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Studio Visit: Olivia Wendel on Art, Authenticity, and Womanhood

STORY + VIDEO EDITING BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – SHOP OLIVIA WENDEL TEXTILES –  PHOTOS + FOOTAGE BY BRIDGET BADORE FOR THE STYLE LINE

“The beauty of textiles is that they are vital in our everyday lives – from the clothes we

wear to the bedding we sleep on to the décor of our homes, we can’t really live without them,” Olivia Wendel expressed during our recent conversation. “Think about how many memories begin with a textile – a particular color, texture, warmth. Textiles add meaning to every aspect of our lives.”

In fact, you could even say that our featured interviewee has taken things one step further by bringing those memories to life in a new, and perhaps even more meaningful way. Case in point, this story.

The Brooklyn-based textile designer’s work leaps from the pages of her sketchbooks and dance within the silk pleats of her gorgeous scarves. There is a truly animated quality to Olivia’s work, and with her distinct take on women, shapes, and figures, Olivia has reawakened an appreciation for hand-made goods with longevity. As she mentioned in our interview below, “Much of fashion design is driven by trends, but when I paint it’s a very internal experience, I try to tune out the world.”

Fortunately for us, Olivia kindly invited us in to witness her creative prowess firsthand. While at her Bushwick studio, we got a chance to see Olivia’s talents take shape in a number of mediums (including the walls of the space itself). We also learned more about her relationship to design, thoughts on visual storytelling, and the important role she plays in the world as a women-run small business.

So, without giving too much away, discover our inspiring morning with this emerging maker and take a virtual tour of her studio featuring exclusive photos (and footage!) captured by Bridget Badore for The Style Line.

Hi! I’m Olivia Wendel. Since I began my business about

two years ago, it’s been challenging to separate my work from my life, but fortunately, I am truly doing what I love. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a little girl, but running a business is entirely new.

There are so many different aspects that it never feels repetitive. I have so little time to just paint these days that I’m especially grateful for quiet time in my studio and the freedom to experiment. Some of my favorite things are books, folk art, antiques, and coffee. I’m very inspired by seeing performances, especially dance.

When I’m not working, I’m devoted to my family and friends and my new puppy, Marzipan. My husband Rolando is an architect (we’ve been together since high school,) we’re very yin and yang because I honestly can’t draw a straight line. I’m very close to my sisters, Zoe and Lilly. My dreamiest days are “sister days,” the rare times where we get to hang out just the three of us. We love yoga and scouring vintage stores, and get unreasonably excited about farmer’s markets, finding healthy vegan spots to eat, and animal sightings.

In terms of what I value, I’m inquisitive and possibly too friendly, I love meeting new people everywhere I go and hearing their stories, whether I’m in the laundromat or on the sidewalk. I try to be kind and compassionate for all living beings.

You refer to yourself as an “artist and textile designer” first. Was that intentional? What role would you say fashion or style plays in your work?

Yes, it was intentional, I see myself more as an artist, not a fashion designer. I’m most interested in visual storytelling and surface design; designing actual garments has never been my strength. I have created prints for fashion designers and I see clothing as an incredible opportunity for collaboration. Much of fashion design is driven by trends, but when I paint it’s a very internal experience, I try to tune out the world.

My work exists somewhere in between art and fashion; my strongest connection to fashion is through the lens of pattern and color. I’m always amazed by the impact of color. If I am having a bad day and want to instantly change my outlook, I will put on my brightest red dress… I call it my aura-changing dress. In the same way, I think color (or the absence of it) can completely change the narrative of my work.

“Having a small business, the best way I can contribute to improving the world is by being conscious about all my decisions.”

– OLIVIA WENDEL

 

“I support other female-run businesses, and I am kind to everyone I work with.”

– OLIVIA WENDEL

Why do you think the art of textile design is necessary and in your opinion, how is it a more ethical/sustainable form of design?

The beauty of textiles is that they are vital in our everyday lives – from the clothes we wear to the bedding we sleep on to the décor of our homes, we can’t really live without them. Think about how many memories begin with a textile – a particular color, texture, warmth. Textiles add meaning to every aspect of our lives. If clothes and textiles are made well and reused, we can reduce the pollution and energy consequences of fast fashion.

With regard to your current collections, why do you think your work is able to best exist in the form of a scarf. Can you see yourself expanding into other verticals or products?

I came up with the idea for my label because working in the industry I realized that much of what we see on textiles today is designed digitally. To me, there is something so special about hand-painted designs. I wanted to translate my paintings directly into textiles, preserving the spontaneity and life of the original artwork. I definitely see myself expanding into other products, I dream of creating wallpaper and textiles for the home. I’m in the process of developing some new products at the moment!

How does your work encourage sartorial storytelling and embracing personal style?

My work explores the vulnerability of being a woman. I’ve always loved painting because I see it as a way to tell my story without language. By being honest about my experiences and emotions, I hope to encourage others to do the same. I want my work to empower others through its authenticity.

What is one question you wish people asked you more often?

What materials do you use in your paintings? What is the process from start to finish?

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope Olivia Wendel (as a brand) plays a role in this? 

Having a small business, the best way I can contribute to improving the world is by being conscious about all my decisions.

The mill in Italy that produces my scarves has high standards for sustainability. I aim for all of my imagery (both painted and real) to promote diversity and inclusiveness, I support other female-run businesses, and I am kind to everyone I work with. Art is an incredible tool for rebellion and we need it more than ever in this political climate.

How would you advise the next generation of designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?

I would say keep going and don’t give up! Be resilient. Stay humble and reach out to everyone you know (or don’t know) for advice. Make work that comes from your soul.