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    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar

    Andre Wilson’s workspace is clean, not what you might expect from a fashion designer. There are no fabric swatches littering a table, no mannequins piled in the corner, no stacks of drawings. Just a cleared desk and an organized cabinet. This is where Wilson created the new Kentucky Derby Festival jackets, the blazers KDF board and staff members — plus the mayor of Louisville and the governor of Kentucky, if they want — wear at every KDF event in April and May, including Thunder Over Louisville, the Pegasus Parade and the Bed Races.

    The jackets have been a staple of springtime in Louisville since 1973, after Jack Guthrie, KDF’s executive vice president at the time, attended a convention and saw folks from international festivals sporting personalized jackets. The first KDF blazer, a solid burgundy with a Pegasus patch over the breast pocket, lasted only two years. The second design, a navy-and-gold jacket made from necktie fabric, lasted from 1976 to 1989. 

    You’ve likely seen the third iteration — a dark teal with pink embroidered Pegasus logos, a pattern so distinctive that jackets were stolen from board members’ cars. One was recently listed on eBay for $199. NBC newsman Willard Scott was in one for nearly 20 consecutive Pegasus Parades. On the January cover of InStyle, pop star Zendaya wore a velvet suit with a nearly identical design. KDF retired this version 13 years ago and replaced it with a beige-and-black combo that’s easily lost in the colorful crowd of Derby fashion.

    In Wilson’s studio, a 10-by-10-inch swatch of the new fabric radiates from the table, an electric fuchsia with a stylized, teal Pegasus, the stitches in the embroidery adding texture. “(The Pegasus) is exactly an inch and a half,” Wilson says, brushing his fingertips across the smooth thread. “Two inches apart on both sides. I’ve measured it 30 times.”

    Photo: Andre Wilson's original sketch.

    Wilson started in fashion by styling clients and launched his own business eight years ago. He started going back and forth with KDF about the new design in September. Since then, he has worked on gaining approval from the nearly 100 people who will wear the jackets. “We talk about where you’ve been, where you want to go, and then I try to build that bridge in between,” he says. Working out of his space on Brownsboro Road, Wilson sketched his original drawing with a No. 2 pencil and standard craft markers, modernizing the look with solid-colored lapels and adding a ticket pocket before a digital artist created seven variations. 

    Nearly 500 bolts of the bright fabric were embroidered in a small town in Switzerland that’s one of the last places to produce small batches of custom embroidery. The men’s jackets are being sewn and tailored in New York. The women’s jackets, which have fitted or standard options, will be tailored here in town. “It has been a lot more involved than any of us really thought when we said we need new jackets,” says KDF merchandising manager Jennifer Morgan. As of this writing, Wilson and KDF staff were still waiting on the new jacket’s prototype.

    KDF officials hope the return to their brand colors after years of beige will draw even more attention to the festival. “People wear racetracks on their head,” Wilson says, “so you have to work really hard to do too much at Derby.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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