When Camella Ehlke founded her clothing label 555 Soul in 1989 out of a beat-up storefront in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the term streetwear didn’t really exist—and at the time, it certainly wasn’t a global $185-billion industry. The designer started sewing pieces made from dead stock fabrics, blending the colorful styles of New York hip-hop and California surf into one covetable downtown look. Her forward-looking streetwise clothes were embraced by the city’s hippest dressers: Rappers, DJs, skaters, taggers, artists, and the like. Before long, 555 Soul was stocked across the globe, and the label was selling millions of dollars of clothes a year.
Camella would go on to leave the label in 2004 after clashing with her business partner, and 555 Soul would slowly but surely fade away. Now, the designer is back with an entirely new project: Bringing her upcycled fashion ethos to the world of furniture. Hey What’s Up? was a project kick-started by a chat with the late barrier-breaking fashion designer Virgil Abloh, a longtime fan of 555 Soul, who shipped boxes of unused fabric from Milan to Brooklyn for Camella to use.
“I actually had this conversation with Virgil during the pandemic where I was like, Well, I don’t want to buy fabric. I don’t want to start a brand, I just want to start sewing and to make stuff,” Camella recalls. “So, he shipped me all of this dead stock. He was the first person I spoke to about working with overstock, and he was the first to say yes.”
Then, in November of last year, Virgil died at the age of 41 after privately fighting a rare form of cancer. Throughout his illustrious career, he was known as a relentless collaborator, a figure who jumped at the chance to work with those he admired. That was not lost on Camella. With yards and yards of fabric from his Off-White label in hand, she got to work.
Camella’s interest in decor led her to create a quirky collection of chairs featuring “wearables” made from overstock fabrics and recycled garments. Much like 555 Soul, the pieces mix and match bold patterns in a way that commands a second look. In doing so, Camella has flipped the antiquated slipcover on its head, refreshing the concept with a jolt of new energy and high-grade style. She jokingly shudders at the term slipcover, preferring to think of the collection as “one-of-a-kind outfits for chairs.”