If furnishings are a functional exhibit of one’s aesthetic preferences, then fashion is the mobile, more public version of it. It’s that sentiment that led former interior designer Lizzie Grover Rad to launch her eponymous luxury clothing line in April 2022. Determined to create a platform for her own artistic statements rather than interpreting other peoples’ visions into physical spaces, Grover Rad built a brand that engaged with the political and cultural topic that felt most pressing to her: issues of women’s liberation, including body image, patriarchy, and abortion.
“It seems once we leave our houses, our bodies are our biggest billboards,” Grover Rad tells TZR. “I thought that [fashion] was an interesting way of showcasing your opinions and taking that ideology out into the world. There’s volumes at which people would like to express themselves; sometimes it’s a muted version of your opinion, and it’s not so obvious, and maybe sometimes it is more overt when it’s something you feel stronger about.”
Reproductive freedom certainly qualifies as a topic the founder and creative director feels passionately about. The thesis of her first collection is an exploration of how women’s rights have been challenged throughout history, a timely illustration of the ways in which the narratives of our past inform this present moment in the wake of Roe’s overturning. Featuring visual references to The Scarlet Letter and the Salem Witch Trials as well as more modern themes like renowned feminist artist Tracy Emin’s My Bed installation, the garments are wearable works of art, with depth.
Some pieces, like the Emin-inspired cotton ticking corset and pant, are more subtle expressions. The separates are made out of mattress ticking in a nod to My Bed, with a scarlet “A” embroidered on the inside of the wearer’s left breast. Others are more blunt and daring: Grover Rad’s collaboration with subversive mother-daughter comic artists Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Sophie Crumb has a greater capacity for “ruffling feathers” — something Grover Rad admits is a favorite personal pastime. One item the founder cites as the line’s most polarizing is a coat with the Crumbs’ comic print overlaid, prominently displaying a simple question in thought bubble text: “So mom, tell us about what happened when you got pregnant very young, before abortion was legal?”
The comics, which also adorn both an opera coat and silk bias dress in Grover Rad’s Collection One, tell the stories of the Crumbs’ own abortions. Divided by five decades as well as major differences in the political atmosphere with regards to abortion access, the Crumb x Grover Rad garments are perhaps the boldest of the capsule. The designer knew early on that she wanted to commission a comic, and considered a subject as grave as abortion might be in good hands with artists that had a dark sense of humor to lighten it somewhat via a cartoon medium.
“Whenever I wear [the Crumb x GR denim coat] around town, people ask me to stop so that they can finish reading it, which I find really interesting,” says Grover Rad, adding that while most people respond favorably to its message in person, it’s the piece that incites the strongest reactions via Instagram, with commenters remarking on how disgusted, appalled, or offended they are by the garment.
Backlash is not something that bothers the designer in the least. While the website’s brand bio refers to the clothing’s messaging as “controversial” — a characterization confirmed by all that “appalled” online feedback — she explains that she herself has a very high threshold for what qualifies as such.
“I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, I was always very different from everyone and I think instead of shying away from being alternative, I thrived in sparking that — I don't want to say making people uncomfortable, but you know, fueling that more,” she says. Was she a disruptor politically? Aesthetically? “All of the above,” Grover Rad declares with a laugh. “In any way shape or form.”
It’s not in the designer’s nature to be loud. Where she may be more reserved in terms of verbal expression, she employs art to make statements on her behalf. On a Zoom from her Los Angeles home, she’s seated at her desk. Behind her hangs a George Condo painting depicting an orgy, the background of all her video calls. Grover Rad feels pieces like that give her fellow Zoom attendees, and any audience to her clothing, some unspoken insight into her politics and the kind of person she is.
“I’m shy and not a big talker, and so I feel like this says enough,” Grover Rad says of the painting. “That’s why I like clothes to have such strong messages because I feel like that way they can speak for me. I don't have to be so outgoing or defend that; they get it right from the get-go.”
In terms of what “it” actually is, with respect to her Collection One, Grover Rad hesitates to lay out the meaning in explicit detail. Instead, she leaves onlookers to draw their own conclusions.
