Early last year, a new designer emerged under the Instagram handle @ebonytylah. With no website and a bio simply reading “dreaming of the past,” the mysterious account’s feed consisted of artfully shot, unisex jeans available to buy via DM, printed with some of history’s most treasured documents and artworks: illuminated manuscripts from the Dark Ages; etchings of medieval mappa mundi; reproductions of maximalist scenes of violence and passion as painted by some of the greatest Renaissance and Baroque artists. Color us intrigued.
Upon messaging this faceless brand, it turned out to be the brainchild of two designers, Antonia Boss and Tim Hartmann. While the pair both studied in Vienna (at the Herbststrasse Fashion School and University of Applied Arts, respectively) and graduated in 2019, their first meeting took place in a more unlikely locale two years earlier—their shared hometown of Bregenz, near the Swiss border, where they were both working at a lakeside opera festival. With a shared passion for Old Master paintings, the antique treasures housed in Austria’s legendary Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the kitschy glamour of ’90s Gucci and Roberto Cavalli, the pair decided to fuse these disparate interests into Ebony Tylah.
“We just started by making prototypes on our iPad,” Hartmann continues, “overlaying pant patterns on old images and finding the best position to be able to read the narrative of the image. We don’t want the narrative of the image to get lost, which can be a bit tricky.”
It’s this respect for the integrity of the original artwork that lends their pieces their unique magic, with the paintings carefully arranged over denim and mesh to preserve the impact of the original pieces. A pair of jeans featuring Artemisia Gentileschi’s Baroque masterpiece Judith Beheading Holofernes sees the painting recreated in all its brutal majesty, with Judith and her accomplice framed across each thigh. Elsewhere, a slinky, form-fitting top is printed with a medieval text, the lavishly illustrated drop-cap sitting just so across the shoulder. “What we like about it is that it’s almost another way of displaying art, and a very personal one,” Boss adds. “How much closer can you get to an artwork than literally wearing it on your skin?”
To source the paintings used in the Ebony Tylah garments, the pair began by reaching out to some of their favorite museums across Europe. “We wrote to these institutions and paid for some of the pictures, while some of the really popular Old Master paintings are available in stock archives,” says Hartmann. “The museums in Scandinavia and the Netherlands were really helpful with getting us the licenses. I think they want their paintings to be shared—although they’re still very curious to know what you’re planning to do with the images. It’s not exactly what you’d find in the average gift shop.”
After enlisting the help of a digital printing company in Thailand to transfer the images onto deadstock straight-cut jeans, the designers gained quickly began gaining a modest but loyal following on Instagram. “We went online with the first 20 prototypes we had,” says Boss. “It wasn’t like we had a whole lot of pants sitting at home waiting for the customers, it was more a case of trying it out and seeing what people thought of it. We were really surprised by the reaction.” Since then, the pair have continued to distribute their pieces solely via direct message, a sales model which suits them just fine. “I think Instagram gives you so many opportunities that we were not aware of before we started the brand,” says Hartmann. “It’s easy for them, but it’s also nice for us, as through these direct messages you end up having really close contact with your customers, which is actually quite cool.”