How the Farm-to-Table Revolution Is Taking Root in Fashion

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Photographed by Mark Borthwick, Vogue, October 2016

Upstate New York’s Worlds End farm—and its unrivaled, hauntingly antique flora—serves as the perfect foil for a rustic romance draped in the season’s coziest shearling coats.

We grow these for morale,” says Sarah Ryhanen, gently cupping a pale-coral poppy. “They’re bad cutting flowers. They only last a day—but when you see them in the field, they’re so beautiful.” Milkweed blossoms dance overhead as the owner of the beloved Brooklyn florist Saipua continues down the rows of dahlias, black scabiosa, and amethyst Queen Anne’s lace on her 107-acre Worlds End farm in upstate New York. Teaching others to appreciate ephemerality has become a battle cry of sorts for the florist-farmer. “We have people coming into the store all the time asking, ‘How long is this gonna last?’ I want them to have an experience with it.”

Ryhanen and her partner, Eric Famisan, purchased the farm in 2011, but when asked how long they have been here they count in seasons. This isn’t the only sensibility they share with fashion designers, who are increasingly drawing inspiration from the fantasy of vast, untended landscapes and the slow pace of thoughtful living. From Proenza Schouler’s careful craftsmanship to Erdem’s refulgent fil coupé blossoms, the muse is Lauren Santo Domingo meets Laura Ingalls Wilder adrift in the chicest field, through the lens of Terrence Malick.

It’s a countermovement to our age of fast fashion and instant gratification, one that values the time and the patience to see something through from start to finish. To be sure, Ryhanen and Famisan are part of an expanding coterie of urbanites turned farmers—call them yappies, or young agricultural professionals—but what they’re up to here in the Mohawk Valley strikes a chord that echoes through a variety of industries. Flowers supplied by Saipua for events are returned to be composted, making Ryhanen’s arrangements some of the few in the world that are nurtured from seed to mulch. She plans to apply the same philosophy to this year’s flock of 27 Icelandic sheep, named after military call codes (last year’s were Top Gun characters). Their wool, skirted, dyed, and spun by Ryhanen, will be knit into hats by her mother, in nearby Peekskill. “It’s a six-month process. You’d have to charge $10,000 for that hat to make any money, but my goal is to inspire people to think more about where their clothing is coming from. So next time you see a sweater at H&M for $20, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s acrylic; that’s plastic.’”

Kate Huling, of Marlow Goods, is another exemplar of the farm-to-fashion ethos. Huling purchases the hides of the same grass-fed cows sourced by her restaurateur husband, Andrew Tarlow (Diner, Marlow & Sons, Roman’s), for her line of handsome leather goods. And while Phoebe Philo isn’t personally curing the leather for Céline’s latest Cabas, the designer does acknowledge a pull toward the great outdoors. “It’s about taking her out of urban life and putting her feet on the sand. It’s where I long to be more and more,” Philo explained of her vision for a recent collection. Jamie Hawkesworth’s fall ad campaign for Alexander McQueen is as much a celebration of desolate landscapes as a showcase for the house’s hand-embroidered ensembles. McQueen designer Sarah Burton even took her team to the Shetland islands to meet the knitters and weavers—and sheep—who will be providing the knitwear for upcoming collections.

“When you’re so obsessed with control, you’re not open to happiness,” says Ryhanen, wearing vintage denim and tread-soled farm boots, her favorite hen, Goldie, nestled under her arm like a fragile football. She plucks two yolk-yellow cherry tomatoes from the vine, hands one to me, and pops the other in her mouth like a gum ball. “There was one day last fall,” she says, “where I was dealing with an injured, bloody sheep in the morning and then that evening I was at MoMA debating with some women from Louis Vuitton about whether a peony was white enough for the event I was doing for them. One is not better than the other. The reality is I appreciate that someone cares so much about what color white a peony is. It lends significance to what I do here on the farm.”

We pull carrots for lunch, which are washed, roasted, and tossed in a salad with Russian kale, cucumbers, and coriander seeds. Communal meals are a daily ritual at Worlds End and at Saipua. Today the group discusses the weekend’s elderberry-foraging workshop and that evening’s meteor shower. Our centerpiece is a china pitcher erupting with yellow cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, and various wildflowers from the garden. Ryhanen encourages everyone on the farm to create spontaneous arrangements. The fact that this one, like the field poppies, might not last through tomorrow’s lunch is of little concern. It’s important to have things just for morale.

 

 

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