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When Lindsey Thornburg created her first piece in 2006, she wasn't trying to start a fashion movement — she was just cold. Growing up in Montana and Colorado meant that staying warm without looking like a puffy marshmallow was a constant challenge. Coupled with her lifelong love for clothing and design, that led Thornburg to devise the ultimate solution: Cloaks, made from super-warm Pendleton blankets.
Four years later, the current Lower East Side resident opened her first pop-up shop in the neighborhood thanks to a friend who just so happened to have a vacant store front, and this past February she established a permanent store on Orchard Street that's filled with her iconic cloaks, dresses, and other cool pieces she just happens to be into.
We recently sat down with Thornburg to talk about the brand's evolution, from introducing ready-to-wear to gaining celebrity fans like Blake Lively and Drew Barrymore, and how she popped into the New York City retail scene with the help of some generous landlords.
How did the concept for your first collection of cloaks come about?
My first collection was in 2006, after a trip to Peru and Machu Picchu. I came back really inspired by the indigenous people and the Highlanders that lived around the Inca Trail — everybody was so vibrant and colorful against this pretty mountainside background, and I figured that there had to be a way to communicate that in a city environment. So when I got back, I thought about American companies that would be a good fit for the fabrication.
Pendleton was a big part of my history — I'm from Colorado and Montana and I grew up around Pendleton blankets, so they seemed like the appropriate company to work with as far as fabrication. As far as the cloak goes, it was a silhouette that I was really drawn to because of the way that it encompasses you and keeps you warm,. Basically, all of those roads led to one silhouette that ended up taking off and doing well.
Has your childhood in Montana and Colorado affected your sense of design?
I always think about practicality and purpose, on top of it being really beautiful. I definitely like practical clothing, and I think that comes from the necessity of being warm.
"I like to make classic pieces that I feel wouldn't matter when they were released or taken away"
You originally went to college to study philosophy — has that influenced your creations as well?
I think that initially it inspired me to think differently about things and never take them for what they are, which let my mind to expand out into different ways. In those infancy moments of college, I was given this path that made me think outside the box, if you will. That was my experience with philosophy, but it was a long time ago [laughs], but it gave me the reassurance that you don't have to follow suit and that you can think for yourself and go your own way, which is what eventually led me to design school.
When did things really start to heat up for your business?
I think it was 2008 is when things first went well. But then they go down, and they go up, and then they go back down again — but the business has supported itself since 2008.
When did you decide that opening your own store was the next step?
I've lived in the Lower East Side for about twelve years, and we've had landlords that were friendly with us and had given us spaces for under market value until they found tenants to pay the market price, so it wasn't really a conscious decision. It was more like, "There's a space that we can have a pop-up shop in, let's loiter there for a while." This address is actually the first one where I was like, "Alright, it's time to get a real store." So although I've had a storefront since 2010, it wasn't a real thing until I opened up this past February. We have a lease on this one, so we could make it more ours.
Have you seen a difference in foot traffic or the customers coming in now that you're deeper into the Lower East Side?
Nah, I just think that the quality of the neighborhood is a little better. I'd say that more people come here with the intent to buy versus up there, where it just felt a little more...
...like window shopping?
Or, confused shopping. It just feels better down here; it's a better placement for the brand.
Who are your customers?
She's definitely the most interesting person in the crowd! It seems to be more of a bohemian customer, for lack of a better word. People that are travelers, people that are collectors, people that have an affinity towards Pendleton. The cloaks become the sort of thing that people want every season, collecting the new ones that I'm doing. It's someone that wants to be beautiful and stand out, but who also has the practicality to want something that will keep her warm.
Tell us more about your relationship with Pendleton blankets.
I was the first company in 110 years that's been allowed to cut into their blankets, so it's a big deal. It's been a really inspiring business relationship simply because they are so helpful with the access to utilize their blankets.
When did you decide to incorporate other pieces into your collection?
In 2010, we did our first full collection — basically, when we had the money to do it.
So it was always something that you wanted?
Yeah, totally. It was just a financial thing.
Where do you draw inspiration for your ready-to-wear pieces? Your dresses are so ethereal.
We wanted to do something for the people that come into our store for bridal, but any of the silhouettes can be interpreted in a non-bridal color. We also wanted to offer the service of dyeing a dress after the wedding so that people could get more than one use out of it.
As far as where I get inspiration for the collection, it just depends on where I am in my life, or what I'm doing, or who my customers are and how I can better serve them, or where the store is, or how much I'm traveling and how much I'm seeing, or just what's facilitating my life. I'm never at a loss for ideas — it's just about applying them to what I see that my customer needs.
What are your thoughts on the famous Burberry monogrammed poncho that came out last fall?
I don't know what it is.
That's actually really refreshing. What's your favorite cloak right now?
Our double-faced trench ones are my personal favorites, but as far as the Pendleton collaboration, I'd say that Midnight Eyes is my favorite.
What styles really fly out?
The Pendleton collaboration, that's the one. Also, a lot of the dresses. We just released a ceremony collection because we make a lot of wedding dresses for people, and that's been pretty big, too. Oh, and our tie-dye.
Do you ever bring back styles if they become a customer favorite?
I don't really eliminate things. I like to make classic pieces that I feel wouldn't matter when they were released or taken away.
What does it feel like to see so many celebrities in your designs?
I love it. They support the brand, and to get that sort of exposure is priceless. It makes me thrilled to see my company grow this big.
What's next for Lindsey Thornburg?
A yerba mate! [Laughs]
How about a lightning round?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Uber or yellow cab?
Sweet or salty?
Uptown or downtown?
Rihanna or Beyoncé?
Gold or silver?
Flats or heels?
Books or movies?
Sushi or pizza?
Wine or beer?