The Interview: Marisa Witkin
Marisa Witkin’s newly-minted namesake line is all about the finer things. At once dynamic and minimalist, the line is luxe, to be sure. But it’s the details – like a cape sleeve or a well-placed raw edge – that make these versatile pieces sing. Plan de Ville caught up with the California-born, New York-based designer to learn more. – Allison Taylor
Marisa, I would love to hear about how you came to start your own line. What is one memory that stands out in your mind?
I've always wanted to be a designer but did not have any formal training until I was 20. As a kid, I did a lot of damage to clothing with a pair of scissors. As a teenager, I used to pluck the bristles out of toothbrushes, boil the plastic in water, mold them to my wrist and wear them as bracelets. What I lacked in formal training early on, I explored through experimentation and artistic mediums like photography, painting, crochet and ceramics. This relates to my work today, which balances a deep respect for quality construction with a playful sensibility.
Tell me about your time as a student at Parsons. What was your experience there?
It was a major lesson in actions speaking louder than words and that execution is as important as the initial idea. As an undergraduate, I had mastered the art of writing a term paper at the last minute, but constructing a quality garment is another story.
After graduation you went on to work for Cynthia Rowley. What are some of the most important lessons you learned there?
I learned that it’s important to have an opinion, a strong point-of-view and the confidence to speak-up for something when you believe in it.
What was the inspiration for your Autumn/Winter 2016 collection?
Global climate change sparked the starting point this season; specifically, how to dress for confusing and erratic weather conditions that fluctuate all day long. The knitwear styles have discrete underarm openings for ventilation and fully functional sleeves for cooler temperatures. What began as a practical solution was also aesthetically intriguing and a fun concept to explore. Turtlenecks on the cashmere styles are removable too.
Tell me about your first sales season. Was it difficult? Rewarding?
I made it a priority to sell direct to my customers, establish a relationship with them and create a dialogue. I hosted a trunkshow at a friend’s gallery on the Lower East Side and sold privately by appointment. A lot of early support and sales came from women in the art and fashion industries in New York. Having that connection to customers is extremely rewarding and valuable as a designer.
Who are the women that inspire you each season?
There are so many! Maria Foerlov, Pheobe Philo, Vanessa Traina, Jenna Lyons, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Francesca DiMattio and Veronique Tristram to name a few.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring fashion designers and fashion students, what would it be?
It takes 6 weeks to build a Toyota and 6 months to build a Rolls Royce. Don't be in a rush. Take the time to hone your skills and learn the business at another company before branching out on your own.