Simon Ungless Turned My Blazer Into a Rorschach Test at Atelier Jolie

Photo: Danya Issawi

Simon Ungless tells me he doesn’t know my blazer well enough. Typically, he mentions, he likes to spend weeks with a garment before casting it. “It’s one technique that I do, and I think it’s kind of beautiful,” Ungless, a legendary designer and one of Alexander McQueen’s earliest collaborators, says. Nonetheless, he perseveres, laying a printing screen slicked with white paint over my black jacket.

I’ve found the designer at Atelier Jolie, the new fashion venture from Angelina Jolie. The space is Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol’s former studio on Great Jones Street (and, recently, a frequent backdrop for paparazzi shots of Jolie). Here, in the front room of the atelier, he has a temporary makeshift workspace set-up consisting of two tables conjoined at their seams, screens, paints, and one nearly archaic but very powerful hair dryer. The night before, Ungless says he hosted a screen-printing class for the public. “It was crazy,” he said, noting how crowded the space was. “I have to text Angie and tell her.” (That’s “Angelina” for the rest of us.)

Ungless is in New York doing a temporary, mini-residency at the atelier, allowing customers to come in and bring an old garment they no longer wear to be reimagined into something new by the designer. All around him are artifacts of his work: a pink, cable-knit sweater with the white imprint of another reworked sweater across its chest; another black blazer with paint streaks snaking up its sleeves; an indigo slip (I’m told was falling apart and is from the 1920s) Frankensteined with a black Zara dress; and a pleated dress hanging untouched (a garment Ungless is considering flying back to California with so he can work on it outside, as he typically prefers).

As Ungless gets to work on my blazer, which he admires for its cinched, ribbed waist, pinning with quickness and specificity across his workstation, I meander toward the back where the cafe is set up. It’s my second visit here and the barista smiles in recognition and says hello. I’m ecstatic to see the delicious baklava rolls, an innovation by Syrian chef Rala Ziadeh, are on the menu once again. The café is mildly filled with people sitting at the countertop and at tables throughout the space and under the skylight that fills the room with as much sunshine as the gray clouds outside allow through.

By the time I return to Ungless, he’s already removing the final screen from my garment, done with the painting process, and is transferring my blazer to sit under the heat from his trusty hairdryer. At this moment, a man walks in with a small gray dog standing on his shoulders. Ungless and I are astounded as the man tells the designer how excited he is to meet him (he’d seen a post on Instagram about Ungless’s residency). The man’s dog is named Blue: “He just hopped up there one day, and it works because I get seizures and he can sense them before they happen.” Everybody in the atelier dotes on Blue as soon as they catch a glimpse of him riding on someone’s back (as they should, he is clearly a very good dog).

Photo: Danya Issawi

The three of us continue chatting and eventually I find myself in possession of two phones, one belonging to Blue’s human and the other to Ungless. They both had wanted a photo with the other, and I am more than happy to oblige. I ensure all of their best angles are captured, alternating between portrait and landscape mode, and that Blue is looking in my general direction. I realize in that moment that this space is doing perhaps what Jolie hoped it would do: reel in the creatives and characters that breathe life into fashion and art and even New York and create a through-line for all of them to interact and intersect.

Both satisfied with their photos, Ungless places my new blazer on a hanger along with a special Atelier Jolie bag, printed using my jacket when it was still wet with paint, ready for me to take home. I’m in a contained state of awe at this piece of clothing. Just an hour ago, it was a garment I hadn’t considered wearing in months and likely headed toward a life lived out at Buffalo Exchange. But now, it felt special, nearly like an heirloom. It’s easy to get lost in its newly adopted pattern, the white paint undulating and skipping across the black fabric like some fashionable Rorschach test. Turns out he knew my blazer well enough to transform it from a boring, forgotten jacket into a custom Simon Ungless vehicle of hypnosis and self-therapy. All without me having to file a health-insurance claim.

Photo: Danya Issawi
Simon Ungless Turned My Blazer Into a Rorschach Test