In the world of fashion, styles come and go with the seasons. And while we pick out our favorite trends along the way, we often gravitate towards pieces that best express our individuality. Unlike new styles, our sense of self is something that sticks with us—an outlet for showing the world (and ourselves) who we are.
Laurén Bienvenue, founder and CEO of the increasingly popular Jersey City-based wearable art line Once Upon a Lauren, specializes in creatively materializing those one-of-a-kind details in the garments and accessories she reinvents. Her artistic medium of choice is vintage leather, however she finds herself experimenting with new materials whenever inspiration strikes. Bienvenue brings new life to otherwise discarded belongings including customized leather jackets, handbags, wallets, luggage tags, laptop folios, canvas shoes and a variety of other personal items. As she likes to say, “If it can hold paint, I will paint it.” And that openness to diversity can be the deciding factor over the success of many upcoming artists.
The concept for Once Upon a Lauren was born in Paris, a city known for its delicate and fine artistry. “I didn’t do much painting until I saw a leather jacket with hand-done roses on it a few years ago in Paris,” she recalls. “I couldn’t afford it, so I left it in the store but kept thinking about it when I got home and had this lightbulb ‘I bet I could do something similar,’ moment.”
“I researched leather paint, made my own version and I remember my husband being really impressed. Then people would stop me on the subway when I was wearing it, friends started to ask if I could make one for them. After having it on me at the salon one day, I was invited to a small Valentine’s Day-themed pop-up shop at The Hair Room in Jersey City. I came with seven jackets and sold two which felt like an unbelievable success to me.”
Leaving her corporate PR job behind, Bienvenue took the momentum of her initial success at the pop-up—along with the support of her husband and friends—and opened her Etsy shop. Today, she draws clientele from all walks of life and they request designs that put her creativity to the test. A particularly busy time for her comes around wedding season, when a lot of couples request his and hers jackets. Her designs often blend themes of love and have ranged from romantic flowery motifs to edgy bride and groom skulls surrounded by the words “‘Til death do us part.”
Although her signature look is sprawling florals fit for any season, Bienvenue also likes to venture out into whatever territory matches her clients’ wishes—tropical foliage, ‘70s punk rock tattoo patterns, folklore prints, or vintage lettering to name a few. On the subject of custom, Bienvenue often recalls her favorite piece, a white 1980s leather blazer with vibrant monstera and palm leaves hand-painted on all sides.
Her artistry is undeniable, and has even grabbed the attention of reputable brands throughout both the fashion and art worlds. “A particularly proud moment was when Stoli commissioned me to paint a few jackets for their brand ambassadors in preparation for a new marketing campaign and Ty Dolla $ign walked out on stage at their launch party sporting one of my jackets.”
For Bienvenue, support plays a major part in her business, often collaborating and offering any assistance she can. She takes inspiration from veteran artists like Tessa Perlow and her clothing embroidery, as well as lettering artist Jen Mussari. Bienvenue also appreciates new artists just like herself. “I love what @BKaspr and @OliviaIllustrations are doing with color and a sense of humor over on Instagram.”
Bienvenue also attributes a lot of her personal motivation to other indie JC natives, “Growing this business in Jersey City has been a key part of its success because there’s a wonderful community of small business owners who have allowed me to lean on them for everything from logistical advice to emotional pep talks. Kristen Scalia, owner of Kanibal & Co in Jersey City, has been an awesome champion, supporter and friend. She’s set such a good example for how we can all be working together, magnifying each other’s strengths and celebrating our collective wins.”
Looking ahead, Bienvenue aspires to one day open a brick-and-mortar location, but is currently more focused on perfecting her craft and partnering with like-minded businesses. “My immediate goal is to grow into a larger studio space that would act as a show-room, event space and meet-up spot. I’d also like to partner with existing stores to carry select jackets.”
For now, Bienvenue has a lot to focus on with fall on the horizon and wedding season approaching an intense conclusion. She spends most of her time feverishly painting leather jackets for budding brides-to-be. You can find her in Jersey City at events such as the All About Downtown festival on September 21st, Brooklyn Flea in October and at a few of the holiday-themed markets around Hudson County in November and December.