“Without sounding annoying, I see myself more as an artist observing and creating a point of view that can be interpreted — I don’t want to feel like I am presenting and giving a clear message,” she says. “I think it’s important to view these garments as art in a way that can be open to interpretation. I like the idea that great art doesn’t need an explanation and I feel like in some ways, I have given a clear message that doesn’t need one, but in other ways I don't want to spell it out for people.”
The message woven into the threads of the pieces couldn’t be more urgent. Grover Rad’s timing feels almost prescient, with her Collection One debut in April and the Supreme Court leak that was Roe’s death knell in early May. She explains that she simply “saw the writing on the wall” alongside much of the rest of the country, as the Court’s composition skewed increasingly toward the political right wing in the time leading up to Roe’s fall. There was no flashbulb moment or epiphany that catalyzed her to start working on a collection centering reproductive rights last August; rather, it was more of an accumulation. “It seems like I timed it well but unfortunately, coincidentally, it hit about the same time as my launch,” Grover Rad says, reiterating that the collection is not as much a reaction to current events, but inspired by viewing reproductive freedom through a historical lens. “Obviously, history repeats itself.”
August to April is a rapid-fire turnaround for a new clothing designer to ideate, design, manufacture, and launch a collection. And Grover Rad prefers to keep her team small, which has pushed her to become adept at wearing many hats. She’s grateful to have come into contact with a solid head of production who helps run down exactly how to go about sourcing fabric and finding vendors for the fashion newcomer, but everything else from the conceptualizing, research, designing, sometimes modeling, and even storage falls to the founder.
“I’m our fit model,” says Grover Rad, who has also modeled some for the collection’s official campaign. “My garage is our shipping and fulfillment center. [Big teams] are not my style — I get my hands dirty.” With the brand’s next three collections currently in development (the second capsule is set to release this October), she has her work cut out for her.
“I’m making up for lost time,” she says of her creative output. “I don't know exactly what the end goal is because I'm not necessarily trying to be a big brand. I just want to keep creating really interesting bespoke pieces that have strong meanings, so wherever that takes me, I’m open to it.” And what type of person does she expect to covet such bespoke pieces? “I think my buyer loves art, and appreciates artists,” says Grover Rad. “She is a risk taker with a very strong sense of self, a strong belief system, and likes to express it both verbally and aesthetically. She’s not necessarily a trend-conscious, fast fashion type of person; she’s a collector, and appreciates unique pieces with unique points of view.”
In fact, the concept of fast fashion runs counter to the whole ethos of Grover Rad’s brand. Her garments are classic, born out of an admiration for fine art and history that will continue to be in dialogue with the present as long as that history continues to repeat itself. And as the eco-conscious California resident that she is, sustainability and ethical practices are stitched into the business, with all pieces being manufactured in LA. Her hope is to craft “future vintage pieces,” so the quality of the line must be up to standard to ensure the clothes can remain as timeless as their messaging has shown itself to be.
The creations obviously take center stage, but it’s a priority for the brand to do more than simply create art. Grover Rad donated 25% of all the label’s proceeds to the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama-based abortion fund supporting those in need of reproductive health care, until just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the threatening political climate around abortion in the U.S. has halted those donations.
“As of recently, they’re not taking any more donations until they can figure out the legalities,” she says, explaining that the brand is currently searching for another official beneficiary that similarly aligns with their mission. “What’s so sad about it is it’s an organization that’s trying to help, and they are so afraid for their own protection and liability that they’re having to rethink their work and strategize.”
There’s no denying the climate surrounding reproductive freedom is increasingly fraught, with some states seeing trigger laws go into effect since Roe’s downfall and reports of doctors denying patients care, citing the landmark legislation’s overturning. But even prior to the events of the past few months, abortion is an arena many had cautioned Grover Rad away from.
“When you start a company, everyone wants to give you their opinion, their advice, and I’m always asking people,” she says. “I can’t even tell you how many times somebody suggested ‘I would stay away from reproductive rights,’ or ‘abortion’s a little too... everything; I would stay clear of that and play it safer.’”
What the doubters and detractors don’t understand is that her political convictions and a particular affinity for feather-ruffling mean she’s more than happy to contend with it, especially given the current situation. However charged the atmosphere surrounding abortion access may become, she takes pride in being completely uncompromising with her artistic viewpoint.
“I'm happy that I've stuck to my guns, I'm proud of that,” she says. “And I will continue to do so.”
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