Since 2002 the New York-based fashion designer Mary Ping has been offering an alternative to the fast-fashion system with her label Slow and Steady Wins the Race. She breaks the rule that fashion must constantly change in order to encourage consumption and instead offers powerful reinterpretations of the ultimate basics. In this way she plays with the possibility of being simultaneously ‘trendy’ and timeless, unique but also universal and accessible to all.
An adapted version of Mary Ping's lecture from Thursday Night: The New Basics on 5 November 2015, Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race is a conceptual clothing and accessory line that reinterprets the classic everyday wardrobe. It is built on the belief that high design can be, and should be, accessible to all. Slow and Steady Wins the Race asks: What do we wear, why do we wear it, and how can we create new classics that are timely and timeless, uniquely personal yet also universal?
The work is a logical dissection of fashion, an investigation into the basic elements of what we wear, and a considered response to the hyper-consumerist pace of fashion. The intention is to push and produce interesting and significant pieces from the simplest fabrics and materials with a focus on the fundamental characteristics of clothing design while contributing a commentary on the anthropology of fashion. The oeuvre serves as a growing and living archive. Each piece, from the earliest to the most current, is still available today as a testament that good design is always relevant.
Each collection originates from a sartorial category, an update on a classic or a sociological concept. Collections stay as part of the living archive, which goes against the usual seasonal schedule as a commentary on modern fashion’s temporal nature. This philosophy behind Slow and Steady Wins the Race breaks the rule that fashion must constantly change. The work is seasonless and proves that good design elicits both an intellectual and emotional response that is ageless, cross-cultural — boundless.
The debut collection of Slow and Steady Wins the Race was in 2002, but the ideas started percolating and marinating while I was in college studying for my degree in art. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a designer, and what really interested me was the tradition and technique. My grandmother taught me how to make clothing, sewing, how to finish, how to look at proportions, how to creatively problem solve, and how to consider value and quality. In school, my major was in art and my concentration in sculpture -- and that approach to considering purpose and meaning within the work itself greatly influenced my point of view in design.
What I find endlessly fascinating about fashion and the design that surrounds it is the anthropology and culture of it: the behavior, the modern system, how we interact with it. Fashion is, by definition, temporal and changing, and that is where the existence of classics is so interesting and important. They directly contrast fashion itself. Ultimate classics can be both timeless yet still relevant, universal yet also uniquely personal.
The collections of Slow and Steady Wins the Race investigate and distill the modern wardrobe. They are all organized and inspired by a category, something classic, or a concept. As a whole, it becomes a continuous reference library of what we wear. Currently we have over thirty collections. For the first collection, it was a very logical question: how are clothes assembled? Through the use and connection of seams.
The first issue of Slow and Steady Wins the Race was about the seamed edge. The seven pieces: a tank top, two t-shirts, a jacket, a skirt, and a bag, and a trench coat all in 100% cotton, have design attributes playing within their seams.
White T (2005)
The White T shirt is a quintessential classic and a category. It focuses on the simplest and most basic piece of modern dressing: the white pocket t-shirt. The white t-shirt silhouette is the foundation for an experiment in texture and materiality, juxtaposing a familiar item with not-so-familiar fabrications. The single style is executed in twelve varying materials such as silk, leather, mesh, corduroy, and denim, etc.
The fourth issue of Slow and Steady Wins the Race is about heather grey sweats. The ubiquitous familiarity of the sweatshirt is reinterpreted in form using its main identities: the heather grey knit fleece, the ribbed edge, eyelet detail, and baggy comfort. Available in grey heather, black and white.
For sunglasses, I thought about what the basic shapes are. The sunglasses reduced and purified in design to the elementary characteristics of eyewear: lens shape, frame shapes and fixtures. Six styles include: circle frame, basic square frame, circle frame with square lens, square frame with circle lens, and circle and square frames connected with a hinge in the middle. Available in red, black, white, clear, grey and tortoise.
Bag (Iconic Bag) from (2003)
The bags are based on the modern-day iconic handbag and are all executed in plain cotton muslin or canvas twill and then distilled to the sparest details of hardware and shape to identify it with its original. Through this process the designer bag becomes a lo-fi object sketch and consequently an alternate icon of itself.
Standard Bag (2006)
Standard Bag is a simple statement on turning the ordinary upside-down and subverting it into something more extraordinary by combining two extremes. Generic grocery and market bags are executed in fine leathers for live object oxymorons.
The Living archive also includes ideas that are not necessarily “everyday basics”, but they are permanent fixtures in modern dress social culture: the wedding dress and luxury fashion.
Wedding Dress (2008)
The Slow and Steady Wins the Race wedding dress is a challenge in form, ideas and meaning. For one of the most important items in a woman’s wardrobe, Slow and Steady Wins the Race will distill it to its purest form without diluting the powerful meaning behind the motions, emotions and rituals surrounding our perceived ideas of marriage. The dress will be a guarded mystery until the final exit in the runway show.
