Interview: Lindsey Thornburg

Believe it or not, only a few years ago Pendletons were still the stuff of high-country hikes and John Denver songs. “Pendleton had this stigma of hick wear,” explains designer Lindsey Thornburg about the woolen Navajo-inspired textiles that have been produced in Pendleton, Oregon since 1909. During a trip to Machu Picchu in 2006, Thornburg was blown away by the way the indigenous Peruvians layered boldly-patterned clothing to combat cold mountain temperatures. She was inspired to reinterpret their uber-functional and oddly chic highland apparel via cloaks constructed out of classic Pendleton fabrics. The resulting cloaks are a confluence of Americana (Thornburg has experience living in the wilds, highlands and concrete jungles of America), high fashion, and indigenous Peruvian influences that appeal to affluent flower children and haute-couturiacs alike.

Although Thornburg is known predominately for her cloaks, she also designs an eponymous line of witchy dyed-silk and velvet threads with a marked Stevie Nicks-esque California vibe. Her gorgeous flowing bias cut gowns will make you want to spin around Stevie-style singing “Leather and Lace”, I promise you. Oakazine chatted with the designer about being a Bluebird fashion plate, the deliciousness of Daniel Day Lewis and, erm, woodchucks. Interview and pictures after the jump. — Marlo Kronberg

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Montana. I lived in Seattle from the ages four to eight. I lived in Colorado and Bozeman, Montana from ages nine to eighteen. At eighteen I moved to New York City. At nineteen I moved to Santa Barbara. At age twenty-one I moved to Los Angeles and at age twenty-three I moved to New York City. I’ve been in New York ever since

When did you first start expressing yourself stylistically?

I have a lot of fashion stories starting super young. My mom was a single parent and had to put me in day care when I was eight or nine-months-old. In order for me to get into the daycare I had to be potty trained. My mom bribed me into potty training by buying nice underwear… Apparently there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to mess up my “pretty panties”.

When I was six I went to Bluebirds which is the Northwest equivalent of Brownies…Halfway through joining they started “modernizing” the uniforms by switching dresses out with shorts and  tee-shirts. I threatened to quit if they didn’t let me continue to wear my dress.

I know that you studied philosophy in school. Why does philosophy interest you and do those studies manifest themselves in your work at all?

I just liked the idea of philosophy… I liked and still like the idea of questioning everything and always forming a new opinion — be it about your God, a ball of wax, a shadow cast by a chair, existence, fashion…It’s important to always form your own opinion about things. It’s super sketchy when people take other people’s values without personal consideration.

I think my philosophy about fashion has always been about using it as a tool — whether it was a tool to set myself apart from other people or to identify myself with a certain movement. I moved around a lot so it became second nature to really wear what I was about in order to attract people with similar interest.

When did you enter design school? What made you change your path from the liberal arts?

I transferred to design school when I was twenty. I stopped identifying with college life and kind of knew I should be doing something with more direction. I didn’t want college to be just about getting a degree to have a degree. I knew that design school would give me direction.

What is the strangest material you’ve ever worked with?

Hippies.

Tell me how Machu Picchu influences your designs.

In a couple ways. Beside the indigenous people of Peru having the most amazing textiles and fashions, it changed my point of view.  When you’re on the brink of starting something massive — like your own business — everything is super overwhelming. Besides all the technical business parts, finding the confidence to have a voice for what you’re creating can be insanely counter-productive and stifling. When I went to Machu Picchu it put everything into perspective… like, holy shit, it took these people over a century to build this fort on the top of a mountain based on the sun’s equinox.  It made me think that one brick at a time over enough time can create purposeful magic.

What is your process?

One brick at a time.

Why did you move to New York?

I followed a stupid boy or something. He went bonkers and left. I stayed because I’d never felt more at home.

You have an entire collection dedicated to cloaks. Tell me why you do cloaks as opposed to other forms of outerwear.

It’s a very fun silhouette to use when you’re working with novelty fabrics. They have no style lines or seams to interfere with the natural drape and pattern. They are fun because they are practical and strong. It’s a classic look that has been reinterpreted in many forms, so everyone has some sort of interest in cloaks really.

What fascinates you about or attracts you to the Pendleton fabrics?

I’m from the Rocky Mountains. Pendletons are very traditional in those regions, and it’s literally a great American company. Up until a couple years ago Pendleton had this stigma of hick-wear which catered to an older vibe.  When I came back from Peru in 2006  with all these ideas for cloaks, I remembered all the Pendleton blankets in my dad’s house in Montana. I used these for the first cloaks and it was a perfect fit. I think the eye-catching nature of the Navajo print really helped with drawing attention to my designs and brand…I started using the blankets before the Opening Ceremony collaboration, so most New York fashion people had not seen someone attempting to modernize the fabrics. Most importantly, it’s just a super quality wool made with a lot of history and love.

Describe your aesthetic in a sentence.

Affluent modern mystic.

Who is your ultimate style icon?

Frida Kahlo

The top five songs on your iPod

Drake- “Fancy”

Primal Scream- “Higher than the Sun”

The Smiths- “Meat is Murder”

Lil Wayne- “Go DJ”

Minor Threat- “Stepping Stone”

Last cool discovery

Pineapples grow in the ground.

What do you see as the future in fashion? (I know it’s hard to conceptualize the future, but try…)

I hope that people start to really appreciate quality over quantity –or pay more attention to the root from where things are coming. The whole overseas (China) production in fashion is so insidious and harmful to our economy and efforts. It truly makes no sense unless you are for massive consumption, waste and corporate take overs. Every inch of my inner punk hates that side of fashion.

Who would be your ideal person to dress. Why?

Daniel Day-Lewis. Because I want to eat him… woahoa…I mean meet him.

How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?

Three, max.

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