The untold story of the ripped T-shirt that made Rebecca Minkoff famou

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Twenty years in the past, I designed a shirt—we quickly began calling it The Shirt—that blended concepts from my favourite tourist-destination T-shirts to create an ode to my favourite metropolis: New York Metropolis. An actress wore it on The Tonight Present, and the subsequent day folks in every single place knew my title. It’s the type of story that, wanting in from the outdoors, makes it seem to be it simply takes a little bit bit of luck to change into an in a single day success.

Really, I had been residing in New York, in a tiny walk-up shoebox that was marketed as an residence, and dealing lengthy hours for little greater than minimal wage in the trend trade for 2 years earlier than this second. There was nothing in a single day about it.

I had made it to New York and had landed my first actual job in trend. My tastes had been very totally different from these of the designer I labored for, however I wanted to find out about construct a model with a robust basis from each a enterprise and a group perspective.

Two years in, I had designed a five-piece assortment. This little capsule included a silk shirt with a cummerbund completely connected, a denim tuxedo (the pants had been low-rise with a slight boot-cut flare), a primary T-shirt, and The Shirt. The “look ebook” itself? Costly inexperienced iridescent paper with metallic binder clips. It had 10 photographs in the entire complete factor.


By day, I labored. By night time, I labored too. Whereas I didn’t have the capital to provide something outdoors of my five-piece assortment, I did have the funds for to make just a few variations of The Shirt. The most cost-effective possibility was to purchase the current tops and make them my very own. My inspiration was that escapist power of a vacationer seaside T-shirt—suppose of these acid-washed neon tees obtainable up and down the Atlantic coast or these island-style tanks personalized with fringe and beads, which I had fallen for throughout my first journey to the Caribbean. I wished to take that power and make it cool, make it about my new house. I had been reducing up and knotting T-shirts since my dance-class days again in center college, so taking a tee from primary and boring to meet-me-at-the-barre with a trusty pair of scissors was second nature to me.

At any time when I had the probability, I might mess around with totally different methods of reducing, tying, and customizing the T-shirts. I actually tried all the pieces: asymmetrical necklines, asymmetrical hemlines, asymmetrical sleeves; reducing sleeves off, tying them again on, reducing them shorter. I couldn’t afford to let any shirt go to waste, so if one got here out a little bit odd, I’d preserve taking part in round with it till it labored. (Some would get reduce and reshaped, getting smaller and smaller, so many instances that I used to be frightened I’d have to start out a youngsters’ line.) I wore one myself and gave them away to a couple associates.

One of the folks I gave a T-shirt to was my then good friend, now sister-in-law, Stephanie. She’s only one of these individuals who can put on something and look superb. One night time in Los Angeles, Steph threw on the shirt with a pair of denims and a blazer and went to dinner together with her good friend Jenna Elfman. Jenna requested if Steph might get her a shirt. In fact Dharma of the early aughts hit sitcom Dharma & Greg might have a shirt! I used to be such an enormous fan that I despatched it to her the very subsequent day. It was September 9, 2001.

[Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images]

It was round this time that I used to be launched to a publicist who had simply began out. Just a few weeks after assembly, he requested if I wished to take part in a small group present of rising designers that he was curating. The reply was an enormous, resounding sure. At the time it felt like an enormous deal. The present was on September 10, 2001.

Early the subsequent morning on September 11, nonetheless on a excessive from the present the night time earlier than, I went to a material seminar to find out about cotton. It appeared like simply one other day. Earlier than the presenter even took the stage, the organizer ran in, so upset, and introduced that there had been an assault on the World Commerce Middle.

The 9/11 tragedy rocked the metropolis, the nation, and the world.

However New York and New Yorkers are nothing if not resilient. After just a few weeks, regardless of the devastation and heartbreak, folks had been persevering with to come back collectively and beginning to discover new rhythms in that new regular. My trend present felt prefer it had occurred in one other lifetime.


In early October, my cellphone rang. It was Jenna Elfman’s assistant calling to let me know that Jenna had filmed a section for The Tonight Present with Jay Leno. She had worn the I Coronary heart New York shirt that I had personalized for her on the present. It was going to air that night time. It appeared surreal. I couldn’t let myself consider it till I noticed it with my very own eyes: a white T-shirt with the iconic graphic that I had slashed, snipped, shredded, fringed, knotted, tied, and sewn again collectively into the final tribute to the metropolis that the entire world beloved.

The Shirt was really an homage to the metropolis that I had idealized and dreamed about from afar. It had welcomed me, my desires, and my crappy previous suitcases with its inspiration, palpable power, and countless potentialities. The 9/11 tragedy broke my coronary heart, however I used to be grateful I had created one thing to have a good time my new hometown, even when it was as trivial as a personalized tee that banded folks collectively and lifted their spirits.

The morning after Jenna wore The Shirt on TV, I woke as much as a ringing cellphone and an inbox full of messages. For the first time in my life, folks wished to purchase one thing that I had made. I needed to pinch myself greater than as soon as. A day later, all of the common gossip weeklies ran photographs of Jenna from the present, and the demand grew tenfold. I wanted some I Coronary heart New York shirts, and I needed to begin customizing them quick.

[Image: courtesy HarperCollins]

I rode throughout the metropolis—to Instances Sq., by Chinatown—to each vacationer kiosk, shopping for as many T-shirts as doable: 5 for $80 right here, two for $30 there. Twenty for $100 at one memorable cease. I actually consider that I’ve purchased extra I Coronary heart New York T-shirts than anybody else in the complete world. I scanned, saved, and printed each point out that I acquired in any journal. I had made an inventory of the boutiques that I assumed had been extremely cool, after which I printed out my line sheets and press equipment and hand-delivered them to every retailer. Just a few retailers positioned orders or took just a few shirts on consignment. Each time I acquired a brand new order, it felt like one other piece of the puzzle falling into place.

So as to make certain that these items didn’t simply sit on the racks and that folks really purchased them, I had postcards printed with an image of The Shirt and the addresses of the place it might be discovered. I used to be one of these individuals who would stand in Union Sq. for hours passing out postcards to school youngsters and vacationers. Most individuals blew previous me; some folks requested me if I knew the designer. It didn’t really feel good to see my title trampled on the sidewalk at the finish of the day—I ain’t gonna lie—however all of that promotion labored, as a result of my stuff offered.

It wasn’t till 4 years later that I designed my first purse, the Morning After Bag, a.ok.a. the MAB, and my enterprise really took off. However The Shirt was the begin of Rebecca Minkoff as you understand it at this time.

From Fearless: The New Guidelines for Unlocking Creativity, Braveness, and Success by Rebecca Minkoff, revealed by HarperCollins Management.