Meet sisters Rachel and Lauren Besser, daughters of a particularly innovative Chicago family. Their father, Charlie, is the founder of entertainment marketing company Intersport (among his achievements, he trademarked the term “March Madness”). His wife Rebecca (Rachel’s mom and Lauren’s stepmom) is a local philanthropist and one of the city’s most gorgeous women. So it’s not surprising that the sisters, both living in New York, would pursue creative fields — Rachel, 22, is a fashion assistant for style site Refinery29 and Lauren, 33, is a thriving freelance writer. Now they’ve catapulted from stylish siblings to the accidental muses of an iconic brand: Their visages will be stamped across skirts, dresses, coats and bags in the spring 2014 collection of global fashion house Prada.
While the collection will hit stores this spring, the sisters’ path to Prada — which doubles as a love story — began four years ago.
At the time Lauren was just leaving Chicago, bound for New York. As a hobby, she enjoyed traveling the world and photographing street art, a global creative medium (usually unsanctioned) that’s done in a public location. Once done on the sly, it’s been brought into the mainstream by artists like Banksy and Os Gemeos. In pursuit of great pieces, Lauren had gone to Spain, Russia, Morocco, Mexico, as well as all over the US. “I did it all the time. I couldn’t leave my house without a camera,” she remembers. “In New York, the apartment I found was in Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn] and there was this hand-painted, life-size portrait of a man with a shipping cart full of bottles and cans around the corner. It was one of the most beautiful pieces I’d ever seen in my five years of documenting street art around the world. I was like, ‘This is unbelievable! I’ll sign the lease. Perfect.’ ”
A week later she received an email from a blog advertising a talk with the artist who had painted that mural. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to go tell this person that I moved into my apartment because of this piece.’ ” When Lauren arrived, she immediately noticed a tall, red-haired man. She had no idea he was Gabriel Specter, the creator of her mural and the artist leading the talk. What started as admiration quickly became attraction: The two became a couple, and he began using her image in his work. A year later, she recalls, he told her to walk around the corner from her apartment to see a piece she’d want to photograph. It was a six-foot by six-foot poster saying “Lauren Besser, I love you.” “He’s very romantic about big gestures,” she says.
Today, Specter, 35, is a bona fide player in the street art world (Complex magazine named him one of the “50 Greatest Street Artists Right Now”) and he has jumped at another chance to put his love on display. Miuccia Prada, the head designer behind the famed brand, decided that for her Spring/Summer 2014 runway presentation, she wanted to create a colorful street art wonderland. She selected six artists for the project: two from France, one from Colombia, one from Spain and two from the US — including Specter. (Incidentally, Miuccia had become aware of him in 2010 when he debuted his “From Russia with Love” collection, a series of works he put up illegally around St. Petersburg, several of which featured Lauren.)
Prada’s collection was designed to be a colorful expression of feminism, and each artist was instructed to create works featuring strong women that would serve as the background for the fashion show. Unsurprisingly, Specter chose Lauren and her sister Rachel as his subjects. “I don’t think it would be the same if I said, ‘Here’s a strong woman because she’s successful or she’s famous,’ ” explains Specter. “I think what made it so powerful for Prada — and for everyone — is that these are everyday examples of normal people. I’m interpreting the power inside of all women and channeling it through people I know and people I’m close to.”
The work inspired Prada: Miuccia decided to license and use the art she commissioned from the six muralists as designs on her clothes — but the brand kept it under wraps until her Milan fashion show Sept. 19. “It really just appeared, we didn’t know what was happening,” says Specter.
Rachel and Lauren were equally surprised to see themselves on the clothes. Rachel remembers walking down the street in Brooklyn, live streaming the show, while her sister was on speakerphone. “It was so funny, people on the street could hear us screaming. We knew we were going to be on the mural, but had no idea about the clothes,” she says. “Then Lauren’s image was on the last look and we freaked out. I called her screaming, ‘Final look! Final look!’ ” Later, Googling the collection, Rachel realized her own face was also on a dress.
The collection features the faces of the sisters, as well as the women used by the five other artists, stylistically outlined and color-blocked. The outfits are paired with tube socks, slicked hair and graffitied eyelids, capturing the urban nature of the murals.
The thrill of inspiring an entire collection for a massive fashion brand hasn’t quite set in yet for the sisters. “A lot of people have freaked out more than we have,” admits Rachel. “We were excited, obviously, but they were like ‘Oh my god!’ ” Still, Lauren recognizes the honor. “From what I’ve seen written about the spring/summer line, Prada was going for this post-feminist celebration. If I’m going to be part of a fashion line, that’s the kind I want to be part of.”
And Lauren couldn’t be prouder of Specter. “It’s exciting!” she says. “It’s just such a vastly different form to showcase the work and to do a collaboration with someone who is so deeply respected.” As for Specter, who typically shies away from anything commercial, he knows he’s transcended some boundaries. “I only do work when I get to do what I want,” he says. “With Prada, it was definitely this huge brand, which I usually don’t associate myself with, but I always respected them and what they do and how they support art. It didn’t feel commercial. Prada is much more like art.”
Though Specter’s venues might constantly change, his inspiration continues to come from the women in his life: Lauren, Rachel and other members of the Besser family, who have all been included in his works. According to Specter, “They’re just perfect.”
Look for the collection this spring at Prada, 30 E. Oak; Prada.com
t+j Designs: blue medallion and crystal resin necklace, $48; Available on the SplashShop
On Lauren: Valentino: Floral embroidered coat, $4,980
All available: Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan; Neimanmarcus.com
Chanel: hat, $2,100
On Lauren: Frank & Eileen: top, $215
Alexander McQueen: skirt, $1,075
Photographer: Kirsten Miccoli
Stylist: Favia, Ford Artist
Makeup: David Grant for Illamasqua at Bloomingdale’s
Hair: Daniel Rubin for Dennis Bartolomei Salon Goldwell US
Shoot Coordinator: Zak Stemer