Let’s be clear: Jesse Weinstein, grandson of the legendary Center City boutique owner Joan Shepp, can really draw.
The 20-year-old student at Temple’s Tyler School of Art has illustrated a handful of comic books. And under the moniker Aygz — pronounced Eggs — he makes limited-edition T-shirts and hoodies with screen prints: a little Jean Michel-Basquiat, a tidbit of Salvador Dalí, and a whole lot of a socially aware Gen Zer who daydreams in weird shapes thumping in technicolor.
But let’s also be realistic: Whom you know is everything in fashion. So thanks to talent, connections, and a serious dose of serendipity, Weinstein’s eccentric drawings ground a striking collection of Italian silk and cashmere Avant Toi scarves that are currently retailing in the States, Europe, Asia, and Australia for well over $1,000 apiece.
“When I first saw the scarf, my grandmother bought it back with her from Paris, and I thought it was ... well, beautiful,” said Weinstein, a graduate of Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County. The way I’ve been processing this is very gradual." Then he says after a few seconds, “It hasn’t hit me like a tank.”
Beyond the jaw-dropping retail price of the 4-by-4-foot scarves, it might not be obvious how big of a deal this art-as-fashion collaboration really is. After all, Avant Toi, although an exclusive global brand, isn’t a household name. And if you actually can name its creative director, Mirko Ghignone , you’re more like fashion cognoscenti than insider.
Avant Toi is sold in the world’s most elite specialty stores, including Joan Shepp, where it’s been carried for more than 10 years. So it makes sense that Weinstein’s mom, the formidable Ellen Shepp Weinstein, is moved to tears about the entire experience. “I still can’t believe it,” Shepp Weinstein said to me. A framed hot-pink Avant Toi scarf hangs above the specialty boutique’s cash wrap counter. "It was really fate.”
Here is how the fortuitous deal went down: Shepp Weinstein was on a solo buying trip in Paris last January to scout early fall offerings when she visited the Avant Toi showroom. Shepp Weinstein sat down with Ghignone’s sister, Fiorella Ghignone, to review the upcoming styles, and the two women started a familiar exchange of pleasantries. How are the kids? Oh, Jesse is in art school? What kind of art does he do?
“I pulled up Jesse’s Instagram and Fiorella called Mirko over and showed him the pictures," Shepp Weinstein said. “And the next thing I knew, they told me they wanted to do a collaboration.”
When all of this was happening, it was the wee morning hours in North Philly. So when Weinstein woke up and checked his phone around 9 a.m., he, admittedly, found it odd that Avant Toi was now following him on Instagram. Later his mom called to tell him the news: Mirko Ghignone wanted 11 of his images. Weinstein emailed the PDFs within a few hours.
Fast-forward to early March: Mother and grandmother are back overseas for Paris Fashion Week. This time when the mom-and-daughter duo arrive at the Avant Toi showroom, they are greeted with racks of the brand’s iconic silk and cashmere scarves. But instead of the vintage Hermès images once at the center of the brand’s signature pieces, it was their “baby’s” art.
“I almost fainted,” Joan Shepp said of her immediate reaction. “I mean, I knew he was talented, but these were amazing. How could I not cry? I was proud. I was really proud.”
The Shepps bought 30 of the fall scarves for the store. They’ve sold all but three. A new shipment of holiday designs is expected in the coming week. And, Shepp Weinstein said, her son’s art will be featured in Avant Toi’s spring collection, too.
“Growing up, my mom would go to Paris, and I always wondered what exactly did she do,” Weinstein said. “She always bought me back chocolate or a T-shirt, and I was like, ‘Thanks, Mom, but what are you really up to?’ Now that I’ve seen it, I get it. I like fashion. I want to keep doing it.”