How Tremaine Emory is Sharing The Legacy of Alvin Ailey, an Icon He Says Is ‘Just As Important As Michael Jordan'

Tremaine Emory of Denim Tears has partnered with Champion and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on a Cry/Revelations apparel collection.

Denim Tears Alvin Ailey Champion

Photo by Eric Nelson

Denim Tears Alvin Ailey Champion

“He’s just as important as Michael Jordan,” said Tremaine Emory.

Emory was referring to Alvin Ailey, the Black activist and choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, when Black stories weren’t being told onstage through modern dance. His name isn’t as familiar as Michael Jordan’s, but his impact is far reaching. 

Ailey passed more than three decades ago, but his name still lives on through the dance company that he founded and the work he contributed. In 1960 he produced “Revelations,” a piece that tells the story of African American culture from slavery to freedom, and is still being performed by his company today.

Emory, the designer behind Denim Tears, wanted to honor that with his newest project, an apparel collection called Cry/Revelations that was produced by Champion. Emory said Champion approached him about a collaboration and he immediately knew he wanted to do something connected to Alvin Ailey.

“Dance in general is one of the highest forms of art and sports,” said Emory. “Champion is associated with all of these sports that are typically hetero and machismo sports. And I wanted to show that women, men, every part of the spectrum, the LGBTQ community, and intersexual as well are the highlest level of athletes, too, the highest level of artists, too, and the highest level of creatives as well.”

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Robert Battle, the Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, says this type of partnership is the first of its kind for the group, but he was open to it because of the synergies between the stories Ailey told through dance and the stories Emory tells through his brand Denim Tears, which is best known for its denim covered in cotton wreaths that symbolize the legacy of slavery in the US.

“When I learned about Tremaine and how his work leans into that space of social justice, I thought, ‘Wow. What a symbiotic opportunity,’” said Battle. “People don’t often think of fashion as having had a history of political and social statements, and they don’t often think of dance as having that same history. So it was an opportunity to educate people, but also to put Alvin Ailey in that space of fashion and represent his influence on fashion.”

Emory said there wasn’t an Alvin Ailey apparel archive to reference, so he looked at photographs and rare books he found at Lee Kaplan’s Arcana bookstore in Los Angeles, including a book of photographs of Alvin Ailey dancers taken by Jack Mitchell in 1993. The line includes satin coach jackets featuring the American and Pan African flag, crochet tops, sweatsuits covered with photographs of Alvin Ailey dancers, trench coats influenced by Alvin Ailey’s Hobo Sapiens piece, and lots of madras. Emory said in his research he found that the madras print was an Indian fabric appropriated by European and then Western culture and he wanted to bring it back to Black and brown people.

Denim Tears  Alvin Ailey Champion

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