so many changes you’ve seen in nyc. i visited once – about 5 years ago – it’s a city that lingers in your heart and mind forever even from just a short stay. i cant imagine how big and heart swelling this move might be feeling. it’s lovely that you’ve been able to captures so many moments and words from your time here on this blog. best wishes for your new san fran adventures x

  3. Hi Lena, I loved these two posts. I’ve been a subscriber to this blog for years and years, and it was so interesting to really hear you sum up your life in New York and then Brooklyn. But fortunately for me, I live in San Francisco and look forward to bits of your life when you’re here!

  4. I have also loved these posts, getting to know a little bit more about you and where you came from after loving your visual inspiration for years. Thanks for sharing your memories. I look forward to reading and seeing so much more about your life in California–a place I love and can identify with much more than NY, though I am now so much more curious about it than I ever have been.

  5. really enjoying reading all about your time in NYC Lena! It’s such a special place to live and you have lived here during such an amazing time of your life. I know how hard it is to leave, but what wonderful memories you have made along the way!

  6. Peoples stories are so interesting and rich. I love to immerse in the magic of another persons tale of relationships to people, place and endeavor.
    Ive enjoyed reading these posts thanks for sharing them.
    Good Luck with the move I too will be moving to another state across water in Feb next year leaving behind a city that I feel my identity is attached to but Im really looking forward to the change in direction and pace and Im sure that youre new home and being with family wont replace NYC but add to the wonderful stories that you already have. :)

  7. Oh my gosh Lena, I love these two posts so much. It makes me feel so nostalgic reading your story. In 2003 I lived on Avenue C and went to Tisch…I remember taking the L train to Williamsburg once and getting off at Bedford just because I had heard something about it. I was so disoriented. I ate at Enid’s and then decided to move here a year later. I love knowing so much more about your early days too! What a time.

  8. Hi Lena! I´m always visiting your blog since the beggining and today i felt like ihave to say something. i really love these two posts. It makes me feel a little bit nostalgic as my life goes trought big changes too far from New York but close to this kind of life surounded by design and patterns. Thanks for sharing all these memories with us ♥

  9. I’m enjoying reading about your history in NY. It is interesting to read about how people end up where they are… or move on. As much as I love reading about your New York life, I’ll also be glad to see your take on SF… I live near SF and feel so lucky to be here. Good luck with your transition, your move, and settling in to your new city! I’ll be visiting Kingston NY next week to teach a workshop, then on to NYC for a few days… every few years I look forward to a NYC fix!

  10. Been following your blog for a while — lovely news that you’re moving back to CA. Looking forward to your posts from the west coast. We also made the move from Brooklyn back to SF a few years ago (after our girls were born, to be near family, etc) and are so glad we did!

    xo

  11. One of the many links I saved to read poolside in Palm Springs, Lena! It’s interesting to read – and remember alongside you – snippets if the NYC we grew up in (while not there, especially!). I always love to read about NYC on vacation. Honestly, I’m so happy/excited for you, josh and Eli to have a new adventure, it seems so rare these days with everyone settled nicely into life in our thirties… BUT! Reading these snapshots made me so sad for you to lose the NYC we hold dear in our own ways (and the NYC that we lose every time something changes, actually…) I got a little wispy! But life always grows. You are brave to make a jump and smart to write all this personal history down. Xoxo

  12. Florent! That seems like forever ago:) My first big NY memory was coming up from Virginia for the summer of ’97 and renting out a vacant NYU dorm room on10th and Broadway ($600/month, not bad)! I just wanted to be here so badly. We had no AC and I could see the twin towers from the window above my bed. It’s surreal to look at the photos from that summer.

    I loved reading your story and I feel so lucky to have met you along the way. We’ll miss you so much but I can’t wait to see what you’ll be up to in SF! xo

  13. Lena, this is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your New York story with us! I’m excited to hear more! Xx

  14. Hi Lena – such beautiful memories :)

    Glad we got to talk about it more during your visit. You’ve always been such a huge inspiration in my life and I love knowing what you were up to around my age; it makes me hopeful that I could one day be publishing books and selling my work.

    Hugs!

  15. Such beautiful memories Lena. As a twenty something, just moved to the city and starting a new creative business, I hope I look back at these times with the same humbleness and honesty as you. Good luck with the move and I hope you settle in soon.

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