It’s time for another Sponsor Spotlight, this time focusing on the wonderful and inspiring Katherine of Whirling Turban. She designes the most sublime pinup couture from her studio which is surrounded by an orchid-dripping and dragonfly-humming tropical garden in exotic Bali. *sigh* Doesn’t that sound idyllic?
I thought you might like to find out more about her and her fascinating story…
Where are you from and how did you get started?
I grew up in Boise, Idaho. For some reason I was interested in “extreme”, as my mother would say, (and that would definitely be a pejorative in her vernacular) fashions from the first moment that I had any fashion consciousness. Where this came from is a complete mystery as my entire extended family was several generation Idaho and there were no Auntie Mame’s. But I just had to have interesting things to wear so I started sewing out of necessity for myself when I was twelve because the things I wanted to wear were not available in Boise.
I fled Boise when I was 18, and spent just under a decade each in San Francisco, then Manhattan and then Hollywood. I always worked in fashion, and in Hollywood I worked in movies doing costumes.
What and who inspires your work?
People inspire my work. I love thinking up what would suit a certain person and what would express who they are. If I see a great band or artist, I am often thinking how I’d dress them in a way that I think would accentuate them. And I love collaborating with people, which I do to greater or lesser extent with all my Whirling Turban customers.
And of course I go through phases of types of design that inspire me. Obviously now mid-century fashion is inspiring me, and I can see how this abundant and rich era will keep me busy for a long time! Another thing I love is Orientalism or a type of Arabic kitshe, well exemplified by the Shriners. It’s very much like tiki culture. It’s a very false and Hollywood caricature of a culture that has almost nothing to do with what the culture is really about and everything to do with a fantasy or Walt Disney version of what it is. That’s why I came up with the name “Whirling Turban”.
My style icons are Dianna Vreeland, Tony Duquette, Norma Desmond and Liberace. (I do have a fondness for excess…)
What makes you different to other retro designers?
First of all, nobody except Hollywood and the world’s dwindling number of couture houses can afford to do one of a kind and custom-made garments anymore. In the Forties and before, dressmakers abounded and that was the most common way to be clothed- by a tailor or a dressmaker. Your dressmaker might have been in your family if you weren’t well-to-do.
But Bali is still a land of hand-made things. We still have stone carvers, carpenters, jewelers, shoemakers and all those handmade crafts that are becoming incredibly rare.
I could go on about my design philosophy and taste, which I naturally think is ingenious, singular and ravishing, but just the fact that I am one of the few people in the world now who has access to an affordable design studio where we can custom cook-up things for individuals or make just a few at a time- this fact alone is so rare that I guess I’ll stop with that!
Which piece of your work is your personal favorite & why?
I couldn’t pick between my Whirling Turban styles! Honestly, I do dearly love them all! And I LOVE the combinations and variations my customers come up in their orders using our base designs!
I guess my favorite project of all time was running a little workshop where we made about 100 costumes for the movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, the Tina Turner story.
While I am not a fan of Tina’s rock years, I am a huge, huge fan of Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm and the Ike and Tina Turner Review. I was a huge fan before I ever got this movie project. The movie starts in the 1950’s. We made everything 100% authentic down to the bullet bras with the usual, big movie budget and pretty much no limitations – you just need to get it right.
Besides the fun of making the clothes, a big thrill for me was seeing Ike and Tina’s personal home movies in order to recreate costumes, particularly for the Ikettes, but I also got to see their home movies of when they were married in Tijuana, etc.
Although there are disappointingly few full stage shots in the final movie cut of the whole Ike and Tina Turner review performing, they had real musicians and dancers in the movie and faithfully, reverently rehearsed and rehearsed to precisely recreate the music and the choreography of the Ike & Tina review. Not many people know what innovators both the under-credited Ike, and later Ike and Tina, were and how influential their show became for the R&B and rock & roll that followed.
Just thinking about watching those dress rehearsals gives me goose bumps even now. It was just like being able to go back and see the real thing in the 50’s.
What special projects or celebrities have you worked with?
I’ve done a lot of high profile work so let me just give you a few highlights. Some women I’ve made clothes for are Katy Perry, Salma Hayak, Halle Berry and Uma Thurman. A show I worked on won an Emmy Award for Best Costumes, and I ran costume departments on two movies that got nominated for Oscars for Best Costumes, one of which was a Stephen Spielberg movie.
Where can readers get your clothes?
Have you got any words of wisdom for young fashionistas or aspiring designers?
Do what you love, but if you are a designer, also listen. After all, you are making clothes for other people! Develop one marketable skill to get your foot in the door such as fashion illustration or patternmaking or even remarkable sewing skills so you can start as a sample maker.
If you are not a designer but rather someone who loves to express yourself with fashion: Appreciate Yourself! The most perfectly shaped women, our by cultural standards, still approach the measuring tape with complaints about themselves and apologies. They do it just as much as the less supposedly ideally shaped women! That’s an absolute fact! Someday you’ll be old and you’ll look back at your fresh skin, shiny hair or beautiful cleavage and you‘ll think, “Oh WHY didn’t I appreciate myself more when I looked like that!”
And nearly every supposedly near-perfect model or movie star has something imperfect they are seriously working around – they are not as perfect as you think they are. So celebrate yourself, express yourself and flaunt yourself!
I love that philosophy, I think it would do all of us some good to live by that advice! Here are some of my favourites of Katherine’s creations, personally I’m in love with that blue and gold jumpsuit – which would you pick?
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