Noticed by Colin T. McCarthy, owner at Al’s General Store, former Al’s bar from 1979 to 1999 where Nirvana and David Bowie used to perform, designer Mason Burns is part of the new emerging designers scene in Los Angeles.
Since 2020, Mason Burns has installed his brand in the back of Al’s General Store. First a corner, then for the last few months, a 1,000-square-feet space. Surrounded by his selection of western boots, a horse saddle, the poster of Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the 25-year-old designer has set up his creative workshop to create the unique pieces of the Lorraine wardrobe.
“I’m from Kansas. My grandparents immigrated from Italy, Germany and Scotland to become coal miners in Kansas, then became lawyer and banker. I grew up around us, in their home time capsules, covered with memories of western culture,” tells Burns. “Living in Kansas requires being sustainable and durable as all the stores were within 30 minutes of the house. We didn’t have internet for a long time and everything took a long time to be delivered. So when you are a kid and you want something, you have to make things or learn to fix things.”
While the idea of creating a brand wouldn’t come until a few years later, Burns had an early interest in textiles. “I was very picky,” adds Burns. “I didn’t wear clothes that didn’t fit me. Since I didn’t have access to the clothing stores, I started putting them together. I remember wearing a crew neck sweatshirt with no hood and everyone came up and asked, ‘Where’s your hood?’, because we couldn’t find anything but hoodies. I also went a step further and rolled up the sleeves on my sweatshirt for style and everyone thought I was crazy.”
A marketing and design major at Kansas State University, Burns began buying his first fabrics. “My grandmother had taught me to sew,” says Burns. “So I started to get into it, first by upcycling clothes, pieces that were often too small for me to wear, finding things that already existed and non-wearable and make it wearable. I would go buy old bed sheets or old pair of jeans that were size 40 and make a jacket.”
After moving to Los Angeles in 2019, Burns was hired for his first internship with the fashion brand Co, known for its women’s resort collection.
“A very interesting place to work and start,” tells Burns. “I got to meet a lot of vendors, designers in Italy and manufacturers. I kept the business cards and information and then met Charlie Pennes, founder of the sustainable apron brand White Bark Workwear. My part-time job turned into a full-time job and I was able to use his space to make my project at night, using his machines to saw my own garments. Everyone started loving my old wrangler jeans and pair of shoes, and I realized I didn’t need to put so much effort into designing and coming up with an idea for a brand. I just had to be myself and be inspired by my own life.”
Inspired by his childhood and family memories, Burns created Lorraine brand, whose name and logo are reminiscent of the French Croix de Lorraine. “A lot of my clothes are inspired by Westerns and old movies,” says Burns. “My grandfather was always watching Gunsmoke on TV. I was also a big fan of Tremors, where actors were wearing a lot of blue jeans and tank tops. My father being a karate instructor, I was inspired to create a kimono jacket from a Western fabric. I am interested in all craft cultures like Mexican and Native American cultures that carry a signature and authenticity.”
With a production of about 20 pieces per month, Lorraine is still a small business. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have an e-shop or social networks,” confesses Burns. “The idea that people come directly to see me, touch and see my clothes is enough for me. Fashion is a bad industry. It’s the second most polluting industry in the world and there is no regulation. If you have enough money you could make 10,000 units of polyester clothes which will never disintegrate. Being responsible is a necessity.”
Sourcing his fabrics from previous designer collections and deadstock, Burns produces one-of-a-kind pieces, and his T-shirts and sweatshirts are offered in limited quantities.
“I design items that last a lifetime,” continues Burns. “I love the details and ways of fashion and most importantly, I love making a piece and never making it again. My dream is that in 10-15 years, someone will call me and ask me to fix their clothes to see how they last.”
At Lorraine boutique, the shelves are also filled with collections of Western boots, renovated and customizable, like this latest pattern covered with silver barbed wire. Burns also handcrafts jewelry collections, his silver bead bracelets revisiting the Native American bracelets. Most recently, Burns created a totally upcycled jacket in collaboration with Best Regards, one of the other brands featured at Al’s General Store.
“I like working with other designers and also helping designers about resources and fabrics,” says Burns. “If we encourage independent designers to break through, people will start to think differently and stop buying from big companies and there will be a lot less damaging for the environment.”