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Trading Art for Trousers: Alex Prager’s Outfit Anatomy

Welcome to Outfit Anatomy, a series on Man Repeller that aims to break down what we wear by answering questions like: How much did that cost? Where did you find that? Why did you buy it in the first place? Today, artist Alex Prager breaks down an outfit that perfectly encapsulates her style.

The shirt I recently got from a stall at the vintage pop-up A Current Affair. I’ve always wanted to go because I love vintage, but I’d never been in town when it was happening. This time, I was coming back from having opened my show Play the Wind, and met my friend Josie there. We only had a couple hours left and there was so much to see! I would normally have anxiety in that situation, not wanting to miss anything, but we went through methodically and both of us came out with some gems. This shirt is a silk nighty from the 1920s. I think it cost around $100. I’ve worn it a lot already and I’ve only had it for about three weeks. A lot of vintage clothes were made with better quality materials than a lot of things now, so that’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to vintage.

The trousers are Hermès, my favorite designer. The story on how I got them is kind of unusual: One of my artist friends Mercedes Helnwein only wears dresses and skirts, but she had these Hermès trousers that I loved. I was doing a clothing swap with her and some friends at my house and this was one of the items she brought to swap. She didn’t want to part with them because I didn’t have anything in my pile she thought was worth trading for, so I offered to barter with art. I ended up trading her a small film still from the short I made with the Paris Opera Ballet in 2016 called La Grande Sortie. Every once in a while, I barter art for something I love. The pants are so comfortable and classic, made with a mix of silk and cashmere. Everything Hermès makes is timeless and looks and feels incredible to wear. Quality is the thing I look for the most in clothes I buy. I like to see what it’s made from. I’m not a fan of polyester and blends with anything synthetic, so I mostly try to look out for cotton, wool, and cashmere.

The shoes I got on The RealReal around three years ago. They’re Giorgio Armani and go with everything. I spent around $80 and I wish I could find them again because I wear them so often I want back-ups!

The watch I’m wearing is a Cartier Tank. My sister Vanessa Prager and her husband Steve Hallock got it for me three years ago at Christmas. Steve has his own company Tick Tocking, where he buys and sells really unique high-end watches and he knew I’ve been wanting a Tank for years. I have always felt a watch is a thing you just can’t buy for yourself, so when I opened the box and saw the Cartier Tank, I lost it. It was such a thoughtful, generous present and I wear it every day. I feel lost without it! I also appreciate not having to look at my phone to tell the time. It’s a trap because you get sucked into all the other shit on your phone, so I like going back to the simple action of just looking at my wrist.

The ring with the three bands is Cartier Trinity. My sister got that for me four years ago for my birthday. I hardly ever wear jewelry, so when I do, I like timeless pieces like this ring. It goes with everything and it’s a piece I can pass down to my kids. The other one is my wedding ring. It was my mother’s wedding band. My parents are divorced now, but they had a good 28 years together and this ring is burned into my mind as a representation of what love looks like. When my husband Simon and I were looking for our wedding bands, I asked my mother if she wouldn’t mind me taking hers. She and my dad were over the moon that it would have another life. My husband gave me this enSoie bracelet a couple years ago. I like it because it reminds me of a bracelet Ingrid Bergman was wearing in a photo I saw a long time ago.

I dress a bit androgynously. In general, I like not showing too much skin, unless I’m going on a date or to a party, and then it feels special when I put on a dress and heels because I mostly wear trousers. I think high-waisted trousers with a wide leg and a tucked-in blouse suits my physical make-up. It’s a bit of a uniform, which I like because I’m very busy. It’s a functional and versatile look as well: I have a two-year-old who I love hanging out with and I don’t want to waste time changing outfits. I like how Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan wear suits on set when they’re working. It makes a lot of sense to me because they can throw it on every day and not think too much about it, but they know they look sharp. I don’t like to stand out when I’m on set or at a meeting, but I like to look put together. That said, I put a TON of time and energy into thinking about what the characters in my films and photographs are wearing, feeling, and thinking. I think of style as clues to all the little stories that set us apart from everyone else.

Big West, 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong and Seoul.

In my show Play the Wind, currently on view in New York at Lehmann Maupin, you’ll find hundreds of extras dressed in their own unique way. I, along with the costume designer Rebecca Blazak and her team, put so many hours into figuring out what each character is wearing and why. For example, there’s a photograph in Play the Wind with twins who are wearing matching leopard print costumes and sharing a magazine with me on the cover as a fictional character called Helen North. They’re standing among hundreds of other characters all in very meticulous, unique-to-their-character dress. It’s important to me to represent all kinds of people. Humanity is all in the details!

As told to Mallory Rice.

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