Wendy Mullin: Creating The Soft Rock Equivalent In A Clothing Line
This 'easy listening' inspired collection is simple, sophisticated, chic, and comfy.
What would clothing look like if it were easy listening? Yes like eeeeeeasy listening, AKA “Adult Contemporary” …as in the music genre…in the best possible way of course, like Cat Stevens or the Carpenters, strolling down the grocery aisle.
This thought crossed my mind as I was organizing my music one day, endless amounts of stoner jams and indie rock collected during my days as a record store clerk downtown throughout the nineties. It was there I began my Built by Wendy clothing line, all handmade from my apartment on the Lower East Side, pre-Guiliani days, where drug dealers lined the streets offering “body bag” and “big apple.” A place that was outed in Time as “the corner where suburban teens flock to buy drugs” in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. I was there, stunned, at Kim and Thurston’s apartment of Sonic Youth working on the X-Girl collection when we got the news. Those were weird dark times but also really fun.
Now 20 years later, I’ve survived a three year haze of crossing into my 40’s, closing my shops, and having a family. What does that look like, sound like? I’ve always identified with music and pop culture, inspiring my designs and personal style. What am I into now? I woke up one morning and realized my style was beyond casual (original name for the line btw), that most of my clothing felt out of style or too young and I didn’t want to wear any of it. I wanted a wardrobe that was simple, comfy, sophisticated, washable, chic, and easy consisting of basics I could mix and match with existing pieces in my (diminished) wardrobe. As with everything I design, it always comes from a very personal place. I decided I needed to design a line that emphasized comfort while still being stylish and relevant, Basically, I wanted to offer myself and my customers — the women who have grown up with me — an alternative to giving up and wearing sweatpants.
After twenty seasons of doing so many styles for Built by Wendy — dresses, coats, sweaters, denim, knits, etc. — I decided to have a limitation on the design process, to make that simpler too. The cotton gauze pieces in many of those collections always seemed to stay in my closet year to year and packed for vacations, so it was a natural choice to develop a line with this as the main ingredient. I re-imagined some of my favorite Built by Wendy pieces, ones that would translate well with the attitude and within the constraints of this new line, covering a lot of bases shape-wise while emphasizing easy wearability and coverage. This collection is for women with complex and demanding lives who require highly wearable clothing that is, at once, stylish and comfortable.
I chose the actress, Dolly Wells, of the HBO show “Doll and Em” to be the face of the collection. I was sick of modeling agencies sending me teenagers to model and frankly tired of seeing such young women modeling clothes they generally wouldn’t and couldn’t afford to wear. I consider Soft Rock to be ageless, meaning I can see teens to seniors choosing pieces and styling them according to their preference, but I wanted the face to be a woman I could identify with. My Built by Wendy collection always attracted wide variety of entertainers, many comedians – Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, and David Cross were some of my models – so having Dolly model seemed like a natural choice.
Business wise I had to make a technological shift. My brick and mortar shops, beginning with small kiosks in the back of downtown record stores to four flagships in New York and California, became so costly – overhead, employees, inventory, and endless headaches. The indie business I had started just didn’t make sense anymore. I was doing everything myself and I needed to simplify not only my collection but my production and distribution. I began working with www.byco.com. They are a platform for creating, discovering, and shopping good design. They provide designers with the tools to develop, create, and sell unique designs seamlessly and efficiently. In this day and age, launching a clothing line is incredibly challenging. This platform allows anyone to create their own clothing whether they are just individuals or launching brands, and I’m really happy to be back in the company of the indie world I truly miss.
See what Soft Rock sounds like at www.byco.com.