Armed with just a camera and paintbrush, textile designer Stevie Howell captures gorgeous, scenic moments and transforms them into whimsical accessories that are true works of art. This East Bay design whiz has been creating elegant wraps for years (for clients like Anthropologie, no less) and we're pretty much obsessed.
So, we ventured to her Oakland studio, where she showed us around, spilled the deets on her process, and even modeled four outstanding outfits. Impressive! Click through to go behind-the-scenes of her inspirational work digs and peep her latest standout scarves and bandanas. Here's one wrap star to, well, wrap your heads around!
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Tell us more about what you do.
"I design and produce a line of scarves. I work collaboratively with other companies on print design — most recently, I designed a line a bedding and wallpaper for Anthropologie. And, I sell and exhibit my art with the L.A.-based Tappan Collective
Stevie leans back in Acne jeans, Raquel Allegra jacket, The Row button-down, Converse shoes, Eddie Borgo studs, and a Stevie Howell scarf.
We love your East Bay studio, tell us more about it.
"It's an old Levi's
factory. The building is an open warehouse with plated windows and huge skylights — lots of light and air, which is amazing, and normally my dog Lu is napping at my feet or hunting for chickens out back. It's a pretty active space during both day and night. We have a great little community here, which makes it such a nice place to work."
What's your favorite part about the workspace?
"All of the equipment. You can letterpress, silkscreen, bake bread, bind a book, solder some jewelry, build a table, find a freshly laid egg, pick and photograph gorgeous alley plants, warm your cold toes by a pellet stove, climb a rope, cast a bronze sculpture, or...just make patterns."
How did you get into textile designing?
"When I was attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
, I was working in the Fiber department and experimenting simultaneously with photography and painting. I was exposed to many printing methods there. But, it actually wasn't until my sister visited my studio later that year, and put the idea in my head. She saw some of my prints and thought they would be great textiles — she is a fashion editor — so I started reading a lot about it, and messing around in the studio. I loved the process."
The production process is pretty fascinating; tell us more about what goes into making each scarf?
"It's largely about experimentation and intuition. The general process involves destroying, painting, scratching, layering, recoloring, and then turning the patterns into repeats. A little bit of painting, a little bit of photography, and a little bit of Photoshop is involved.
All of my patterns begin from something specific, and they each tell a story."
We're pretty obsessed with the leather notebooks you just made — what other items are you considering adding to your brand?
"One of the things that excites me the most about textile design is that there is such a huge range of applications. I don't feel constrained to one product. I started off wanting to first produce scarves, and then made pillows, curtains, wallpaper, dresses…it's endless, which makes it endlessly new and exciting. Scarves are a perfect surface for my prints, but I also love learning new processes and continuing to work on more collaborations in the future."
Your scarves are wearable art (literally!), who are some of the artists you admire most?
"I admire so many artists and designers, both past and present, and their influence inevitably creeps into my work. A little bit of AbEx, some Bauhaus, post-war California art, and '60s psychedelia. I always have a huge range of artists that I look at — today's version of the list includes a lot of photo abstraction and a focus on materials. That includes Josef Albers
, James Whitney, Robert Heinecken, Joan Mitchell
, James Welling
, Mark Toby, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
, John Divola
, and Gerhard Richter
— lots of California influence."
What’s your philosophy when it comes to the materials you use?
"Recycle, reduce, and reuse."
How would you describe your designs?
"I have a fairly large range of references, but in general, l I love contrasts. The combination of unexpected colors, the painterly and the photographic, the hand and the digital, and the figurative and abstract."
If you weren't designing, what would you be doing?
"I'd be an animal behavioralist or a scent chemist."
Stevie is criss-cross cute in a Bottega Veneta dress, Rag and Bone heels, and a Stevie Howell scarf.
You're a Bay Area native, what are your favorite places to hit up for inspiration?
"The parks. I am a co-chair of a group called FOGG
, which stands for, 'Friends of the Golden Gate' and we organize monthly events in the parks throughout the Bay Area. Next up is our annual summer party on June 27."
Where can we find you when you're not working?
"Somewhere having strange dreams."
What's your favorite song to listen to while working?
"I have always found the more immersive the music, the better for working. For me, rap helps me focus and get in the work mode."
Stevie gives us a sweet stare in her artsy space
What advice would you give to young designers trying to make it?
"Just do it. I think it's important to have endless persistence and curiosity, to absolutely love what you do, and also a healthy dose of caffeine. And, interns!"
What's been your most memorable/career-changing moment since you started?
"Moving back to California. It has brought me focus, an incredible circle of mentors, a community of interesting people, and mountains of inspiration."
Stevie shows her stripes in DL1961 jeans, Paula Cahen D'anver sweater, Rag and Bone oxfords, Stevie Howell scarf, and a Kendal Conrad ear cuff.