Fashion / Style File

The Scarf Princess

Creative Houston Entrepreneur Merges Art and Fashion With Family Ties

BY // 10.19.15
photography Kendall Hanna Photography

The intersection of art and fashion is a vibrant one. Sometimes a piece of art inspires an entire runway collection; at other times, an artist uses clothing as a vehicle for expression.

Take Los Angeles-based artist Kimberly Brooks‘ exhibition, “Thread and Bone“, which featured corsets and steel petticoats covered in Baroque-style paintings. Or consider a more mainstream example like Donald Robertson (Estée Lauder’s creative director). Deemed fashion’s favorite illustrator, his work can be seen on T-shirts, skirts, dresses, shoes, and even cosmetics (see his recent Smashbox collaboration).

Of course, sometimes the most fascinating discoveries can be found in your own backyard, and the Houston-based company Manoosh is an example of this. The name is a play on the French word manouche, which is a term used for a group of travelers who wander freely around the French countryside selling their wares, which were often made by hand. A little more than a year old, the scarf line is using light-weight (cashmere and modal blend) scarves as its art canvas. I sat down with co-founder Anna Wilson to chat about her love for textiles and her company’s new collaborations, and as a bonus I received a lesson in the art of tying a scarf.

How did you start Manoosh?
My grandfather owned a textile business, then my dad took it over, so I kind of just fell into it naturally. So that’s where I come in. I handle the textiles. My fiance’s grandmother is Marilyn Biles (the artist behind Manoosh’s prints). So we just all started Manoosh together, my mother-in-law to-be (Nancy Guthrie), my fiance’s grandmother and I.

Anna Wilson holds a scarf from her company’s fall 2015 collection.

Was the idea to always start a line of scarves?
Yes. You see Marilyn’s artwork and it just kind of makes sense. Initially, we were thinking of maybe some paper goods or some other things we tested out, but the scarves were so beautiful and we thought it would be better if we focused on one thing and really did it right. Later on maybe we’ll expand.

Why scarves as a medium for her art?
For me, it was because of the textile fabric. I actually love fabric. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but I love the history behind it and the different weaves and textures. When we started using Marilyn’s artwork on the fabric it just all worked so well. Digital printing on fabric is finally starting to emerge. A few years ago you couldn’t do digital printing. It had to be screen printing, but that didn’t do her artwork justice, because you can’t get the details. Also, we had to layer over 1,000 screens to create the finished product. It overdoes it. I am really excited about the digital printing because it is really changing thing, and it is becoming a standard.

Do you plan to partner with any other local artists?
We just got some samples done with an artist named Annie Jones. She actually does illustrations, and she focuses on watercolor. We weren’t able to get her in for fall, but we’re planning on using her next spring. I’m really excited about that, because watercolor gives the scarves a different affect from Marilyn’s oil paintings. Also, for the illustrations, she actually took the size of scarf we wanted, and she painted it so it’s like a little fishing scene and it goes deeper in the ocean and the colors all match. Even when you wrap the scarf around it looks like it all fits together. Marilyn paints, then we see which ones will fit, and luckily they almost all do. We are really excited to bring in new artists, even though it’s kind of easy to stick with Marilyn because everything turns out so well. But we definitely want to support the local art community.

The Susan scarf from Manoosh benefits the Susan Poorman Blackie Ovarian Cancer Foundation.

Tell us about your partnership with the Susan Poorman Blackie Ovarian Cancer Foundation. 
Buck Dodson, the president of the organization, picked out a scarf. His mother (Susan) was the founder, and she recently passed away. So he took it over, and he met with Marilyn to view all her paintings. He found one that really spoke to the organization. Fully 100 hundred percent of the proceeds of all the sales of scarves is going to that foundation specifically for research. That’s something we want to do, too. Obviously we want to support local artists in Houston, which is great, but kind of women in general. We were so lucky to find the organization to do that.

Do you plan to keep the scarves always based on artwork, or do you have other ideas? 
I think we want to keep it with art, because that way a percentage of the sales go back to the artists and it helps spread art in a different way, which we really like, but I want to keep it open, because just as much as the art is important to the scarves, the fabric is as well. So maybe if we find a perfect weave we would do a plain color.

What does the future look like for Manoosh? 
A lot of people ask if we are going to do a storefront, but I don’t really see it that way. We like working with boutiques and kind of entering the market that way. We do have online, but the relationships with boutiques are where we are. We started with focusing on Houston, but we have kind of grown out of that. We have a seller in New York, and we are trying to expand there, as well as to the West Coast and definitely Austin.

Following our interview, Anna showed us some unique ways to tie a scarf. Watch the tutorial here: 

Home, chic home.

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