Growing up in Washington D.C., Tyler McGillivary attended a conservative all-girls school where she always felt that exploring art wasn't accepted as the norm. "I used to draw and do creative things all the time — it was a way for me to escape,” the 24-year-old designer tells Fashionista over the phone. Early on, reading fashion magazines was a way for her to explore her own identity, and getting dressed was a way for her to express that. "I tried to show people who I was through the ways I put together different outfits and the colors I chose," she reflects.
When it came time to choose a college, McGillivary aimed to find a university that would offer her a balance between creativity and academics; plus, going to art school was not something people in her community really did. With this, she chose NYU's Gallatin program, which allowed her to create her own major and curriculum while exploring different subjects to figure out what she really wanted to do. Ultimately, she ended up focusing her studies on the ways identity is affirmed through what we wear, particularly surrounding gender.
While in school, McGillivary researched the work of different designers and their unique perspectives while also posing such questions as: Why are certain colors or silhouettes associated with ideas of gender that we've constructed through time? And how are ideas of gender articulated through clothing items, including the wearing of dresses for women?
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Spending time interning for independent designers Pamela Love and Samantha Pleet, McGillivary started picking apart how women wear different traditional silhouettes, like dresses and skirts. "I think that getting dressed is your greatest form of creative expression in a certain way because it's what you're exposing to the world," she affirms. "But then, at the same time, we are sort of all pawns in a certain way to the ideas that have been laid out for us for how we should dress."
Upon graduation, McGillivary taught herself how to sew and began designing her own clothes. When it came time to launch her namesake label in 2018 with a Spring 2019 collection, she continued considering these parameters. "There's something I'm constantly thinking about, and that is: What do the pieces that I design say?" says McGillivary on her approach to design. "And how are they aligned with the people who wear them?"
Drawing inspiration from contemporary furniture and art such as the Memphis Group, as well as old animation and comics, McGillivary describes her pieces as "cartoonish" and "musical" with flat color usage and curvy lines. "I want them to be elegant and wearable but still have that sort of playful nature," she explains. Ideally, the designer hopes the brand will make people feel good while appealing to a wider audience because it takes such a playful approach with bold textiles and versatile silhouettes.
One such item is the Squiggle dress, which goes for $515 and is described to be "in confetti," according to the designer's website, and embroidered with violet, mint, yellow and red yarn doodles. Two other pieces to note include the twill Chroma jacket ($218) and pant ($185), which both take on the same sort of squiggle-like aesthetic with bright color-blocking and a wavy front-button closure. Then there's the Dot dress, a $430 garment inspired by the color wheel and made from overlaying colorful organza circles. In regards to her whimsical approach, McGillivary says: "My actual goal is to convey to anyone that they could wear these things and have fun, and even help accentuate their identity."
Twice a year, the designer flies to India where all of the clothing is made in conjunction with small, ethical factories. "It's nice because I get to meet the people that run the factory and the workers that make the clothes," says McGillivary, who values having an intimate bond with her production team and using comfortable fabrics. "I get to know everyone there and see the process firsthand."
When it comes to what's next for the label — McGillivary recently released her Fall 2019 lookbook and is currently sold at Olive, Kathleen, Urban Outfitters and Sincerely, Tommy — she hopes to launch accessories and footwear in the not-so-distant future. "I think the cool thing about being creative now, especially, is that you can just make things and then put them out into the world and see where they go."
See some of McGillivary's Fall 2019 looks in the gallery below.