Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Whirling Interview

Viva Las Vegas 16 was quite a whirlwind for me. I got to see musical groups  I have wanted to see for a long time, wear some great "new" vintage clothing, and meet a lot of fellow bloggers. One of the highlights of VLV 16 for me, personally, was meeting Katherine Robinson, the mind and hands behind Whirling Turban.

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Katherine is an artist. She has an eye for vintage details and the feminine form. Everything about her designs are stunning; the fabric, the cut, the boning, truly all the little details. Each item she makes looks and feels, appropriately, like a work of art.

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My personal favorite at this time (Source)


I remember quite well the first time I stumbled across the Whirling Turban website. I was shopping for a 1950's themed birthday party about six, maybe seven, years ago. I was just getting into vintage and moving further away from my hip sitting jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and Vans. I hadn't quite identified my own personal style but I knew I wanted to be more elegant, more striking. I saw the dress below and thought it might be one of the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen.

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I have been monitoring and admiring Whirling Turban creations ever since that party.


Flash forward to Friday night at VLV 16. I had the chance to attend a meet and greet with Katherine. During that time I got to know more about her work, her studio in Bali, her handmade and hand dyed fabrics, and herself. I asked her if I may interview her for HRF and she was nice enough to oblige me.

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I read that you started making and designing clothing because you grew up in a cowboy town with few options. I can relate to the lack of options growing up but wasn't talented enough to sew my own designs. How did you learn to sew and to hone your craft? 

My entire career has been in fashion and always in the construction end of it, so I learned a lot on the job and several times in my life I went back to school to learn more of the specific skill such as pattern making or fashion illustration. But I'll focus on how I learned to sew before I left home.
I started with a class at the YWCA and took Home Economics sewing classes in high school. My mom even paid for some private lessons for me from a local high school girl when I was still in junior high. My parents were always really supportive of my interests and paid for my fabrics. Who knew at the time that paying for my fabrics and some sewing classes would end up being the foundation of my entire career? I've always loved to do things with my hands so I spent a lot of time practicing. Learning to sew can be very frustrating and I think that the younger you are the more patience you have to learn the hard parts when you really don't know what you're doing and end up installing a sleeve into the neck opening before you figure out where you have gone wrong and things like that. The one thing I did figure out early on that has served me in such good stead was to stop when I was getting really frustrated, put the project away and come back to it another time. That's very hard to do when you've got it in your head that you're sewing now and you want to get what you're doing done. But it's one of the most important things I learned about sewing.


You worked in Hollywood and NYC for many years. Most women, including myself, are inspired by Hollywood starlets of yore. Who is your style icon(s) and why?

While I adore a number of stars of the silver screen, they aren't usually my style icons. Stars have stylists and designers to help create their look for the most part. My icons are the people who were do-it-yourselfers, and who had so much creativity or such a burning desire to express themselves that they couldn't hold it in. I also have a weakness for excess and "so much soul, you can't control" plus an appreciation for humor and tongue-in-cheek.
Diana Vreeland had incredible style but she also was just as creative about the way she lived her life. Her life was a work of art. She lived her life in such sweeping, grand gestures.


Tony Duquette was so multi-talented, I love his aesthetic and the way he incorporated the exotic and like so many of my favorites he often careened into the rococo and made "over-the-top" work and tasteful (no small task). He did costumes, he did sets for stage and screen, he did interior and garden design and even costume jewelry. In later life,  he did some installations.

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Speaking of over the top, I adore Liberace who was a master of self-invention. I was lucky enough to tour the Liberace Museum which houses his unbelievable costumes before it closed in Las Vegas. He had so many shticks; the candelabra on the grand piano, all the rings. He's got to be the past master of over-the-top.

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Not that I try to create Whirling Turban dresses that are over-the-top per se, but I just so enjoy that when I see creative people who aren't afraid to embrace that. I take such delight in them.

Carmen Miranda was a total self-invention and font of creativity. So over-the-top she makes me want to squeal with delight.

