August 23 2014

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wendy goes west



It’s not as usual as it once was to wander into the Built by Wendy boutique in New York’s Centre Market Place and find Wendy Mullin herself there, peeking out of the back room studio to chat with customers, or, every once in a while, tending the flagship shop’s register. But last week, Centre Market Place was precisely where Mullin could be found, in body at least. Spirit was on the West Coast—to be exact, somewhere near the corner of Twentieth and Mission streets in San Francisco, where on June 15 Mullin will open her latest franchise in the burgeoning Built by Wendy empire. The San Fran debut comes hot on the heels of the publication of “Home Stretch,” Mullin’s second book in the successful Sew U sewing guide series (meanwhile, her eager-beaver students have been snapping up the patterns she’s releasing through Simplicity). In another designer’s hands, such a project could easily be written off as so much marketing noise, but as the girls and boys who remember stumbling upon Mullin folding pants at the flagship can attest, this designer is a big believer in doing things yourself. (Apparently, she called her brand Built by Wendy for a reason.) Here, Mullin talks to about tacos, sewing-world cred, and what she’s been Netflixing lately.

When I heard you were opening a store in San Francisco, my response was pretty much, “How is it possible there’s not already a Built by Wendy store in San Francisco?”

Yeah, that’s a real natural constituency for me. I have a ton of hardcore customers out there, and opening up in San Francisco was something I’d wanted to do for a while. But, you know, time. Money. That stuff. The pieces finally fell into place. I’m really psyched about the location; it’s a cute space and right around the corner from the place I like to go get tacos when I’m in town.

Mission tacos are the best. You should do a taco-themed opening party.

I think we’ve already got the party planning covered. My friend Zach is going to DJ, and then afterwards we’ll head over to my other friend’s bar, the Homestead. But we’re keeping things in the neighborhood, so who knows, tacos could become involved.

When you walk around the neighborhood in New York, is it weird to see girls wearing clothes they’ve sewn from your patterns? I mean, they’re yours, but they’re also kind of not yours.

I love the idea that people can use the patterns as a creative space for themselves. For one thing, I’m a self-taught sewer, and I like to give people the information they need to make things themselves. And then, too—back when I was in the store all the time, I used to get a lot of feedback from my customers. They’d tell me what didn’t fit right, what they were looking for and not finding, and what they wanted me to do more of. And I’d use that. So I guess to some extent I’ve always thought of my designs as a two-way street. I like collaborating with people. I wish I could do it more.

You worked on the merchandise for MoMA’s “Sleepwalkers” show last year. How did that come about?

Doug [Aitken] is a friend of mine. The collaboration happened the way it usually does with me, which is that someone asks, and after a while, I say yes. In this case I was on board right away; it was such a cool project. We worked together on a DFA video he shot, too. One of these days I’d like to give myself some time to do costume design. But I’m not sure where that time’s going to come from, exactly.

Is there another Sew U book in the works? Another store?

Not right now, no. The thing about the books is that I don’t want them to be silly, you know, like Miss New York Designer and her tips for this or that. They’re quite technical—technical enough that I actually got a seal of approval from the Sewing Guild of America, which is a pretty big deal in sewing world. And as for the store, well, we’ll see. I’ve got men coming into the store asking me to do more menswear, and I’ve got a spring collection to design, and Eric Rohmer movies to watch…. I’ll be happy just to get the San Francisco store up and running, so that someone else can take over.

Photo: Courtesy of Built by Wendy