Wendy Mullin Likes to Mix Preppy and Punk

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Photo: Melissa Hom

As a teen growing up in the Midwest during the early eighties, Wendy Mullin started making her own clothes, which involved re-dyeing her dad’s old button-down shirts and crafting long surf shorts with drawstring waists. With the help of her mother, she learned how to sew and make patterns, and soon after arriving in New York in 1992, she began selling her pieces out of record stores and working as a freelance costume designer. Six years later, Mullin opened the first Built by Wendy store in Nolita, and a Williamsburg location in 2005. Along with her stylishly simple clothing line (which has garnered a large following), Mullin has written a series of instructional sewing books, created uniforms for Babycakes bakery, and made custom totes and tees for several art projects and shows. We sat down with Mullin at the Centre Market Place boutique to discuss her new fall collection, an unfulfilled longing for thigh-high boots, and the importance of owning several undergarments.

How do you decide what to design each season?
Different things inspire me each season. Sometimes it’s a movie or a book or a photo or a memory. I grew up lakeside in the Midwest in the eighties so there’s a lot of that preppiness mixed with eighties new wave and punk.

What is the inspiration for fall '09?
A mix of The Last Emperor, Tess, and the photography of Guy Bourdin. English country mixed with Asian aristocrat, shot through a glossy eighties lens.

What type of person shops at Built by Wendy?
People who are confident to just see something they like and wear it — both trendsetters and people who don’t care at all about trends.

What new projects are you working on?
I just wrote a new sewing book on dresses. I’m also collaborating on a surf line with my friend Chris’s shop, Mollusk, and also designing some handicapped accessories for another friend’s company, 1-800-wheelchair.com.

What was the first designer item you bought?
I saved up all my babysitting money in 1983 to buy a Betsey Johnson Lycra baby-doll dress. Also, a cropped tuxedo jacket from Williwear.

Who were some of your favorite designers growing up? What about now?
Growing up: Stephen Sprouse (his safety-pin shirts blew my mind) and Betsey Johnson. However, I loved the preppiness of Ralph Lauren, L.L.Bean, Woolrich, and all that stuff I grew up on.

Who are your style icons?
I’m really into Jacqueline Bisset right now.

What designers do you wear now?
I usually wear something of my line, either old or current, and I’ll mix it with some vintage (a piece from my neighbors' shop, No.6, or something from eBay). I also wear the usual contemporary lines like A.P.C., Marc Jacobs, Marni, Sigerson Morrison and Belle, Vanessa Bruno, 3.1 phillip lim, and Chloé.

What are your favorite shopping destinations?
I always like to check on Bergdorf Goodman’s website early for shoes before they are all gone!

Is there an item you are currently saving up to buy?
I love the sunglasses that Zooey Deschanel did for Oliver Peoples.

What trends are you into this season?
I’m into thigh-high boots, but unfortunately I’m too short to pull them off.

Which trends do you wish would go away?
I’m really not into studded chunky platform heels.

What’s something everyone should have in his or her closet?
Every woman should have foundation garments like a slip in black, white, and nude, and bras in many configurations like strapless and cross-back. Every man should have a white button-down shirt.

Finish this sentence: I never leave the house without …
A spritz of orange-blossom perfume.