When Rachelle Hruska MacPherson picked up a navy cashmere sweater and embroidered the front with the word ‘booyah’ in red thread last winter, she had no intention of starting a business. But after posting a picture of her creation on Instagram, the requests for more, from friends and strangers, poured in.
“I was in Montauk, it was really cold, and I was kind of bored and also looking for something to do that was with my hands,” said MacPherson from the office of GuestofaGuest.com, the media company she runs. “And then on the drive home, my husband Sean [MacPherson], who got his start opening hip hop clubs in the ’90s in L.A., said let’s think of some fun hip hop lyrics that speak to both of us.”
The couple, who married in 2011, had “beat the system” inscribed inside their weddings bands, which became the next sweater, followed by “fight the power,” “don’t believe the hype,” and “outlaw.” She’s embroidered about 30 sayings since, many times over.
“I love the juxtaposition of these raw hip hop lyrics and phrases with a delicate cashmere sweater,” said MacPherson. “Hip hop has become the lingua franca of our time; the common language that the Upper East Side mom and the kid living in Brooklyn uses.”
So, two weeks ago, she trademarked the name Lingua Franca, and hired two employees to help her sew—one sourced from Craigslist, and the other from the Waverly Inn, which her husband owns—as demand continues to grow. (Every sweater is “chalked” by MacPherson, so they’re all in her script.) She sources vintage cashmere pieces from 1stDibs, eBay, and other online sources. Her favorites so far have been oversized men’s options from Pringle of Scotland, and an ’80s gem from L.L. Bean, which she embroidered with “i miss biggie.”
Her audience has developed beyond her groups of friends. Gabby Hoffmann wore a “Bernie” sweater during a rally earlier this year; Mark Ruffalo has worn “Fight the Power;” Christy Turlington is also a fan. Just this week, Leonardo DiCaprio picked up an “original gangsta” for his girlfriend at The Crow’s Nest in Montauk (also owned by her husband), where the sweaters are sold. (MacPherson is quick to point out no nepotism was involved; she had to go through the regular channels to sell her sweaters at the hotel.) The Upper East Side boutique Fivestory also picked it up (retail price: $360) and tonight, MacPherson will unveil a collaboration with Vanessa Traina and The Line.
Crouching in her office in the basement of The Jane Hotel (yes, her husband owns it as well), MacPherson attributed the appeal of the sweaters to the growing appetite for handmade products. “I also love that embroidery is a women’s craft,” she said as she organized a kaleidoscope of cashmere.
This fall, MacPherson is teaming up with Harden, a company out of L.A. that uses recycled cashmere, and she’ll be making her own items. To start: a baby sweater that reads “gangsta,” and a matching one for mom with “original gangsta,” plus a travel blanket. And she hopes to continue expanding, albeit slowly.
“I’ve had to turn down so many people because I don’t ever want to make them in bulk. I want them all to be handmade, every single one. They take an hour each to do, and a lot of effort, so all these places that wanted to sell them, unfortunately, at this point they’re not going to be available online,” she said. “Our tagline is ‘if you don’t know, now you know,’ so if you’re really wanting one, you’ll figure out a way to get one.”
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Photos: Cashmere Sweaters Fit for Leonardo DiCaprio and Christy Turlington
Rachelle Hruska MacPherson wearing Lingua Franca at The Jane Hotel. Photo by Brad Ogbonna. Produced by Biel Parklee.
“Fight the Power”: Rachelle Hruska MacPherson arranges her Lingua Franca sweaters. Photo by Brad Ogbonna. Produced by Biel Parklee.
Original Gangsta: Rachelle Hruska MacPherson sells her embroidered cashmere sweaters for $360. Photo by Brad Ogbonna. Produced by Biel Parklee.