HERCLAYHEART’S ‘Lover’s Shirts’ Series Explores the Aftermath of Failed Relationships When All That Remains Is a Scrap of Fabric

We’ve all been there: The end of a relationship… the aftermath of the breakup… the one shirt belonging to your former partner that still sits in your closet because you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of it. We imbue items like these with a lot of meaning, and even after the people we connect them with are no longer around, we tend to keep them with us anyway. Why? Photo and story series Lover’s Shirts attempts to get below the surface of these odd pieces of cloth, examining what we feel when we wear our lover’s shirts.

Together, photographer Carla Richmond Coffing and writer Hanne Steen form the Los Angeles-based artistic duo HERCLAYHEART. An ongoing project, Lover’s Shirts explores the multitude of feelings the clothing of our lovers inspire in us. In their artistic statement, they write, “We bear witness to the complexity of the human experience of romantic love through the mundane and universal token of a lover’s shirt, and the unique expression of the person who wears it.”

It feels like a flag I can’t stop flying.

It comforts me in the meantime between the spaces.

“There is something about [ex-lovers’] shirts — even old and torn, they feel special, different from any other clothing,” Steen wrote about the project in an email to the Huffington Post. “My last boyfriend had a stack of old t-shirts, worn and soft and full of holes that I used to love to wear…. When that relationship ended, I somehow neglected to keep any of his shirts, and I missed wearing them, because I missed him — his smell, his arms around me.” Like any good artist, though, Steen didn’t just sit around and wallow in the feelings. As a reaction, she said, “I decided to do a project that looked deeper into this phenomenon, as a way of exploring my own feelings of longing and attachment, and ultimately, detachment. I was curious whether or not other people felt the same way.”

It makes me look a little stronger than I am.

It’s just a rag I turned into a promise that he would never leave.

Neither are Steen and Coffing passive when it comes to shooting the photographs and gathering the stories that make up Lover’s Shirts. The process for each new entry begins with memory-provoking questions and the subject, wearing his or her lover’s or ex-lover’s shirt, focusing on their image in a mirror. After about ten minutes, the artists begin a conversation with their subject, giving him or her a safe space to talk about what and how the item of clothing makes them feel. These conversations are recorded, then written down as one huge block of text. Stripped of personal references, they become an unending prose-poem speaking to both the beauty and the heartache that failed relationships hold.

Even if it’s painful we need to hold onto something. Proof that we did it. That wewent through it. That we learned something. That our hearts were broken. That we were loved. That we weren’t loved enough.

For someone I won’t be something that will be so easily shed.

“What is universal when it comes to love and loss?” the project’s artistic statement asks. “When you strip away place, history, and social context, what remains? What connects? What are the common threads? From the pool of our anonymous subjects' personal experiences, we draw a universal story of the human capacity to love, to lose, and to move on.”

To see the complete series as it stands thus far, head on over to HERCLAYHEART's website. Want to be a part of it? Get in touch with Steen and Coffing here.

Images: courtesy HERCLAYHEART