cult nyc designer mary ping is back (not that she ever went away)

Mary Ping, known also for her line of conceptual basics Slow and Steady Wins the Race, has relaunched her namesake brand.

by Alice Newell-Hanson
24 April 2015, 8:55pm

Mary Ping's cult status was cemented when she became one of the first designers that Humberto Leon and Carol Lim ever stocked at Opening Ceremony. Which makes the return of her signature line (now in its second season since relaunching) both a big hell yes for the future of New York fashion and a blast from a certain chapter of its past.

Flashback to Soho in the early 2000s. Patrik Ervell, then an editor at V magazine, called Mary about an interview for a feature. She had just launched her eponymous line (two days before 9/11) and Patrik mentioned that his friend Humberto was opening a store and that maybe they should get together.

"Humberto called and I met him at the original pre-renovation Opening Ceremony at 35 Howard Street," Mary remembers. "We were kind of dressed the same: dark jeans, button-downs with the sleeves rolled up, trench coats, boat bags. I thought, 'Oh ok, this is a sign.' And that was it: they stocked both lines."

Since then, Mary has built up a devoted downtown fanbase (though, incidentally, she lives on the Upper East Side) and has become a respected voice in American fashion. She's curated an exhibition at MOCA in New York, been inducted into the CFDA and had her work shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

For ten years, with only a very small team to help her, she also produced two lines: her signature line, Mary Ping, which she put out from 2002 to 2011, and Slow and Steady Wins the Race, her line of conceptual wardrobe staples. While Slow and Steady is about providing a certain gallery-frequenting crowd with an evolving archive of "basics-with-a-twist" (suede baseball caps, deconstructed sweatshirts and, most famously, canvas versions of iconic bags), Mary's signature line was a chance for her to get lost in her own ideas and immerse herself in super luxurious fabrics.

The decision to bring the line back for spring/summer 15 was an emotional one, she admits. "All the ideas started piling up in my head and I just thought I need to release these." And after a four-year hiatus, things have shifted slightly. "As a 36-year-old, I want different things. But the good thing is that it feels like riding a bike and now I can actually ride faster."

Mary's fall/winter 15 offering features pieces that Ping fans will recognize from pre-2011 collections. "It's always more about an attitude that has to get expressed. But idea-wise [fall] was about keeping signature silhouettes and adapting them for now. Materials are also paramount." The results are cashmere leggings, reversible quilted bomber jackets, zip-front jumpsuits and silk dresses with ziggurat-like edges. The common thread is Mary's sensitivity to fabrics (Swiss cotton, the softest silk) and her witty sensibility — qualities Mary thanks her maternal grandmother for imparting.

"She taught me everything!" says Mary. "Sewing, what to look for aesthetically, a value system and integrity of design." Most importantly, she'd take Mary on shopping trips that were really thinly veiled lessons in quality control. "We'd literally be shopping for dinner in Chinatown, and she she would ask me, 'Which fish would you choose?' I would say that they all looked the same and she would say, 'No!' It was a lesson about which was the best."

"The one thing I do regret was that she knew how to make slippers but we never got around to doing that," Mary continues. "I would love to do shoes and handbags for the signature line, but that will all come at its own pace."

In the meantime, though, she's developed a collaborative collection of sinuous stone-adorned rings and necklaces with Pièce à Conviction, a Belgian jewelry line not widely known beyond Europe. In keeping with Mary's MO, it was a project that happened both organically and on a friend-to-friend basis. "I'd been wearing [designer Ghislain Ryckebusch's] rings for 12 years. I kept getting asked about them, then finally we became friends and I said, 'Let's do a collaboration.'"

There's a similar story behind the new Mary Ping fall lookbook. The images were shot by Judy Linn, well known for her iconic images of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, who just happened to be Mary's art photography professor at Vassar.


Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Judy Linn, courtesy Mary Ping

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