Lingua Franca Teams Up With The Willa Cather Center To Celebrate The Feminist Author This Women’s History Month
Growing up in Nebraska, Rachelle MacPherson was taught about Willa Cather, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and a native of the state, and prescribed readings of her work early on in life. But it wasn’t until the founder of premium cashmere brand Lingua Franca moved to New York and found herself just steps away from the West Village apartment Cather once occupied that she came to understand the full extent of the author’s writings and the impact they had on the world outside of Nebraska.
“Cather’s West Village home, I was delighted to discover, is directly across from The Waverly Inn–my husband’s restaurant and our family’s stomping grounds–and just a stone’s throw away from where I now sit in our own home,” MacPherson says. “In short, I felt connected to her in having two very distinct homelands—the prairies of Nebraska and the bustling village of New York City—which are pretty much the furthest apart as far as these things go.”
And when it came to designing Lingua Franca’s spring collection, MacPherson decided to embrace the former of her homelands in a big way. She found inspiration in her own family members, including her grandmother Irene, whose 1920’s home and farm in Ceresco, Nebraska, served as the backdrop for the line’s photoshoot. But the designer also wanted to pay tribute to Cather, whose work and life have long influenced and her own career. “The more I’ve gotten to know Willa Cather, the more I’m impressed with her fierce individualism,” Macpherson explains. “To me, she was an author and a woman who, through her work and her lifestyle, pushed the idea of what a woman was and could be. I think she is underrated as not only a writer, but a model ‘feminist’ (though in typical Cather fashion, she would never refer to herself as one).”
The collection includes ready-to-wear dresses, tops, and skirts, alongside the signature Lingua Franca embroidered cashmere sweaters, which are hand-stitched with some of Cather’s most notable quotes and phrases, like “an adventurous life” and “the end is nothing the road is all.” “Selecting which of her works to highlight was the toughest part,” says Macpherson. “We had to pick words that were poetic and broad enough to live on our clothing in their own right while also short enough to make sense as hand-stitched embroidery phrases. So, it was hard but also fun!”
But the designer didn’t want to stop at honoring the writer there; she decided to also donate a portion of the proceeds to The Willa Cather Center, an organization dedicated to keeping the author’s memory and written works alive. And although the partnership is significant because of her ties to the author and their shared home state and Cather’s influence on the collection, it’s actually one of several hundred charitable donations that Lingua Franca has made.
“The causes and organizations we’ve partnered with have truly made my work not just fun but meaningful to me in a very personal way,” Macpherson says. “People talk about brand authenticity, and I don’t think I could build this brand in any other way than being authentic to my true desires of connecting and giving back to my community at large.” The brand has donated over $1 million to more than 227 organizations since its founding in 2016 and says that it’s only the beginning.
Lingua Franca’s spring collection is available starting on March 8, International Women’s Day, and Macpherson hopes that it will inspire others in the same way Cather’s work has inspired her. “I only hope to encourage people to learn more about the great American female author they might have overlooked until now, and if they happen to get swept away in her prose on the great plains of Nebraska, that would be sweet too,” she says. “Our country has so much to be inspired by, including the stories of pioneers leaving lives behind and rebuilding communities and our country in the process. It makes me proud of our country and committed to celebrating its goodness.”