My newest project is an attempt to make a one-hundred-dollar wedding dress. It is proving to be quite a challenge. Keeping the production cost low is definitely part of it, but also my process involves relentless experimentation and research. I’m exploring the history of the wedding dress and what it signifies—a very emotional exploration, and I want to incorporate that same feeling in the design. But it’s also about subverting expectations: The reason a wedding dress costs what it usually does is that it’s supposed to be the “ultimate” dress, signifying a life milestone. The dress is supposed to be the most glamorous piece of that one day. So how would a one-hundred-dollar wedding dress affect that equation? And what associations would it bring to the table? All the while, I’m trying to avoid creating something that automatically screams, “This is just an affordable wedding dress.” It’s not about that. I still want to keep it in within the very specific Slow and Steady aesthetic—a balance of conceptual meaning and beauty; something smart, elegant, and desirable to wear. ARTFORUM 2008
Luxe is Slow and Steady Wins the Race’s introductory dialogue on luxury goods and design. The collection forms a pyramid with three tiers. For the first tier, there are luxury basics: a cream pearl embroidered T-shirt, an alligator skin grocery bag, and a four-sided leather iconic bag. The second tier includes a black velvet evening gown with matching fox fur stole, pearls and other accessories also constructed in black velvet. The ultimate luxury basic for Slow and Steady Wins the Race: a Russian sable trench coat makes up highest tier.
Designers are expected to present, traditionally, their designs in the format of runway shows or presentations. We present differently in the form of installations that reformat the context of a familiar space. Luxe was presented at the Carlyle, the Clear Colleciton at Paul Rudolph House. For the Clear Collection, we took over the Paul Rudolph House and Foundation in New York on the Upper East Side. It is a townhouse with all clear façade and originally the private residence of the late, great architect Paul Rudolph. It is now his foundation. The floors are all open layout and a lot of the furniture he designed inside was also clear, so it was the perfect setting to have the pieces of the collection placed.
Still Life (addressing the speed of fashion)
In the age of immediate speed and immaterial synapses it seems as though any type of slowing down is automatically equated with stagnation. For the past year we have associated the term slowdown with the letdown that seems to accompany every short-lived rebound. An oscillating economy makes strange bedfellows and in the case of fashion, luxury designers and mass-market brands have contrived a marriage of convenience to spawn specialty lines of bastard polyester hybrids. Yet, all is not lost. Slow and Steady Wins the Race has aimed to provide ”interesting and significant pieces from the simplest fabrics and materials”. Since its inception, the line has never sacrificed quality or innovation for price. Instead, material constraints comprise a generative force.
Within minutes of slipping into the Spring Collection debut, I felt as though I had stepped back an entire century. Still-life assemblages, composed upon eight identical plywood stands formed a line down the middle of the room. Each station, not unlike a stage prop, featured a unique and seamless integration of objects d’art, Spring 2010 accessories and unidentified artworks. Viewers were invited to psychologically suture themselves into their own private tableau vivant and for two hours on this particular evening, when the time and space of the novel prevailed. Immediately conscious of your curiosity, you allow your eyes to scan the room too quickly, deducing what you might from the array of objects that populate a credenza, line a shelf or rest on the side table where you do not yet feel comfortable enough to set your drink.
By slowing down the steady march of conventional fashion presentations, removing all models and distilling narrative scenarios down to still life stations, Slow and Steady Wins the Race created environments for repose; scenes for the pregnant pause that facilitated introspection and exuded refinement. Slow and Steady Wins the Race continues to reveal the underpinnings of our desire for iconic design while still foregrounding questions of accessibility and functionality. Just as the tableau vivant pulls a painting back into life, the presentation of this collection successfully suspended our daily onslaught of speed to breathe a little life back into design. (Excerpts from the Forward by Maggie Clinton Koenig on the Still Life installation).
MOMA PS1 Installation: The Living Archive (Selections from 2002 to 2015)
Most recently, we have the honor of being included in the Greater New York show at MoMA PS1. This time, the landmark series explores the changes that have occurred and how over time, driving forces have reshaped the city. To quote: “Greater New York departs from the show’s traditional focus on youth, instead examining points of connection and tension between our desire for the new and nostalgia for that which it displaces.” Our piece in the exhibition is a selection of iconic silhouettes from 2002-2015, pieces that are also emblematic of our sartorial design logic and the approach. The collaborative display with Bureau V, who designed our previous architectural structures, takes form in an ascending shelf like unit that spirals outwards from a central core. With no real starting or ending point, it is an open time capsule.
I was also asked to address the future of fashion. For me, that is all hinged and anchored on the effect of time. I never had a problem being punctual or deadlines. I was an editor at my college newspaper and you were always faced with playing chess with deadlines. Now even I have begun to feel the effects of the accelerated pace and speed of how fashion is moving. Real tasks complete with the speed of the Internet and all the company it brings, stockpiling, bottlenecking, spilling, creating delays. The rattling news of Raf Simons Dior and Alber Elbaz being at conflict with Lanvin now has a very clear microphone. The frustrations and strains due to the demands of consumption are now being felt. I agree with all designers that we need valuable time for ideas to incubate, percolate, marinate. Kiki Smith has a great quote that I keep around as a reminder: A good idea should be like a perfume, it should permeate the air and linger. Ideas need to breathe. Time allows for due diligence and authenticity of an idea. And a good idea will ultimately outlast.