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Frida Kahlo. I have a book on her wardrobe alone. Her sense of style was as powerful as her paintings. And always found a place for one more ribbon or ruffle. And she did all this while camouflaging a horribly clunky metal back brace!
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I absolutely love your designs. My current favorites are the Gold-Shot Midnight Blue with Gold Lame Contrast Bust and the Copper Lame Sarong Dress. Which item(s) are you favorite to make and why?

We customize so many of our dresses and it's such fun to see how each one comes out. A big part of what makes something a favorite for me this when it really expresses the personality of the woman who wears it. It takes me so much time to perfect a pattern that I wouldn't go through that unless I adored the design, so really they are all my babies and all my favorites and I get excited about them all the time.


What brings you design inspiration?

I have thousands and thousands and thousands of photos saved on my hard drive. Most of them are 20th century vintage that there are ethnic images and haute couture from the last 10 years in there as well. And I have a book collection on all kinds of costume related things, from embroidered Chinese slippers to 1920's hat making. 20 minutes in any of this material will inspire me. I also get inspired by people. I might meet someone and start thinking about how I would dress them to express their personality.


For those of us learning to sew or improving our sewing abilities, what words of wisdom can you offer?

Take it slow and easy. Do a project you can start and finish fairly easily and reasonably quickly so that you have a sense of satisfaction. Grow the accumulated sense of satisfaction and the skills will take care of themselves along the way. That and stop sewing as soon as you get frustrated.


Lastly, what is your one vintage item that you can’t live without?

Well, that changes because I am sure to wear that item to the point that it's threadbare. But right now I have a pair of wool genuine military issue sailor pants that are so dark blue there nearly black and are from some time around mid century and in mint condition. I'm really tiny, yet these are men's pants and they fit me absolutely perfectly. There so flattering; I just love them. Those would have to be my current favorite.

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I would like to thank Katherine for her time and for designing what may very well be the best piece in my wardrobe now. I can't wait for her to see how I dress it up at the 1940's Ball.



12 comments:

  1. Great interview! Her work is really beautiful and she seems like such an interesting and thoughtful designer!!

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    1. As are you sir, as are you. I have been admiring your creations for well over a year. You sir are an artist.

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  2. Your favourite dress (the black and gold strapless) is my favourite too! It is absolutely stunning and so well constructed - what I would give to have that dress in my wardrobe!!!!!

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    1. It's also my size which makes it so much harder not to run out and purchase. It's such a fantastic piece!

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  3. Ahh to live in Bali:) Lovely interview and the outfit you are wearing by her is devine:))

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    1. Right! I can't imagine how beautiful it really is. Her words brought visions to mind but, like anything truly stunning, it can't quite be described.

      And of course, thank you Joanna!

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  4. Awesome interview and absolutely yes, she is a masterful artist.

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    1. I always loved her stuff but once I tried it on, it was a new ballgame.

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  5. This interview was a such a delight to read. I've adored Whirling Turban's offerings for years now (albeit from afar - perhaps one glorious day I'll be able to add one of their stunning creations to my wardrobe) and really enjoyed getting to know more about the super talented lady behind this thriving vintage reproduction brand.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Ditto on the from afar. I am hoping that I'll have the chance to see it more closely in the future.

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  6. Oh my goodness thank you so much for such a flattering article, Wendi! Blushing for more reason than one, I am TRULY the world's worst typist and I apologize for the bursting cleavage of my typos.

    What a pretty place to hang out you have created here. I feel we are in a lovely tea room with English Bone China and luscious sweets sitting, ever so well dressed, having fascinating conversations. Pinkies arched. Without texting.

    As Rick said to Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    -Katherine

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    1. Hi Katherine,

      I am so happy you had a chance to read the article/interview in its totality!

      Hope we can sit somewhere beautiful soon and have a wonderful conversation. I did so enjoy or conversations while you were state side.

      Wendi

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