Remember the WHIT Resort 16 collection? The one inspired by the Museum of Natural History? The one with antelopes, ferns, and prints on prints on prints? Well, I had the utmost pleasure of chitchatting with the Whitney behind WHIT, the designer herself, at her new light-filled showroom on Eight Avenue.
It’s been roughly six years since Whitney left her post as the head women’s designer at Steven Alan to start her own line. Collection after collection, look after look, WHIT, founded in 2010, doesn’t disappoint. Each season brings about a new whimsical twist to the classically feminine line. The Spring 16 collection is no different.
Popping in color and effervescent in personality, the pieces all sing to a safari tune. Individually and collectively, they’re all very deserving of a good long ogle.
What inspired the Spring 16 collection?
My husband and I were playing with the idea of hot air balloons over the African Savanna. What we like to do is take a theme and turn it on it’s head. The tribal prints [in this collection] are made with sports tape in a collage-y way. We worked with Adam Handler for our giraffe [shirt] and we brought in colored stripes. We liked images that contrasted with our tribal and earthy themes. From there, we tried to bring in crisper textiles, white, texture, some bright gingham with polkadots on top, washed denim, and fringe to round it out.
Is this a continuation of the animal influences in your Resort collection?
Well, we brought in the giraffe, but this [spring collection] is more about bright colors and tribal references. We thought about what you’d want to wear in the heat. We kept it very light an airy and focused on voluminous sleeves and wrapping. When you look at traditional African wear, there are asymmetrical drapes in the way things are wrapped. We incorporated that in a clean way. If we have an asymmetrical hem on a dress, it goes into a really cool bodice. Coming out of Resort, we [pursued] the concept of travel and study. We were just excited to make this collection bright, crisp, and graphic.
Why the African Savanna?
It’s a trip my [husband and I] always wanted to take. It’s one of those things where it’s fantasy travel. I really love African body painting, indigenous textiles, and beadwork. A friend of ours, Greg Vore, who is a photographer went [to Africa] last year and photographed a bunch of tribes. That was so beautiful to us. It reinvigorated my interest in looking into pattern work and bringing it into the fabrics.
Of this collection, which would you say is your favorite piece?
You know, we work with different artists every season and my husband actually created a lot of our prints. Sometimes I can get a little biased. I love some of the ones I watch him do because I see the whole process. When it comes onto the fabric I’m like, “Ooo!” So, the rainbow watercolor stripes he worked on. But, I have to say that the gingham polkadot and the Handler giraffe shirt were also [among] my favorites. [The shirt] is a very versatile piece. He’s kind of one of our favorite younger artists and it was really fun to work with him so I think that piece kind of has a soft spot in my heart.
I’ve been wearing more of the off-the-shoulder stuff. I was recently in Arizona where it’s a little warmer so you can kind of wear them year round. Because the weather’s been so weird, I’ve been interested in the concept of year-round dressing. The climates have been so unpredictable in the cold places that I think there’s going to be a shift in fashion with layers and versatility.
Wow, I can’t stop staring at the rainbow now.
Yea, when [my husband and I] first started doing them we were like “Is this going to be too loud?” But, it almost matches with everything because all the colors are in there.
Let’s take a 180. I want our readers to get to know a little more about you. If I remember correctly, you originally went to school for theater. What made you transition into fashion?
I originally went to school as an acting major but I’ve always loved fashion. I was a creative-minded person but I didn’t know what avenue I was going to take. In school, I really got into costume design so I started working behind the scenes there. Instead of transferring into the fashion design school at the University of Texas, I stayed doing costume design and interned in fashion during the summers. The thing that made me fall in love with fashion is that with costume design, you design a show and you box it up when you’re done. With fashion, the items you are creating have a story of their own. You’re not dictating what the character is. Someone’s going to buy your dress and it’s going to have its own life. That person is going to style it in a way that maybe you wouldn’t. I love how with designing clothes, you’re making the item but then it’s going to take on a lot of different variations. It’s fun to think about who will be wearing it, how many different people will be wearing it, and who will be styling it. That’s what made me want to make the transition. Working as a receptionist at Kate Spade and taking night school at Parsons and FIT, I’d try to bridge the gap between costume design and fashion. The great thing about costume design was that I was getting such a good foundation in the history of apparel. I’ve always had a love of different eras and print and I love vintage clothing. I think [costume design] was a good foundation in terms of understanding the arc of apparel and taking that into a more commercial route.
What would you say is your favorite era or decade?
I love mid-century. I’m drawn more to the 60’s and 70’s. I love the 60’s textiles but I like the cleaner silhouettes of the 70’s. Because I love textiles so much, we try to keep our sihouettes a little more architectural and clean so they don’t feel too vintage. The big challenge with loving vintage-inspired prints is making sure they don’t feel too literal.
Have you started thinking about the Fall collection?
We have! We actually have our mood board here. We’re in the process of getting samples made. We’re really excited about it. This winter’s been so warm that it’s been kind of a challenge. Do we make as many coats as we normally do? But, I love doing outerwear. Growing up in Arizona, the concept of winter dressing was kind of a fantasy. I grew up in a place where you don’t really wear coats. It’s always a fun challenge to bring print and color together in a fall way.
This year, we’re doing a Peggy Guggenheim and friends theme. We’re not being too specific about it. As my husband likes to say, “If you cast a stone across [Peggy’s] career, you’ll see the many influences in her life and the different eras of artworks she supported.” We’re pulling our favorites from her legacy.
So, color! Are you going for color?
We are! We’ll be doing a lot of color blocking—little Dada references for print and graphic line work. It was the Surrealist era when Peggy first started the gallery, then, the modern American movement. We tried to bridge the gap between the two and make print references. We still want it to be fun. She had her kooky electric style. I want to make sure we’re not too vintage-y or too serious.
Okay, let’s take another 180. What do you do in your spare time?
My husband and I live in Williamsburg so we spend a lot of time there. We collect books so we go to the flea markets or bookstores. We love exploring the city and we try to go to as many museum shows and galleries as we can. We work a lot. When we do have free time, we try as hard as we can to push ourselves to do enriching things to keep our creative minds flowing. We try to go see all the shows that we can see. Because my husband and I work together, we spend a lot of time painting and thinking about prints. It’s hard to not work. We’re always like, “How about for this lunch, we don’t talk about work?” We usually make it for around 15 minutes. It is good though, we have a nice balance.
Loving what you do seems to be a repetitive theme for everyone we’ve interviewed.
I think that’s important. Owning your own business comes with a lot of logistical challenges. Whenever I meet students, I always tell them design ends up being a portion of [the job] but you spend a lot of time dealing with invoicing, production, and sales—the moving parts that have to happen for a company to function. It’s not sexy or fun so you really have to love what you do. Otherwise you’ll get swallowed up. That said, we really love [what we do] and it keeps us going.