Welcome to the ‘Hood: Pantaluna

pantaluna-1-by-tribeca-citizenpantaluna-2-by-tribeca-citizenpantaluna-3-by-tribeca-citizenWhere others see disposable T-shirts, artist Illia Barger sees fashion—and a lot more. She and her husband, Glen Cappele, turn new and gently used T-shirts—always 100 percent cotton—into Pantaluna pants, skirts, curtain tiebacks, reversible pocketbooks from sleeves (“We realized we had a lot of extra sleeves,” says Barger), dog and cat toys, even a small apron they call a Lunaroo because it’s like a kangaroo’s pouch.

“I had a pile of cashmere sweaters that some of my patrons had given me,” explains Barger when asked about the origins of Pantaluna. “I designed Glen a pair of cashmere pants, and when he wore them to do yoga, he said women were crawling over to him like panthers, just to touch his pants. He said, ‘I felt like one of the Beatles!’”

After two years of selling at pantaluna.com, Barger and Capelle have just opened a pop-up shop in the front of Cheryl Hazan Mosaic at 466 Washington: “We’re here for three months, and who knows, maybe more.”

Barger, whose paintings were recently shown at NYU’s Broadway Windows, says she grew up reusing everything: “It’s in my DNA. It’s how I cook. It’s how I live.” She points out that all of the T-shirts would probably have been shredded and sold to auto shops, which use them to soak up motor oil, and then tossed into landfills. “It’s such a waste,” she says, noting that someone had to grow and weave all of the cotton. “We’re resurrecting through creativity,” she says. The philosophy prevails right down to the pattern paper they use to wrap purchases, which get tied with a “flower” made with T-shirt scraps. (She’s thinking of offering kids’ classes on making flowers, so I suggested she hook up with the folks at Moomah.)

At their “factory” in Frenchtown, N.J.—where they live—they have a 200-year-old guillotine that they use to cut a huge amount of T-shirts at a time. Choosing scraps first for color, Barger designs each item individually, taking any words or graphics into account. She doesn’t do the sewing, though. “I don’t sew! My husband does most of the sewing.” By day, Glen runs an HVAC business. “I didn’t even know he sewed, and then he reminded me that his father was an upholsterer.” He gets help from locals also help out in exchange for freebies—and a fun time.

UPDATE 11/21/09 Illia Barger emailed to say that her pop-up shop has closed: “Too hard in these times to hang on with the rent so we came back to out shop in N.J. where we have a following. We do sell our clothing at pantaluna.com.”

Pantaluna is at 466 Washington Street (Canal/Watts); 877-LUNA-777, pantaluna.com. The store is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.


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