My Life as a Designer
Kathy Wilson is the owner of clothing design studio KWA, she talks about her love of bespoke design and dressing Stevie Wonder..
“I am a menswear and womenswear designer who started on red carpet pieces for celebrities. My introduction to bespoke clothing came from my first job at Richard Tyler. It was where I learned how to measure and make beautiful clothes inside and out. My atelier launched after I designed a jacket for Stevie Wonder that he wore it to President Obama’s first White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
I design out of my home studio in Brooklyn. I sketch and drape on my dress forms here. Then I get my samples done and take sales appointments out of my showroom in New York’s garment district. I generally have clients that see my work and then make a request for a suit or a dress. Then I ask them what their budget is because I want to make sure I go under budget. I proceed by asking them what they like and don’t like about their body. I ask about fabrics, colors, cuts, and then I take their measurements. I create three sketches and then they get to pick which one they want to make. Sometimes, they make all of them.
My dream client is Angelina Jolie because she is a beautiful person on the inside as well as on the outside. I would make her the Iris dress because it combines softness with the purple silk burnout fabric and some edginess using the black lambskin leather. It is feminine but conveys strength.
I want to dress people that make a difference in the world in a positive way. My mom owns a salon in the Silicon Valley that I used to help out at in order to spend time with her. As a result, I was surrounded by very successful women that inspired me to design for the woman I wanted to become. I started working with celebrities with Richard Tyler, before I graduated. I left my job there to be with my husband during his military service. It took us to Japan where I got to live for three years taking in fashion inspiration. I designed gowns for some of the military wives and learnt about manufacturing overseas. When I came back to the states, my husband suggested we go to New York to help me get back into fashion. I had many custom clients and made a profit on my first orders. Then I got a request from Stevie Wonder’s people to do a jacket for him. When I delivered it, they decided that he would wear it to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner the following day.
It was the best day of my professional life. I met Stevie Wonder’s wife for lunch at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills to deliver his jacket. Afterwards, we walked to her studio where she asked me if it would be okay to have him wear it to the White House. Then she showed me the collection she was working on for Michelle Obama and I got to touch all of the dresses and give her my thoughts. It was amazing.
I love doing gowns and suits but after researching where the market was moving, I decided to launch a contemporary line. I love bespoke clothing but it is very hard to find customers that understand the artisanal quality and care of this type of work. Most consumers follow trends and don’t have a sense of quality that bespoke customers understand. I would tell them that they will not look at clothing the same way again. Having clothes made for you is special, and wearing them makes you feel powerful. Where mass production makes us fit into average, bespoke empowers us to be fully who we are.”
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