A few days ago, a friend of mine (who obviously knows me really well) linked me to an Etsy shop called CatAtelier, which, naturally, sells a delightful assortment of carefully crafted ties, neckpieces and hats for felines. Both the quality of these designs and the fact that this existed completely blew my mind and I had to know more. So, I reached out to the obviously talented designer for an interview and she obliged. It turns out Julie Song went to Parsons and has a BFA in illustration as well as a very obedient cat. Click through to see her amazing designs and learn more about who she is, how and why she got into feline fashion design, and her plans to branch out into cat clothes!
Fashionista: What is your fashion/design background?
Julie Song: I went to Parsons School of Design, and I have my BFA in Illustration. I was originally planning to be a children’s book illustrator, but I changed my mind after senior year. I have been sewing since I was young, but it took a while to realize that I preferred working with clothing and costume.
When did you start Cat Atelier?
I started CatAtelier last winter. Winter is usually slow at the costume studio where I work, so I had a lot of time to experiment. Plus I was kind of broke- heehee. That’s always a good motivator.
What made you decide to start designing cat accessories? Why collars?
I decided to make cat accessories just because I made a few things for my own cat and had a lot of fun. The first thing I designed and made for my cat was the elf hood, which I used for my Christmas photo to send to friends last year. A lot of people dress up dogs, but I have always felt that there aren’t enough choices for cats. People often use pieces made for dogs on their cats, so they don’t fit properly. I wanted to make things that would look good on a cat’s body and are really well made.
I decided to make collars because they are versatile, and I could make the bow ties interchangeable. That way you can style them, into different outfits. Collars are also pretty easy to fit. I like the similarity to classic menswear, where things are made-to-measure. Because I am selling online, I can’t have fittings, so it’s necessary that I offer things that I can make given only basic measurements. I would love to get more custom requests though.
What inspires your designs?
A lot of different things inspire me. It’s whatever happens to strike me: a film, a book, current fashion, historical fashion, tv, music, art, whatever. I think fashion is about creating characters, and stories. Using clothing and costume in photos and video is a way to create a narrative, taking a concept and turning it into something visual. I have always been interested in that; that’s why I majored in illustration, actually. It’s problem solving: you find a way to illustrate something with whatever materials you choose. I like to make things that play into that, and can be used to create characters. I love cats, so making cats be the characters just seemed natural. It makes me laugh. Cats in clothes are just cute. It makes me think of cats in cartoons. I designed the berets and scarves thinking of little French kittycats. You know, like curlicue smoke and molded tin ceilings. oo la la, and all that crap. There was a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry had a French cousin or something, that called Tom: “Monsieur Pussycat”. Kind of silly, but that is the kind of thing that entertains me. I have some plans for new pieces that are much more interesting than what I have now.
What do you do when you’re not working on CatAtelier?
I work at a costume studio, where we make costumes and props for theatre, film, opera, fashion, tv, etc. I am a craftsperson, and I do a lot of different kinds of work. I make a lot of hats and headpieces. Another reason I got into making cat things is the things that people get made for dogs. For ads and commercials or whatnot. We have this client that gets an elaborate, expensive costume made for their dog every year. They photograph it like a high fashion ad. The dog has been a toreador, a chinese prince, a maharajah, a Russian tsar… I always make the hat for them. My favorite hat that I made for them was definitely the toreador hat. It was awesome, if I do say so myself. Anyway, I like the fact that they go all out. I thought: why not go all out for a cat too?
Why did you choose to sell your designs on Etsy?
Etsy is good because I can have listings up and make everything to order, instead of making a whole lot at once. I think a lot more people have seen my items than if I had tried to sell them on my own. I like having everything organized for me.
How many have you sold?
I don’t know the exact number, but a pretty good amount. It’s building. I have been asked about wholesale, but I am not doing that yet. I haven’t had time to produce in bulk.
Is the model your own cat?
Yes, my model is my own cat. His name is Toki Nantucket, and he is an Abyssinian. He is my model and muse. I couldn’t make cat things without a fit model at home. I actually want to make a cat dress form/manniquin and a cat head form for myself though, so I don’t have to bother him quite so much during the process. He’s kind of wiggly during draping sessions. It would help when I design hats especially.
Does he like wearing the collars?
I wouldn’t say he loves it, but he doesn’t dislike it. He is an amazing model. I have kind of a routine for photo shoots, and he is cool with it. What he likes is CHICKEN. I think he models for the chicken. I bake chicken and cut it up into bites that I keep in ziplock bags in the refrigerator and freezer. I give him some before each photo shoot, and then some after. I get the accessories and things ready beforehand, along with lights, etc. I do photo shoots in the bathroom because it’s easy to clear, small, and I can shut the door. and it’s warm, which Toki likes. I bring him in, dress him, and take photos pretty fast. He’s gotten used to this, and sits right down and poses. Kind of a miracle for a cat. I really lucked out that Toki is such a good model. To make him look at the camera, I tap a toy or rattle something. It has to be kind of a dumb toy that he’s not really interested in, or he will leap out and start playing. With a dumb toy, he looks up interestedly, but then he gives me a look like, “yeah what’s so great about that?” I keep the photo shoots short so he doesn’t feel like it’s a torture session. That way he won’t dread wearing clothes. After we are done, he runs right to the refrigerator because he knows he’s getting more chicken. He is extremely food oriented, and smart. Abyssinians are actually really active and playful cats, even though you can’t tell from his model shots.
What materials do you use?
I use a lot of cottons for the collars and bow ties. Calico prints and ginghams and such. Pinpoint oxford, broadcloth, etc. I also use satin, taffeta, wool flannel, wool crepe, silk (sometimes), felt, lace…
Do you plan to expand into other products?
Yes, I am going to make some actual cat clothes as well as the accessories and hats. I have a bodysuit/union suit thing that will be available soon. It is good for cats post-surgery, or for cats that have psychogenic alopecia (they over-groom). Instead of having them wear the “cone of shame”. It’s also good for cold weather. I put one on Toki when we go for walks in cold weather. He walks with a harness and leash. I can make things in dog sizes too, and I do have a few listings up for them. But I am not as interested in that, to be completely honest. It is difficult to design for dogs sometimes because they are such different sizes and shapes from breed to breed. And I don’t have a dog at home to fit model for me.
P.S. We recently learned Song is not the only expert cat fashion designer out there. For a list of the 10 best (in which she is included), head over to Catster.