Wren's Melissa Coker
Wren's Melissa Coker is most inspired by fictional characters whose beauty manifests through their
imperfections. Founded in 2007, Wren is a literary-inspired line named after Jenny Wren from Charles
Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, the last book published by the iconic writer. Growing up in Lake Forest,
Ill., Coker began her career in fashion with an internship at the then newly launched Helmut Lang,
followed by editorial positions at Vogue, W and Details. The designer stepped out on her own in 2007
and made her dream collection come true, gaining inspiration from characters like Auntie Mame and
Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, famously played by Madonna.
Coker fell into fashion almost by accident. “I actually wanted to be involved in film in some way and could not get an internship in the industry to save my life,” she told Uinterview exclusively. She then applied for a fashion internship instead. “I went out for that [Helmut Lang internship],” she says, “and got it and my journey into the fashion world had begun.”
- Q: The crippled character of Jenny Wren in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend is in many ways your central muse and, of course, the eponymous heroine for your line. Tell us a little bit about drawing your inspiration from classical literature? What is it about this character you so identify with in terms of fashion? - Jessica Cran
- A: She is full of contrasts, which really appealed to me, and my line is very much an extension of that feeling. I was also really drawn to the fact that she was this sadly winsome little creature who made dresses for dolls. There is something really dark and beautiful about that.
- Q: Jenny Wren is the character that inspires the old-world romanticism which your clothes embody. So if there was any one character from the fictional world that you would love to dress, who would it be and why? - JC
- A: Auntie Mame, Goldie Hawn as Jill in Shampoo, Jane March in The Lover, Madonna as Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, Catherine Deneuve as Geneviece in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, there are a million more. That was the most fun question ever.
- Q: I heard that some of your other muses include the likes of Anais Nin and Liz Goldwyn. Quite a ranging scale there. So, when you are designing, do you always have a specific woman in mind? Is there an archetypical ‘Wren’ woman? Is she a unique character? Does she have a certain look? A certain attitude? - JC
- A: Definitely. She’s the sort of girl who isn’t afraid to get a bit mussed. Very feminine but quirky and fun. Winsome but not precious. The Alexa Chung and Tennessee Thomases of the world.
- Q: Now, there has been a great deal written about how you almost sort of fell into fashion. I think at one point you even entertained the idea of a career in either archeology or floristry – when you’re designing, would you say that you are continuously drawing inspiration from these areas of your interest? Things like, art, ancient cultures, literature, nature? Tell me how you conceive of a theme for each collection? - Uinterview User
- A: That’s funny you mentioned those two career choices, the interviewer asked what I wanted to be when I was little and that’s what it was. I wanted to be an archeologist but also have a flower shop when I was 3 or 4. I actually wanted to be involved in film in some way and could not get an internship in the industry to save my life. One day my college roommate came home and told me that Helmut Lang was looking for interns. This was in the late 90s when it was the real Helmut Lang and he had just relocated his studio to New York from Paris. I went out for that internship and got it and my journey into the fashion world had begun. To answer your actual question: I collect all sorts of different things along the way and when it comes time to start conceiving of a theme I go back through all my odds and ends... tears from magazines, fabric scraps, vintage bits and bobs… and pin things up to my board, revising as I go until a more focused feeling begins to take shape. Often times, there will be a sort of patron saint of the collection who I use as a sort of character who I set out to wardrobe. For fall 09 it was Tennessee Thomas, drummer of The Like and former Wren model.
- Q: Do you have a signature piece for this collection? One which you are particularly proud of, or which you feel sums you up as a designer? - Uinterview User
- A: The aforementioned high-waisted skirt, but also the blazer. We have an amazing blazer, which has a big celebrity following itself: Keira Knightley, Vanessa Hudgens, Lake Bell, Rose Byrne, Kelly Osbourne. Now that’s some name dropping!
- Q: What’s coming up in your Fall and Winter collection? - JC
- A: Over-sized buffalo plaids in unexpected shapes like a cropped moto jacket, tarnished sequins and shine paired with tissue-weight burnout knits and pops of color in the shape of crepe de chine silks.
- Q: You were born in Illinois, now you live and work in California – you’ve been all over the states, from coast to coast – who has more style? East coasters or west coasters? - JC
- A: Both! But West Coast has so much schleppy style… sweatpants and tee shirts sort of thing which isn’t as fun
- Q: So my follow up question to that would be, now that the economy is headed south, have you got any tips for people who want to stay stylish for cheap? - JC
- A: Look for an amazing piece to update your wardrobe — something that is special and won’t go out of style in a season or two. Or, if you’re like me, a multitude of gems may be found hidden hear and there in the recesses of your closet. Best of all, those treasures are free!
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