“She Anchors Me”: Our Founders Reflect on Meeting and Designing for Ruth Bader Ginsburg
An exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book The Collars of RBG by Sara Bader and Elinor Carucci.
Five years ago, M.M.LaFleur’s founders, Sarah LaFleur and Miyako Nakamura, received a commission request they’d never forget: design a custom collar for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in honor of her 85th birthday and 25th year on the court. After studying RBG’s style and reflecting on her legacy, Miyako created a triple-layered jacquard collar with a quote from Justice Bader Ginsburg’s husband, Marty, embroidered on the collar: “It’s not sacrifice, it’s family.”
During her career, RBG became known for her powerful use of fashion in the court. “Every time we saw her, she was dressed really beautifully,” Miyako shared in a conversation about the experience. “The second time we saw her, she was in head-to-toe gray, a total tonal look. That actually added to the intimidation factor, because not only was she smart, but she really beautifully represented herself as well. She was an iconic woman, not just for her style, but because of all of the things she did for women—all of the ways she stood up for women, all the things that she fought for.”
Photographer Elinor Carucci and author Sara Bader explore RBG’s legacy through the lens of her iconic collars and jabots in their upcoming book, The Collars of RBG. And on November 14th, they’ll join Sarah and Miyako at our Upper West Side store in NYC for an intimate conversation about the process of photographing the neckpieces and researching the stories behind them, the power of expressing your style boldly in male-dominated spaces, and so much more. Attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the book.
RSVP for the event here, and read on for an exclusive excerpt from The Collars of RBG.
—The M.M.LaFleur Team
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In 2018, RBG’s former and then-current law clerks commissioned the female-founded fashion company M.M.LaFleur to custom design a gift to celebrate her eighty-fifth birthday and twenty-fifth year on the Supreme Court. “This whole design process was a true collaboration between M.M.LaFleur’s design team and Justice Ginsburg’s team of clerks,” explains Miyako Nakamura, the company’s chief creative officer. “I realized quickly how passionate they were about making this piece into a symbol that truly represented her.” The everpresent support of Justice Ginsburg’s family made her work possible, and this collar represented those interconnected relationships. As Nakamura describes it, “We felt that the collar articulated how a strong familial bond can help a woman achieve greatness at work.”
M.M.LaFleur is known for polished, tailored styles for women, and Nakamura took inspiration from those tailoring elements to create a design that emphasized construction rather than embellishment. Aesthetically and conceptually, the construction resembles a man’s shirt collar with an element of femininity and added meaning. “For the design, I used three ivory-colored jacquards to symbolize the familial layers that underpinned Justice Ginsburg’s life,” recounts Nakamura. The first layer, made of textured jacquard, represents RBG; the layer underneath, made of polka-dotted jacquard and reminiscent of a man’s tie, represents her husband, Marty; and the two additional layers, made of floral jacquard, represent their children, Jane and James. “Like magic, the top layer of the collar curved slightly into the bottom layer; it looked like family members being nestled together and supporting one another to be able to blossom.”
To underscore this theme of family, Nakamura incorporated Marty’s words into the design. In 1993, the year his wife joined the Supreme Court, Marty articulated the couple’s mutual respect for each other: “I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me. It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.” That last sentence was the line Marty would repeat when people wondered why he was giving up his successful law practice in New York City to move to D.C. for his wife’s career. “People saw him as giving up all these benefits and whatever, and to him family was the benefit,” explains James Ginsburg, their son. Marty’s words are hand-embroidered in black thread on the inside of the collar. “He had enormous confidence in my ability,” RBG said about her husband, “more than I had in myself.”
Nervous, excited, and honored, Nakamura and the CEO of M.M.LaFleur, Sarah LaFleur, traveled to RBG’s chambers in Washington, D.C., twice, for fittings. LaFleur said, “It was the closest I ever came to meeting my personal god.” For Nakamura, it was an experience that continues to ground and shape her. “To think: I might not have been here, working as a female designer and making a living from my passion, if she wasn’t there to create a foundation for our modern society. RBG was known to have loved opera and to have quite the admiration for the singers’ gifted voices, and she once noted that her gift was in practicing law. I think that she taught all of us to work with the talents you are given to make a difference for the better. I think back on this experience when I question the meaning of what I am doing with my life’s work, and she anchors me.”
The Collars of RBG” Copyright © 2023 by Elinor Carucci and Sara Bader. Photographs copyright © 2023 by Elinor Carucci. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Elinor Carucci is an award-winning fine art photographer whose work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions worldwide and The New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Time, W, Aperture, and ARTnews, among others. Carucci’s photographs are also included in prestigious museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, and the Houston Museum of Fine Art, among others.
Sara Bader has worked as an acquisitions editor for Princeton Architectural Press and a senior editor for Phaidon. In addition to editing visual culture books, she has conceived and researched several quotation compilations, including Art Is the Highest Form of Hope and Every Day a Word Surprises Me. She is also the founder of Quotenik, a growing library of verified quotations and the author of the collection The Book of Pet Love & Loss: Words of Comfort & Wisdom from Remarkable People.