How I'm Making It: Designer Lindsey Thornburg

We sat down with the uber-cool cloak designer Lindsey Thornburg in the basement of her Lower East Side store surrounded by copious amounts of Pendleton (she recently partnered with the heritage brand on a collab) and Alpaca. Read on to learn how the former philosophy major built her business.
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We sat down with the uber-cool cloak designer Lindsey Thornburg in the basement of her Lower East Side store surrounded by copious amounts of Pendleton (she recently partnered with the heritage brand on a collab) and Alpaca. Read on to learn how the former philosophy major built her business.
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What was your relationship with fashion when you were young? It became an interest because I’m an only child and moved around a lot with my mom. I started to identify through fashion. I would use fashion to identity with different music or surroundings since I was always switching schools. I’ve always been a stylist in a way. It was pre-Internet and things weren’t homogenized. You really had to seek out cool fashion.

You studied philosophy before fashion design, how did that influence you? It just kind of opened a passage in my mind that made me think about creating more. I would fantasize about philosophical references and then I’d be daydreaming about all this weird clothing. But I decided I didn’t want to sit at a coffee shop philosophizing the rest of my life, so I went to design school.

So what was your first design experience like? Throughout college I worked at a boutique that produced clothing and was wholesale. They were the edgy store of Santa Barbara. Then after design school I started my own dress company called Fabric. It was very early 2000’s Cali. It was very sheer silk and circle skirts. I earned enough money doing that label that I was able to move to New York in 2003.

So how did the cloaks come about? Well when I got to New York I was working on Fabric and assisting One Odd Ruby. I could never afford a winter jacket that I liked. I bought a Scottish walking cape out of Sky Mall or something random. It was a very raw form cloak that wasn’t lined and it was cheap wool. Very rogue. I used it all winter and would layer up and wrap myself with it. I started to like that silhouette and the incubation. That same winter I went to Peru and was really inspired by the highlanders. I hadn’t gone seeking fashion inspiration, but I was struck by the patterns and style. All of it is tribal; the little nuances identify people with different tribes. When I was at Machu Pichu I had a revelation that these people built this structure as a monument around the sun, and it took them 100 years to build. They had to pass it down from generations. So then I realized that I don’t have to think about the end but one brick at a time.

So what did you do in New York when you got back? I focused on creating these cloaks. I was thinking about tribal identifications with the different women in Peru. It made so much sense in an urban environment. So I thought a lot about prints and Pendleton blankets and started developing the cloaks. I

When did you start designing under your own name? Judy Rosen of The Good The Bad The Ugly was selling my cloaks and was like, ‘You have to brand yourself.” So in 2006, I started designing under my own name.

Was there a turning point? They just kept selling and selling. I only made five at a time, because they aren’t cheap to make. There were only less than 20 in the world, and then in November 2008 the Times Sunday Style put a cloak on the front cover. Everything changed. I was a girl working out of my apartment and then I was getting hundreds of emails. I immediately set up a website, which was before everyone had a web store.

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Was the business side challenging? It still is. I've had some amazing mentors and it doesn't come naturally to me, though I understand it. But if you don't pay attention to business it'll take you out. I just came from an acocountant meeting.

You branched out into a larger collection in fall 2010, why? I was just ready. I'm a stylist, so I wanted a whole brand. I wanted to give the cloaks pieces. I had more to say.

Where do you draw inspiration? Everything. I think it's about directing it. You've got to pick a theme and build around that theme. I get inspiration from travel, a leaf, a conversation, a shade of red. We build mood boards.

Who are your muses? Spencer Peterson, Martha Hunt, Chase Cole. I have lots of muses. Meryl Smith, a local artist.

Do you follow fashion closely? No. I'll look at a few collections from Paris. Obviously I checked out what Hedi Slimane did for Saint Laurent, but for me it's a responsibility as a designer not to get too involved in other people's work. I mean I like The Row, Alexander McQueen.

What do you wear? Me. And BLK Denim, because I did consulting work with them and they fit amazing. I am really into jewelry. All my friends are amazing jewelers. Anna Sheffield is amazing and my best friend. Bliss Lau is on another level. Suzannah Wainhouse is amazing.

Would you ever expand to accessories? Maybe just shoes. I would want to be a cobbler though and study reflexology and do it really well. But that would be far off!

Where do you see yourself in a few years? Out of my store basement! The possibilities are infinite. The journey has been amazing thus far, so I can't wait to see where else our hard work leads.