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Maggie Cowles X DSNY: Tradition from necessity, detailed nostalgia, and being intentional about “the food we eat”

Maggie Cowles X DSNY: Tradition from necessity, detailed nostalgia, and being intentional about “the food we eat”

Last year, when we went through the process of changing our name to “Dinner Service NYC,” we did so because we believe (literally and metaphorically) that something special happens around the table. The act of gathering and participating in an act of survival has transformed over time to become a vessel for ritual, tradition, and cultural importance. A daily moment for us to nourish both our bodies and our minds. A place where friends and families share the experiences they’ve picked up along the way. An opportunity for invitation, acceptance and connection. And because of that, DSNY has a desire to set the table in order to create opportunities for artists to share their stories in an intentional and sustainable way. We hope to be a differentiator and use the world of sustainable fashion to tell the story of the artists that inspire us to live well and make a difference. We’re not just focusing on better materials, we’re focusing on wellness… embodying a healthier environment, mind, and body. A lifestyle with no reservations. 

What we didn’t expect was that we’d find such a perfect artist to collaborate with to help us kick-off our new identity. Turns out, Maggie Cowles is one of our own. After cutting her teeth in textiles for brands such as Converse, Madewell, and Lucky Brand, she found herself on the brink of burnout. So, she turned inward and started drawing & illustration, and what she found was that throughout the years she had been abandoning her creative self, her subconscious was working hard… shaping and sculpting a style and a aesthetic of her own. “I just started drawing and posting things on Instagram and was kind of shocked at what came out. I didn't really know this was in me.” 

Her works took shape in the form of table scenes. Complex, familiar moments taken from Maggie’s memory, all tied together by trinkets and knick-knacks from real-life experiences. “Food is a big thing in my family. The whole of the culinary world, really. Family gatherings center around the kitchen. Growing up in NYC, especially in Manhattan when I was younger, we used to go to Chinatown almost every night for dinner. It’s always been an important thing for me.”

The spaces and scenes that Maggie creates trigger a certain nostalgia. Three lines on a page remind you of the smell and taste of bacon on Saturday morning. A box of mix reminds you of pancakes at Grandma’s house. A Shea Stadium ticket stub on the table reminds you of dinner after a spring baseball game. In her works, we return to our own memories of the seemingly mundane moments in our lives and realize how rich and meaningful they actually were. There’s a longing to return to the rose-colored familiar.

“How can I put it… I spoke with this one chef who always said that the best compliment he can get is when someone tries a dish and says, ‘this taste just like my mom makes it.’ Theres a beauty to this idea of familiarity being a compliment. And to me that’s just delightful. I just wanna see the twinkle in someone's eyes when they are flashing back to a memory. You know, there's so much tied to food. We have to eat all the time to stay alive. Its steeped in necessity yet we create a lot of ritual around it. Tradition, culture… it's really fascinating to me.”

For our collaboration with Maggie we decided to create a two part story behind our garments that centers around what happens at the dinner table (fitting right?). The first piece, “Lavender and Poppy,” is a neatly put together scene that, to us, represents the anticipation that precedes a gathering. Playful, minimal. The second, “4am,” tells the story of the messy reality of a gathering’s aftermath. One seems perfect, buttoned up, and waiting to be filled with people. The second is tired, lonely, recently vacant but still carrying evidence that people had been there, stories were shared, and memories made. There’s a duality to these pieces. We want these garments to encourage the people who wear them to feel empowered to let go of their inhibitions and allow themselves to gather and live fully without carrying a cloud of guilt overhead. We hope to be an example of perfectly messy humans… humans who, despite our imperfections, still live with the best intentions for ourselves and those around us. For the present and the future. And to do so knowing that what they’re wearing will not have a negative impact on our home. 

Yes, its important to call out the problems in the fashion industry. To make intentional changes and not ignore whats happening. But we can do more, and thats why we’re doing this. Renaming our company “Dinner Service NYC” felt right on multiple fronts. We care about the “food we’re eating” metaphorically and literally. There’s more to our mission than sustainable wears. We want to help establish and create sustainable practices, and sustainable lives. It was encouraging to us to hear that someone like Maggie, with all her experience in textiles, thought we were on the right track.

“Pollution isn’t just coming from the companies, it’s also the consumer practice and what happens to garments after they’re bought. I feel like starting a brand post fast-fashion is very smart cause brands have an opportunity to carve out their own space and do it as thoughtfully as possible. I feel like what you're (DSNY) doing is what needs to start happening. Build a smaller brand that people respect and have more loyalty to. Not just creating toss away t-shirts, you know? That's awesome.”

It is awesome. The idea of living, and creating, with no reservations. 


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