designer mary ping is crafting beautiful fake handbags in paris

The New Yorker behind cult brand Slow and Steady Wins the Race discusses her new production-as-performance project, now on show in a converted Paris metalworks factory.

Sarah Moroz

image courtesy mary ping

"Slow and Steady Wins the Race explores how we dress and why we dress. It is a very human and investigative approach," says designer Mary Ping of her conceptual fashion label, which she founded in 2002. "It evolves constantly, but the endurance of what can be viewed as classic, timeless, or vernacular is what is fascinating," she says. The label positions itself as radically "antithetical to the nature of fashion," given that the industry deals in seasonal, trend-driven looks.

To illustrate these values, Slow and Steady Wins the Race is participating in an exhibition by Fondation d'Enterprise Galeries Lafayette in Paris, a free design/art pop-up hosted in the raw space of a multi-floor former metalworks factory. Of the 14 artists invited, Ping was already friendly with Anicka Yi (a Seoul-born New York-based artist who plays with fragrance) and Tyler Coburn (an American New York-based artist who presented his Ergonomic Futures chair based on the evolving habits of the body). Ping was also eager to talk with Lucy McKenzie, a Scottish-born Brussels-based artist interested in the politics of design.

Ping's contribution to the showcase is a daily performance highlighting the beauty of deliberate, unhurried, in-real-time fashion production. It was "very timely on the topic of the importance of human craft in production," she says. Collaborating with the Italian leather studio Monteneri, fashion production is reconceived as an elegant performance rather than a commercial function. Ping went to Italy to the Monteneri headquarters to "rehearse" with the artisans at the studio. "I decided to choreograph and predicate the process," Ping explained of turning savoir-faire into a kind of showmanship. "The staging is a commentary on how some luxury houses have chosen to use the atelier as a marketing tool. However, the important consideration is the timeline," she emphasizes, and specifically: "the time lapse of observing the process."

From the point of view of a New York designer, creating something in Paris — and tapping into the country's singular cultural heritage and respect for production — imbues the items with something special. "New York's fashion industry is younger, more sportswear- and activewear-oriented," Ping says. The fashion scene suffers from a bit of a "younger sibling" complex, having had to formulate its identity in reference to, or in opposition to, the Parisian precedent.

Each day, there are variations — or progressions, as Ping calls them — on the styles from the previous performance. The accessories in fact only take the form of bags from the outside: inside, there is no "access into a standard cavity to hold items and possessions." The bag is an objet or a sculpture, carved out from a single piece of high-grade leather, with minimalist trim: a Platonic ideal of what fashion methodology should be.

Ping's project ultimately blurs the lines between the design world and fashion industry. The label "has always straddled various fields, so sometimes there is a long pause to correctly place us in any single one," Ping says. "Which is fine by me."

Slow and Steady Wins the Race's production process will be on view at "Faisons de l'inconnu un allié" in Paris until October 23.

Related: Cult designer Mary Ping relaunches her namesake brand


Text Sarah Moroz
Images courtesy Mary Ping