INTERVIEW: Satya Twena, Architectural Milliner
May 11, 2011 - by Amanda Gabriele
Satya Twena didn't fall into design by mistake. Raised in an eclectic family of artists, the appetite to create was in her blood from the very beginning. After years working in the interior design business, Satya decided to test the waters of the fashion industry after realizing her great love for millinery. Lucky for us, her architecturally-inspired hats designed with experimental materials are truly wearable art. I got the chance to sit down with Satya and chat about her family history, vertical inspiration and the rise of the fascinator.
You come from an eclectic, non-traditional family of artists. What type of art did you grow up around? My grandfather revolutionized the interior design industry. He was one of the first people to bring colored wallpaper to California during the late 1960s and 70s. My cousin was in the music industry and has written songs for Whitney Houston. My grandmother was an illustrator, my moms first cousins husband is a well-known sculptor and she is an amazing painter who began her craft at 50 years old. Hillary Clinton asked her to paint a portrait of Chelsea when they were in the White House. My entire family gets together in Ojai, CA for Thanksgiving, and its like Woodstock revisited - with all these artists together, its the best energy and love you could ask for.
So you were very encouraged as a child to follow your dreams and do whatever your heart desired? Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so it makes sense that my brother, sister and I are independent. I wouldnt say art was pushed on us, but we went towards it naturally. I spent most of my early days as a soccer player, competing on the early Olympic Development Team and in college as well. But somewhere in college, I decided I wanted to do something creative. I thought maybe I didnt have the art gene, but suddenly, its all I wanted to do. I went back to school to study interior design at Parsons and took milliner classes at FIT. I secured an interior design job working with Bill Sofield, where I worked on everything from high-end residential to Tom Ford stores to the SoHo and Tribeca Grand hotels.
Interior design can be a very mathematical and structural craft. How did working in that industry influence your millinery? I always say I make structurally interesting hats. Because I worked for an interior/architecture firm, I consider proportion, scale and how things move and look. I have the mind of an interior designer and the advantage of having worked with different materials. Unlike many designers perfecting their craft in the fashion industry, I came from people working with wood and ceramic. I am always asking how can I take these materials and techniques and construct them into something else, something new. That is my challenge, working with non-traditional materials.
Hats are almost becoming a lost dressing art. What made you want to go into the millinery business? Was it a lack of good product in the industry? My aunt was a fashion designer in California and was always putting us kids in the fun hats she was making. Apparently, my great-grandmother was also a milliner in New York. My husband used to go to a milliner in the East Village, who we loved. I wanted to figure out how a milliner worked, so I asked if I could apprentice her, an unpaid position. Unfortunately, she rudely said no. It was very discouraging, but it motivated me to learn the trade and prove her wrong.
It came to the point where I was working long hours at the firm and was constantly stressed out. I asked myself if I only had six months to live, would I be doing what I am doing now? And I thought, no, I would be working on my own. I looked down, saw all these hats I made and realized how much I loved making them. Selling hats to friends turned into selling them online. I just began selling at Charles Nolan, ABC Carpet & Home and will be in Treasure & Bond in the fall. But my big goal is Bendels.
Where does your inspiration come from on a daily basis? Do nature and people inspire you? What about the architecture of the city? Its so random. My husband and I travel a lot, and I spent a lot of time photographing anything I find interesting. I often find myself searching for things I photographed more than fives years ago and is relevant to my current project. I could be walking down the street, see something and think it would make a terrific structure or a cool color combination. People must think Im a tourist because I walk the city with my head up. I see plants and flower arrangements and examine the proportion compared to the vase. I dont make many large hats; I try to take the idea of a big hat and make it more me. I just styled women for the Frederick Olmsted Awards at Central Park and the Kentucky Derby with small fascinators and headpieces. I think small is the new big - fascinators are really in this season.
In the future, is there any other type of art you want to explore? What else could you design that the Satya woman would love? I am a huge fan of dresses with pockets. Charles Nolan and I began our friendship over it - he always made them and I always love them. So I think next year, there might be a collection of vintage-inspired dresses and smoking jackets for women. I strangely like uniforms. Like the cartoon Daria, I work towards wearing the same thing every day. I want the same dress in a dozen colors and patterns to wear with black tights, black shoes and a jacket. I dont like to think hard about what Im going to wear. Comfortable, beautiful and chic is my motto. That is the Satya woman.
You can see more photos of Satya's work and read her blog on her website.