As a landlord and resident of North Philadelphia, menswear designer Najeeb Sheikh has a clear view of S. Broad Street and the formerly-abandoned Divine Lorraine Hotel.
Inspired by the luxury of the hotel, Sheikh collaborated with Center City sneaker store Lapstone & Hammer to create a collection that honors the building.
“Originally, it was the architecture that spoke to me,” Sheikh said. “[I thought], ‘How did it get into this condition? Why is it vacant?’”
The designer researched and discovered that the Divine Lorraine was the first non-segregated hotel in Philadelphia and wanted to find a way to encapsulate the history of the building.
Sheikh teamed up with Brian Nadav, the owner of Lapstone & Hammer, through mutual friends.
“I was impressed of his overall knowledge of fashion and the stuff that he carries,” Sheikh said.
Sheikh’s Divine Lorraine line was the shop’s first collection when Lapstone & Hammer opened on Chestnut Street in May.
“It was a way to play tribute to a Philly icon and expose people to what the Divine Lorraine was,” said Nadav, who graduated from Temple in 2004.
The original idea was a small collection of T-shirts. Later, the duo added hats, jackets and crew neck sweaters. The project came together in under two months.
“We realized there were a lot of people attracted to the building for a number of reasons,” Sheikh said. “There is so much history to this building, so we had to make sure we did it right.”
Sheikh and Nadav brought in other elements to the collection, inspired by items found in and stolen from luxury hotels, like toiletry trays, towels, robes, grooming kits, shampoo and conditioner. They also created collectible keys engraved with a room number in the hotel.
All of the typography in the designs is based on the Divine Lorraine’s rooftop sign.
Sheikh said the text is based around one graphic line-drawing of the hotel that was embroidered rather than screenprinted. The denim jackets and crew necks also include thick, felt patches.
“We tried to keep the branding as if the collection came out when the hotel was in its prime,” Sheikh said.
The building not only served as a landmark of North Philadelphia, but also left an impact on people who resided there when it was converted to apartments, Sheikh said.
“We had the pleasure of meeting a resident the day of the release event,” Sheikh said. “There was an older lady who happened to be walking down the street and just saw the display window and came in asking questions about what the items were for.”
Sheikh said he gave the woman the collectible keychain for room 215 and watched her face go blank.
“She said ‘this was my room number when I lived in the building,’” Sheikh said. “It was one of those moments where I instantly had goosebumps.”
Companies that the designer collaborated with for the line include Levi’s, Converse, Philly-based Decades Hat Co. and Crep Protect sneaker cleaner. For Sheikh, Levi’s and Converse were simple decisions due to the long history and quality associated with the products.
At the far end of the Lapstone & Hammer store, a door opens up to a 1,200-square-foot gallery space named after its original purpose, Pauline’s Bridal Shoppe. This gallery served as a place to honor the Divine Lorraine through local photographers and artists during the release event.
One of the artists, local paper sculptor Drew Leshko, created a smaller version of the sign that sits above the building and can be seen high above Broad Street.
“It is nice to be able to do a piece that involves local imagery and can also be shown locally,” Leshko said.
During the July 31 release party at Lapstone & Hammer, the collection sold out almost immediately, Sheikh said. He added that there are discussions of recreating select items from the collection.
“We want to keep it limited and special to the people who did have the opportunity to get their hands on the items,” Sheikh said.
Since the release, the developers of the Divine Lorraine renovations reached out to Sheikh and are currently discussing a possible collaboration in the future.
“It was exciting to see the hype,” Nadav said. “It was our product, something really local and it was a very humbling experience.”
Emily Scott can be reached at email@example.com.