First, as always,
describe yourself in 3 words:
Manic Dress Nun
Katherine, you are a fashion designer focusing on Vintage Style Dresses. How did your career start?
Actually, I started designing for myself and sewing as a teenager because I grew up in a (real) cowboy town where I couldn’t buy the clothes I wanted. I fled the cowboy town at 18 and worked as a designer’s assistant in San Francisco during the great days of Gay Liberation and the birth of club culture, before the plague, then thru the formative years of punk; another great time to be in San Francisco.
In the 80’s, I went to Manhattan - still my favorite U.S. city - and worked as a patternmaker and designer on Seventh Avenue and for an Upper East Side boutique that made leather clothing for celebrities.
Then you moved to L.A. and created also costumes for Hollywood’s entertainment industry. For example Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek wore creations from your studio.
That was immense fun since, in Hollywood, money is no object; the object is bringing something from the imagination into reality in the most perfect and gasp-inducing manner possible. The greatest garment craftspeople in Europe are in Haute Couture. In the U.S., they are in Hollywood - the pinnacle of the craft is there and it’s a very satisfying and exciting way to work.
Now you are in Bali with your company “Whirlingturban - Bombshell Dresses & Pinup Couture”. How did you end up there and what are you doing exactly?
I seem to have about a ten year attention span with cities. I came to Bali on a month long vacation between movie projects when I lived in L.A. and within a week I knew I wanted to have a life here. I had already done the best cities in the U.S., with L.A., as a city, being a disappointment after being spoiled by the cultural choices and brilliant minds in New York.
I moved to Bali to make clothes but my first entrepreneurial idea did not work out. I ran out of money and for a year, as I scavenged any work I could find, I spent night after night for hours on ebay, looking at what kinds of clothing sold well. I found that vintage Hawaiian dresses went for great prices on ebay and wondered how a flawless reproduction would be received. I made a reproduction Hawaiian dress that I felt had everything the originals had except the age. To my delight, I found a home selling to vintage dress collectors and eventually moved away from ebay to my own website, Whirlingturban.com.
What is fascinating you about the fashion of the 40's and 50's?
These two decades call to designers repeatedly. I don’t believe that you can find a single season of fashion where some element from one of these two decades isn’t stir fried into the mix somewhere because these were just incredible decades for fashion. Also, both of these decades emphasize, in different ways, the extreme feminine figure and “X” shape with width at the hips and shoulders or bust and narrowness at the waist. That balance is appealing to the eye and the sense of aesthetics, sexy and so primal that it will never lose its appeal as long as humans maintain an interest in reproducing.
In addition, riffing on these two decades lends a peppering of tongue-in-cheek kitsch/camp that is essential in what appeals to me, my customers and fellow vintage enthusiasts.
Who are your customers and for what occasions do they buy your dresses?
Besides the above aesthetic point of view and taste that I share with my customers, more than 90% of Whirlingturban customers are either artists by profession or are deeply involved in the arts. They tend to have curves and they like to be noticed. Virtually all Whirlingturban dresses are purchased for a specific event at which the woman wishes to make a strong artistic and erotic statement. Today more than half the dresses we make at Whirlingturban are for alternative brides.
I know you are a fan of our radio station DIRTY MIND MUSIC. How did you find us and why do you like us?
Since fleeing the cowboy town in which I grew up I’ve been an addict of urban culture. Little did I know when I moved to Bali that I would be isolating myself from the urban culture I love. I thought I was moving to an international artist’s colony but I find myself back in a small town. I love what I do here creatively and am I’m devoted to it. But I miss urban culture acutely.
I stumbled across Dirty Mind Music while searching for house music on the internet and it was love at first listen. There is NOTHING else like it. I sit in my little tiki hut on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean and urban culture at its finest visits and minsters to me. My mind teleports to Berlin where it communes with gourmet beats and kindred spirits. I LOVE Dirty Mind Music!
More information about Katherine & Whirlingturban:
Interview by Joe Landen
More interviews here!