The knitwear label Lingua Franca began on an impulse. Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, the founder of the site Guest of a Guest, happened to embroider “booyah” on a sweater and posted an image on Instagram, and the demand for more came pouring in. A year later, the label is a runaway success, sold at Net-a-Porter and a favorite of New York personalities and celebrities alike, with everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Gabby Hoffman and Christy Turlington lapping up MacPherson's handcrafted cashmere sweaters embroidered with hip hop lyrics. And for the Women's March rallies the day after Donald J. Trump's inauguration, she created a special sweater bearing the words, "I Miss Barack, with all proceeds going to a charity of the customer's choosing (about $10,000 so far). For what remains of the winter, she will brave the cold and this time of uncertainty in her anti-Trump sweaters.
What is your history with sweaters?
I actually had no intention of starting a knitwear company, or anything close to it. Last February I was in Montauk and looking for something to do with my hands. I learned how to sew from my grandmother when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t picked up a needle in more than a decade. That weekend, I picked up a sweater and embroidered “booyah” on it. I put it on Instagram and friends started requesting some of their own. I knew if I was going to do another company, it was going to have to be something I really loved. I totally love the concept of “Lingua Franca,” which means a “common language.” I also love the concept of high/low in fashion and in life. Hand stitching hip hop phrases on cashmere seemed to really speak to me. And, I just love that the craft of embroidery has historically been a “woman’s craft.” I think there’s a very deliberate but underlying feministic message at play. How do you choose the quotes you embroider?
My husband Sean [MacPherson] got his start opening hip-hop clubs in the early Nineties in L.A. and so collaborating on sayings that will resonate has become a favorite past time of ours. Lately I’ve been outraged with the political landscape. This month our most popular personal order has been “I Miss Barack.” I think it’s cool that there will be hundreds of women walking around rocking that sweater. Which sweater has been your favorite to date?
It’s so hard—it changes all of the time! Today we did one that said “the future will not be tweeted.” I love that. Also I have a soft spot for “booyah,” because it’s the very first word I ever sewed on anything.
Do you personally embroider every sweater?
I wish! We have done thousands of sweaters and I’d say our system is one of organized chaos. We have almost 50 embroiderers working part time for us now. For wholesale, I chalk the first sample and the embroiderers copy it. For personal orders, I chalk each one by hand before it gets sent off to be embroidered. What was it like getting a business off the ground?
This business is unusual in that it was totally organic. It was completely different than launching my first company. There’s been no structure or plan from the beginning so it’s been pretty low expectations - which means everything that has happened has been a wonderful surprise. We began on vintage cashmere sweaters that we bought from various sources. My favorites were the Pringles of Scotland cashmeres. Most people think cashmere should be super soft to the touch. But, the very best cashmere is the tightest weave knits that aren’t actually as soft as you’d think. They are the ones that hold up over time and are very hard to find now. We copied the style, color and shapes of my favorite vintage Pringles cashmere for our Spring line.
Which quotes do you find are the most popular with your customers?
It really has been across the board. Some that have stood out include “it was all a dream,” “Original Gangsta” and “ Old School.” But, this month in particular has seen tons of “i miss barack” orders. It’s exciting! What trends are you seeing among women right now that you’re excited about?I love things that are individualized and done by hand, things that you can actually feel the love poured into. I am friends with Alix of Bohemia who makes these incredible one of a kind jackets. I love that. I also love that there are so many options right now for buying clothes. I love second hand and vintage finds - and there are so many online sites where you can find just the most amazing things. I’ve never been one for trends. What’s up next?Right now we are working on our summer line. Picasso is my inspiration for that collection, which will include stripes but also phrases that embody his “beat the system” lifestyle. I haven’t set my mind on fall yet but had a dream about argyles the other week. I think it’s in the cards….
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