This week: I spoke to atelier owner Kathy Wilson about her take on bespoke design
Me: Oh Kathy I am very excited about catching up with you, your designs have captured something quite unique and they display the quality and skill that fills me with confidence and appreciation for your craft. So tell me a bit about your work?
Kathy: “My atelier launched after I designed a jacket for Stevie Wonder that he wore to the President Obama’s first White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I am a menswear and women’s wear designer who started on red carpet pieces for celebrities under Richard Tyler Couture. I love doing gowns and suits but after researching where the market was moving, I decided to launch a contemporary line during my participation in a reality show called “All On The Line with Joe Zee” for Sundance Channel.”
Me: That is really quite exciting. Would you tell us about your atelier, what is the space you work in like?
Kathy: “I design out of my home studio in Brooklyn. I sketch and drape on my dress forms here. Then I get my samples done and take sales appointments out of my showroom in New York’s garment district.”
Me: What made you want to make your designs bespoke?
Kathy: “My introduction to bespoke clothing came from my first job at Richard Tyler. It was where I learned how to measure and make beautiful clothes inside and out.”
Me: And we appreciate that, no doubt. So, what are your personal thoughts on bespoke clothing?
Kathy:“I love bespoke clothing but it is very hard to find customers that understand the artisanal quality and care of this type of work. Most consumers follow trends and don’t have a sense of quality that bespoke customers understand.”
Me: Beautifully said, I am really passionate about helping people become more confident and savvy dressers, I believe bespoke is something people are beginning to appreciate more an more. In terms of your work what are the most pressing challenges you face in this current time?
Kathy: “I find that Americans are all about sales. Black Friday and getting a great deal has programmed people to only buy things on discount. It turns people in hoarders instead of people that love things that they can hold onto and resell later on.”
Me: Amen! That is the reality, it seems a transformation of peoples thinking is what is needed, one genuine item at a time. The thing I find the biggest difference with bespoke as opposed to mass produced, is the relationship. Suddenly you have a relationship with the person making your garment, I am curious, how do you personally work with your clients?
Kathy: “I generally have clients that see my work and then make request for a suit or a dress. Then I ask them what their budget is because I want to make sure I go under budget. I proceed by asking them what they like and don’t like about their body. I ask about fabrics, colors, cuts, and then I take their measurements. I create three sketches and then they get to pick which one they want to make. Sometimes, they make all of them.”
Me: Now that sounds like fun. I can absolutely see the temptation to then have all three. This is what excites me about the process, you can discuss figures and flaws and tastes and really get it right. Ok let’s play. Your designs are obviously gorgeous, you have been spotted by a notable person in need of an outfit for a special event, who would you really like to dress in your designs?
Kathy: “My dream client is Angelina Jolie because she is a beautiful person on the inside as well as on the outside. That’s my ideal client in general. I want to dress people that make a difference in the world in a positive way.”
Me: Oh, lovely! Now which item from your range on Stanford Row would you tailor make for them and why?
Kathy: “I would make her the Iris dress because it combines softness with the purple silk burnout fabric and some edginess using the black lambskin leather. It is feminine but conveys strength.”
Me: She would look superb in this dress, showing off her cleavage then accentuating the hip curve. So back to you, how did you get here, were there some key moments or can you see the trail?
Kathy: “My mom owns a salon in the Silicon Valley that I used to help out at in order to spend time with her. As a result, I was surrounded by very successful women that inspired me to design for the woman I wanted to become. When I went to in Los Angeles I landed an internship with Richard Tyler and got hired after my third day as an intern. I started working with celebrities before I graduated and learned all about impeccable tailoring from him.
I left my job there to be with my husband during his military service. It took us to Japan where I got to live for three years taking in fashion inspiration. I designed gowns for some of the military wives and learned about manufacturing overseas. When I came back to the states, my husband suggested we go to New York to help me get back into fashion. I had many custom clients and made a profit on my first orders. Then I got a request from Stevie Wonder’s people to do a jacket for him. When I delivered it, they decided that he would wear it to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner the following day.”
Me: Oh my, tell me more…
Kathy: “It was the best day of my professional life. I met Stevie Wonder’s wife for lunch at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills to deliver his jacket. Afterwards, we walked to her studio where she asked me if it would be okay to have him wear it to the White House. Then she showed me the collection she was working on for Michelle Obama and I got to touch all of the dresses and give her my thoughts. It was amazing.”
Me: Who would you say has influenced you the most, and where could we see that influence?
Kathy: “Richard Tyler. In the way I finish my custom garments.”
Me: And Kathy, what would you say to people who are thinking about taking clothing out of the hands of mass producers and entrusting it to the tailors, dressmakers and specialists out there today?
Kathy: “I would tell them that they will not look at clothing the same way again. Having clothes made for you is special, and wearing them makes you feel powerful. Where mass production makes us fit into average, bespoke empowers us to be fully who we are.”
Me: Well thank you Kathy, it has been lovely to hear a bit about your journey and have some of your insights. If you have been inspired by Kathy’s designs click here to find her online at StanfordRow.com where you can find designs tailor made to you!
Till next time, take care everyone.