Sometimes in our lives we have moments of intense clarity. I know I had mine on a particularly sunny day in Chicago that sent me on a path that would change my life forever. Well, today I had the privilege to speak with Whitney Bickers, owner of MYRTLE, who after years of working in the the movie business realized that her real passion was fashion, but on her terms.
TheWorkingWardrobe (TWW): How did Myrtle come about?
Whitney Bickers (WB): I worked in entertainment for a long time… and the way the economy has changed the film business it’s getting harder and harder to make the small independent movies which I liked. There is a way to do it, but for me it was difficult to find the job that I wanted to have. I’m really grateful for my film career, I got to work on some really exciting things. I got to have my name on two movie credits… Cowboys and Aliens and the other one came out a couple months ago called People Like Us. Those were both great experiences, but for me personally they are not the kinds of movies that I wanted to make. I like these little tiny independent movies that are out for like a week. I knew for a long time that I wanted to do something different and then it literally came to me in a light bulb moment. It’s crazy… But, I just had this epiphany one day that I should own a store and this is what it should be called and this is what should be in it. And then it took a year of planning. It wasn’t like I had that moment and I opened a store.
When I look back on it there were some obvious signs that that’s where my interest were… In my free time, I was looking at fashion and designers. I’ve always loved clothes, loved craftsmanship… There were all these designers that I was interested in, and now with this culture of designers blogging, it’s fascinating to me…
TWW: Talk a little bit about your epiphany moment, like the name and your vision.
WB: Myrtle is my great great grandmother’s name. It’s a name I always thought of as cute and Myrtle is also a flower. So that’s in my logo.
… So my name came from her which is funny because people assume that my fashion sense came from her. I did have a great great grandmother until I was five or six years old but actually my love of fashion comes from my mom’s side of the family. My grandmother who was really my fashion influence never liked her name, and I don’t think she would be honored having a store with her name on it – her name was Jeri. And, so I don’t think she would appreciate it. But I think having a family name and an older name gives you the sense I’m going for something more classic here. I’m definitely not one of those stores on Melrose that’s super trendy, the newest thing every week. I think [that] is important.
TWW: Let’s talk Vintage.
WB: The furnishing in here are very vintage… To me things are very important. I know people would think that [to be] materialistic, but to me it’s just one more way to have memories. Any wedding I’ve ever been to, I can tell you what I wore to it. It’s just kind of a way to mark things that are special. So I’ve always loved objects; I’ve been holding onto objects and holding onto clothes. I certainly have a fair amount of vintage clothes that I’ve been holding on to that have never fit me and will never fit me, but I can’t let go of them because I think their special. So with the independent designers, the prices can be a bit higher and for that reason I like to go a little more classic – things that you are going to wear a lot and get your money out of. But I think everyone has a party that their crush is at or a wedding they need to go to. They want something that’s fun and for me, vintage is a way to do that without having to resort to the trendy fast fashion stuff. I’m not really into going to Forever 21 and buy a dress for one event, I think that there is so much good vintage clothing that is out there, and then you can find the fun details and the crazy colors.
TWW: Who are some of the designers you have available in the shop?
WB: …I have all independent female designers who make their goods either locally or in a responsible way. My shoe line Osborn is designed by a couple, so I do have some guys working on things. The (shoe) designs are done by a couple in New York, but the shoes are made by artisans in Guatemala and it doesn’t mean that everything I have is U.S. made; not all of my designers are US. Like my bright bags that I have are made by a South African designer and made by artisans in South Africa…
I’ve been open for nine months, I’ve started to expend that a little bit so I have my first big brand in here which is Keds. Their just a brand that I totally believe in, they are a design team of both men and women, but I just like everything that their doing. They are doing a totally classic thing that fits with their brand and it’s made in the U.S. So to me that’s really at home with the other things that I am doing here…But my designers totally range from a brand like [Keds], where it’s produced and they’re in a lot of stores across the country… to my sweater designer, Hetterson, she makes every single thing herself and it’s only her you know; I think she has been in two stores and that’s it. So I really like having that range.
TWW: Let’s talk about your customer. Who comes in here and buys?
WB: I love Echo Park (Los Angeles, CA) because I think it’s a really artistic and creative community. But, because what I’m doing is pretty specialized I do get people driving in from far away and that’s really special to me… In general, it’s young women and women who work that are looking for things that are special that they can actually wear. And to me that’s really the difference. You could go to Beverly Hills and find the most insane beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but are you going to wear it to the office? So it’s about finding that middle ground of something that is a work of art that you can use. Sure I would love to be outfitted in Valentino everyday, but you know when you’re sitting in an office, that’s out of reach for most people. And I think that LA in general is very social. So [they're] girls who want to find something they can wear to work and then also it’s nice if they can have their jeans and their special top that they feel good about themselves in.
[Also, when I was working in entertainment] I was finally at a place in my working life where I could afford to buy some of these things. And that became really important to me. If I’m going to spend my money on nice clothes I would rather go to one of these designers that I find interesting and making wonderful things than go to the mall. But at the same time I wasn’t made of money. So I couldn’t buy these things online that are $200 and $300, and get them to my house and say,”Okay that doesn’t fit.” And some of these places, the designers are really small and have very limited return policies, which I understand so much better since I am a small business myself. But as a consumer it’s just difficult. I just wanted a space where you could feel these things and see the quality of the fabric and why they cost what they cost. [The customers can] come in and try them all on.
TWW: You just started an online store?
WB: It was always in my long term plan. I would have told you it was in my five year goals not my one year goals; especially because the catalyst of [opening] the store is that I wanted a place to come try [designer clothes] on. Ever since I opened I’ve been really big in social media. I actually started my blog almost a year before the store was even open. It was just kind of a way to keep me focused and it turned out fantastic for me. Really early on, people started following my blog and said “Where’s your store?”, and I had to tell them that it doesn’t exist yet but that I hope that it does soon and that you come when it’s open. I just always had a lot of fun with that and once the store was open I [started] a twitter account and facebook account. One of my designers just got me onto Instagram, which I really like. I think it’s unique among all of those platforms for being the most positive, which is great. You don’t see comments about people’s appearances; [it's] always just “you look great, you look happy, I love what you’re doing” and it’s what people are actually doing… Just from that I had a lot of people who don’t live near here who will ask me what is that, where is that, how do I get it. So from pretty early on I would have people emailing me about specific items; and I’m happy to ship anything. I just wanted to make it easier for people.
Here are some looks that Whitney and I put together for a classic and fashionable working wardrobe.
Look At My Vintage Look
Black loafers $78
Cream Neiman Marcus knit top $ 48
Patterned velvet A line skirt $ 68
I’m Feeling Blue Suit Look
Keds blue cherry blazer $248
Keds blue cherry pants $ 148
Navy delta tee $ 72 (on sale)
Leather boots $ 315
I Love To Ride Look
Leather skirt $237 (on sale)
Horse print $ 163 (on sale)