Like the artisan, Western-chic handbags she designs for her eponymous California brand, Judy Augur is one of a kind.
Written by Jenn Thornton
Judy Augur has it handled—her brand, her designs, all is within her grasp. The founder and creative engine of J. Augur expresses a keen material sense and trades in vintage textiles and Western-style talismans to create distinctive, one-off handbags and decor. That each creation is an elevated work of art, the brand has a cult following ranging from folksy, high-touch fashionistas, to editorial titan Vogue, to the king of sartorial Americana Ralph Lauren.
Augur is a sensation but her work makes her an original—there is, after all, only one Judy Augur. Born in Southern California, “I spent summers in Wyoming visiting my grandfather, falling in love with all things ‘cowboy,’” says the designer, who as a girl of 4 dreamt of being a cowboy, wore pearl snap western shirts and cowboy boots, and watched a boatload of Western serials like Bonanza. When she took horseback riding lessons as a pre-teen, her best friend called her “Duke.” The teenaged Augur turned to punk culture, however, and in shopping thrift stores and refashioning her finds, she laid the groundwork for the more sophisticated and innovative applications of her craft today.
One sees in Augur’s designs the breadth of her background, including studies in art history and sojourns to the Four Corners region of the United States, where she familiarized herself with Native American history. “My father was from Colorado, and my mother from Wyoming—so maybe it was in my blood,” offers Augur. Perhaps, but augmented by her interest in shape, form and color. She works miracles with a remix, arranging materials in interesting and unexpected ways for designs with an artful, historical and anthropological sensibility.
Whether it was John Wayne creating a film character or Augur “delving behind the scenes and under the surface” to create the character of a particular piece, the idea of invention is a classic Western theme. Yet for inspiration Augur looks east, to a New England proverb she loves: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Taken with the unwanted and underappreciated, Augur employs textiles that “may have no obvious use any more,” she offers. “I take things apart, repair and clean them and then reuse the material in building something new.” From hand-woven Navajo rugs to indigo-dyed denim sourced at flea markets and antique fairs, there are “amazing materials from the past that are no longer made,” she shares. Textiles stashed in the attic is “the stuff I like the best—tattered, torn, faded, worn and forgotten.”
In this increasingly fast age, Augur represents a more conscious, hand-done, uniquely American artisanship. “I believe timelessness speaks to quality, style and an aesthetic appreciation for what deserves to be studied, understood and if possible—replicated,” she says. “I hope my work shows people that fashion can be worth investing in when it is made well from incredible materials that have stood the test of time, in new and fresh ways.”
What of a timeless figure like John Wayne? “He’s such an icon, I can’t imagine what I could do that would measure up to him,” Augur admits. Still, she adds thoughtfully, “I would take bits and pieces of his favorites; memorable garments, costumes, accessories and various materials that he collected over his life and throughout his career. I would ask him to tell me the connections, the stories, the memories and the meanings of these materials, and fashion pillows from them. Large and very comfortable so that his close friends and family would sit with him and ask: ‘What did this come from?’ And he’d be reminded of his rich past and great legacy, and tell stories.”
Photographs courtesy of Benjamin Turner