• Share

Prescription Happiness: DRx and Coca-Cola Unveil Capsule Collection

By:  Jay Moye Oct 23, 2013
Tags & Topics:

“I’ve been called a resurrection specialist,” Darren Romanelli, who has made his mark reimagining vintage clothing under his DRx fashion label, says via phone from his Los Angeles studio. “For me, there’s something about Americana and amazing brands like Coca-Cola with such a rich history and heritage.”

Romanelli is teaming up with Coca-Cola to create a 200-piece “Coca-Cola by DRx” capsule collection featuring his signature bomber and biker jackets, vests and t-shirts. Fashion media, bloggers, retailers and influencers got a first look at the bespoke items – which were inspired by retro Coke clothing meticulously sourced from flea markets, vintage stores and “swap meets” around the world – this week at The New Museum in New York City. Each custom piece is stitched together using multiple Coca-Cola garments.

“I’m giving them a new life, a new beginning,” Romanelli says.

Equal parts retrospection and innovation, Romanelli’s unique aesthetic fuses American heritage, modern streetwear and an appreciation for patchwork Japanese designers like Jun Takahashi and Junya Watanabe. He approaches each project as a hybrid endeavor, breathing new life into preexisting cultural elements and brands with his distinct imprint.

We spoke with the 37-year-old designer about his inspiration for – and the creative process behind – the “Coca-Cola by DRx” collection.

How did this opportunity come your way?

Coca-Cola was interested in collaborating with DRx, my label, on a limited-edition collection that would be available at unique shops around the world. We started putting together a concept and quickly realized we had the same vision for one-of-a-kind, deconstructed vintage Coca-Cola pieces and a cut-and-sew range of t-shirts. We wanted to offer something for everybody.

You’ve said that you only get involved with brands you’re truly passionate about. What excited you most about this project?

I’m a true consumer and collector. I grew up drinking Coke and admiring their commercials and apparel. So to be able to explore their archives, work with them closely and tell a story about contemporizing Coke’s history was really exciting for me. I vividly remember Coke’s licensed products from the 1984 Olympic Games in L.A. And the Coke streetwear from late ‘80s to the early ‘90s was incredible... those rugby shirts! For this project, I deconstructed some of those shirts and vintage pieces of American workwear and reinterpreted them into more modern silhouettes. I’m using the tagline “Prescription Happiness” because I’m prescribing collections for the masses.

There are more than 200 items in the 'Coca-Cola by DRx' collection. Describe how you selected the vintage pieces and turned them into the garments that will hit stores this month.

My team went out and sourced items over the last year from vintage swap meets and various Coca-Cola collectors. I was lucky enough to have really beautiful, classic Coca-Cola garments to work with. Then I spent time with the items in my studio and, I know it sounds cheesy, but they spoke to me. For example, there’s this great workwear pinstripe piece we found from the ‘50s with “Butch” printed on a nametag. I took that shirt and turned it into a beautiful jacket. The wear and tear on the Coke label was so great; it was almost like a patina with browns and greens. I honed in on that and ordered leathers, linings and ribbings to match it. The t-shirts were acquired from Coke’s style guides, logos and taglines throughout the years. And for a few of the t-shirts, we drew inspiration from my reconstructed pieces. Everything in this collection is very thought out, and I’m really proud of it.

Any personal favorites?

There are a couple of traditional bomber jackets I really love with removable collars and lots of zippers. For one, I went from a classic workwear jacket into a truly modern, functional silhouette. The original lining was quilted, so I used that and did a quilted outer detailing with the leather. Everything was studied and brought back to life.

Why is the Coke brand such a fashion plate and a good fit for designer collaborations?

It’s one of the most recognized logos ever. You’re taking something as popular as a polka dot or a pinstripe and reinterpreting and tweaking it. You’re taking something very traditional and making it untraditional. Coke has been very active in working with designers and on the runway, so it’s been really cool to watch the brand’s strong history with licensed apparel unfold. With this project, I wanted to pay homage to the stuff that has inspired me over the years.

Your found-fashion obsession dates back to your days at the University of Oregon. How did you discover your calling?

When I graduated college in 1998, I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do. My buddy and I ended up managing a rock band called Ima Robot. Our approach to launching the band was really unique because at the time, street marketing wasn’t mainstream… it was still considered graffiti. We launched the group with an amazing guerilla marketing campaign, then Virgin signed them and other record labels started asking us if we could support their artists with a similar approach. I ended up creating a boutique marketing agency called StreetVirus and developed this thing we call “personalization customization.” It’s a personalized approach to creating tailored marketing solutions for companies and brands. That eventually inspired me to create DR Romanelli, a line of personalized, customized clothing. I was creating personalized, customized brand strategies for my clients and, at the same time, creating these personalized, customized clothing pieces for myself. Soon, my friends started asking if I could do pieces for them. So in 2003, I started selling my creations to friends under the DRx label. The name made sense because I was performing surgery on vintage pieces.

How did you learn the trade?

I became a designer organically. I was hustling to find sewers and hire cutters and pattern graders. I didn’t know much about textiles, so I really had to educate myself. During a 2003 trip to Japan, I really understood and appreciated Japanese craftsmanship and storytelling – being meticulous about everything from the design of the garment, to the hang tags, to the branding, to consumer interactions, to retail presence and merchandising. It educated me on who I had to become if I wanted to be a successful designer. I’ve been blessed to have an agency that can support my vision for DRx and vice versa.

You’re involved with music, marketing and fashion. What’s the common thread that stitches everything together for you?

Storytelling and passion. If I’m creating a jacket, a marketing campaign or a music video, designing a watch or a pair of shoes, or even putting my kids to bed at night, I’m telling a story and engaging my audience. I’m creating a journey for them to embark on with me. DR Romanelli has always been 50 percent about the product and 50 percent about marketing, storytelling and branding. And I’m constantly creating energy in my life and career that inspires me. Because without inspiration, there’s no passion. And without passion, you can’t create something you’re proud of.

The Coca-Cola by DRx collection launches this month in stores across the world, including Opening Ceremony in New York, Los Angeles and London, Fruition in Las Vegas, Unknwn in Miami, NoMad in Toronto, Colette in Paris, United Arrows in Tokyo, and Juice in Hong Kong and Shanghai.