Back in 2017, best friends and New York natives Lucy Weisner and Vita Haas opened the now infamous pop-up shop, Café Forgot, as a space for their designer friends to showcase original works. What began as a short-lived pop-up has turned into a nomadic clothing store: Over the past few years, the shop has relocated to nine different venues all over the city and country.
This impermanence, indicated by their name, is central to the shop’s philosophy and consumer experience: the ephemerality of Café Forgot transforms the clothing store into a sacred space–-one of sustainability, healing, and community. A divergence from fast fashion’s relentless momentum, Café Forgot gives the shopper room to slow down and become grounded in the present. By deliberately disappearing and embracing that they will be forgotten, the shop accentuates the value of presence.
Café Forgot’s pieces, in their idiosyncrasies, embody this principle of attention and care by invoking a stand-still effect. The viewer can’t help but stop, admire, and croon in delight at the offbeat items. Each bespoke piece is experienced as a wearable art object––frilly, puffy-sleeved tops, blotchy, hand-dyed pants, vintage tapestry corsets, playfully risqué cut-out jeans. They are all beautiful and bizarre objects you can find nowhere else.
Because of this, the shop feels a bit like an eccentric art gallery, and it is in fact more than just a place to buy clothes and accessories. Café Forgot is only open as a shop every other month, hosting events ranging from breathwork sessions to opera performances in between.
Haas and Weisner are committed to expanding the public’s relationship with Café Forgot beyond one of sartorial consumption. Café Forgot has amassed a vibrant community of budding designers, art students, enthusiastic shoppers, and fashion fanatics, who were all drawn by the shop’s versatility, unique aesthetic, and refreshing philosophy. We consider ourselves among those fans.
Whitewall talked to the shop’s co-founders about Fashion Club, their down-to-earth philosophy, how Café Forgot is so much more than just a clothing shop, and their new e-comm site in response to the ongoing pandemic.
WHITEWALL: Tell me a little about how Café Forgot came about. I heard it involves a high school Fashion Club, which sounds intriguing.
VITA HAAS: Lucy and I went to high school together and my friend Marland Backus (who is one of our designers now) and I started Fashion Club together. It was just a fun, silly thing. My college counselor wanted me to change the name to something that would sound better for schools like “Fashion for a Cause.” I was not into that idea. We did have clothing swaps and raise money, but we were more into the not-taking-ourselves-too-seriously vibe.
WW: When did it become Café Forgot?
VH: Lucy and I went to college at Reed together; we both studied art history. Opening up a shop was always an idea in the back of our heads, but it wasn’t something we thought we could actually do anytime soon. Then after we graduated we said to each other, “Wait, should we just try this out?” Our first pop-up was in our friend’s studio. It was really great to have the ability to take that risk without having to pay upfront. We had a lot of friends (some from Fashion Club) who were making cool stuff, so it happened really organically.
WW: It’s just you two who run the shop. What does your collaboration process look like?
LUCY WEISNER: I think we work really well together because we don’t divide the work up too much. We approach everything together. In terms of all of the designers that we work with, we’ll divide up who reaches out to who and often Vita or I will find a new person that we want to incorporate into the shop, so we’ll reach out to those people individually. But, for the most part, we try to do everything together. That’s just how our relationship is.
WW: Café Forgot mostly works with young, up-and-coming designers, and you mentioned that you were still working with some designers who were in your high school Fashion Club. What is it like working with young creatives? How has working with friends built a community around the shop?
VH: The community has definitely expanded. From the beginning we’ve had Marland Backus and Piera Bochner. Piera makes these beautiful candles that we’ve had since the beginning and have become a staple of Café Forgot. Then there’s people like Alterita and Anna Pierce, who we knew in high school as well. I met Claire McKinney and Sophie Andes-Gascon because they were Marland’s friends from Pratt. As we’ve had more and more shops we’ve been introduced to more and more people.
LW: Many of the different designers we work with align conceptually as well as in their practices, so their pieces end up working seamlessly together. Our designers are often fine artists as well: Clothing is just one of the mediums in which they work. They often don’t adopt a normal way of producing a collection: Their pieces are one-of-a-kind, hand-made, or upcycled. I think it’s interesting to see how their related practices visually manifest in these aesthetic similarities.
WW: When I came into the store, I noticed it was like a gallery experience in some way. I was wondering if that was intentional or if that culture arose because of the nature of the pieces you carry.
LW: We’ve definitely thought about that quite a bit. Even before starting Café Forgot, I had worked at galleries in the past, and Vita had worked in shops, so I think we both brought those experiences to our shop. When I was working in galleries, I’d always observed this weird distance between the viewer and the art object. I think Café Forgot’s pieces echo the relationship between viewer and object that you would see in a traditional art gallery setting, but there’s also this erasure of the “tactile wall” in our shop.
WW: That’s a really interesting philosophy. I saw that some of your designers incorporate healing practices into their work. How does that fit into your philosophy? Is there a connection there to sustainability as well?
VH: We currently carry [tinctures and herbal remedies by] 69 Herbs and Good Witch. We were also planning a healing salon, Side Effect, but it had to be postponed.
LW: Despite being left out of the environmental discourse surrounding fashion, there is definitely a connection between healing practices and sustainable, mindful practices. I think incorporating healing practices in our shop flows seamlessly into the types of garments that we’re selling and our emphasis on sustainability.
VH: In a much broader sense, healing is about slowing down, getting in touch with yourself, and building connections. At Café Forgot we’re also a lot about slowing down and actually getting to know the designers and where the clothes you wear came from.
WW: I noticed that you can’t buy Café Forgot’s clothes online. I think your resistance to the virtual really fits the shop’s philosophy of being grounded in space.
LW: It’s interesting that you bring that up because in light of the pandemic we’re going to try doing a little bit of e-comm when we reopen as a shop in April.
WW: I get it: You have to adapt to these insane times! You mentioned earlier that your event “Side Effect” was postponed. How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting the shop? Are you using the quarantine as a creative period, or are you just watching TV like the rest of us?
VH: I think a lot of people turn to craft in times like this (some of our designers have been making really different pieces because they’re all locked up at home). We’re using this time to take steps towards making e-comm that still captures the philosophy and spirit of Café Forgot. So much of the shop’s appeal is that it’s fleeting, since we move around all the time. We’ll be capturing that temporary, ephemeral nature with our e-com, too.
WW: Have you considered designing or creating art yourselves? Do you have art practices?
LW: We are actually in the midst of developing some pieces of our own that we want to be stocking at the shop. We started out more on the merch-y end of the spectrum with socks and totes but we want to expand that into a fuller range of pieces. I don’t know the timeline on that but it’s very much in the works. We’re also in the final stages of a perfume at the moment!