When talking about her collections, Miuccia Prada would say, “It’s all about wanting to go forward but still having to deal with nostalgia.” After graduating from Parsons with a BFA in fashion design in 2009, Wyatt Hough set out to do just that: find innovative ways to expand his work as a designer while staying faithful to the little boy who used to sketch Gwyneth Paltrow’s gowns in front of the TV. Now a designer at the eco-friendly clothing line, Stewart + Brown, this fashionable twenty-something who has already traveled the world catches up with longtime best friend Ryan O’Connell to talk about his trajectory, inspirations, and why he isn’t about to say “auf wiedersehen” anytime soon. (Sorry, we just had to.)
What were you like as a kid?
I always played with dolls with my little sister. I remember vividly being in fourth grade and re-sketching my favorite Oscar gown. I’ve always had a love for Gwyneth! I would gravitate towards things that were well-designed. I subconsciously would choose the most expensive thing anywhere with my family.
I always knew you as a fine artist; you were always drawing when we met. What I recognize as a huge shift was when you went away to MICA (Maryland Institute College of Arts) in Baltimore.
MICA was the first experience I had being around like-minded people who were, some of them, better than me. It drove me to become better. All of the art schools, including Parsons where I ended up, also have a foundation. You are trained in the arts of drawing, painting, sculpting… I really valued that.
Parsons has a reputation for being really rigorous, all-consuming. But out of all my friends, you balanced and managed to have a social life and get shit done. How did that happen?
I interned at Teen Vogue over the summer and at school I made an effort not to have any internship because it would be way too much, work-wise. When you’re first figuring out what kind of designs you’re attracted to, working for someone you really respect will heavily influence what you’re doing. And I thought part of living in New York too was, well, seeing New York and meeting the people. Doing things and going on these little adventures.
I remember that you were one of the only students there that wasn’t constantly stressed out…
When you are dealing with something so subjective as art, you can work really hard but it might just not be your week, project, or assignment. You have to accept that and take it with a grain of salt.
Was there competition among the students?
Yeah, there was. I think that’s healthy! It is a competitive industry. I entered Parsons right at the height of Project Runway, so everybody wanted to be a designer.
Tell me about your senior thesis collection…
I can look back at my thesis and divide it up by certain elements: who my friends were at the time, the weather… I used black and grey as well as neon-pink and orange. Now, I’d love to have the luxury of making a mini-collection in one full year! But my life has changed, and so has my perspective.
You’re talking about perspective and looking at pieces and it being a timeline for your life. How personal do you see your work?
In something like art or design, if you can’t make it a reflection of your beliefs, idea, and interests – what’s the point? There is a line though, and I feel like it is the difference between fine arts and design. When you’re designing a consumer product, you need to remember that people have to wear it! No one wants to wear your sob stories, and the way in which you articulate and describe your collection weighs equal weight as the work itself. I would never want to design something that feels so heavy emotionally that someone wouldn’t want to wear it.
Do you feel like your work is commercial to a certain extent?
No, I do a lot of different kinds of things. I have “Designer Art ADD.” I design for Stewart+Brown (an organic clothing company based in California) and they have a very specific consumer. I also make custom-things for editorial where they want it to be crazy, and where it’s not supposed to be commercial.
What pieces are the most fun to do for you?
I think as a male designer and someone who buys clothes – and thus whose options are limited since we can’t wear skirts or dresses…
[laughs] I mean, we can…
[laughs] I wore a skirt today! One of my favorite things is designing skirts and pants. I enjoy doing skirts maybe because I am a boy and I wear separates – tops and bottoms as opposed to one-piece clothing like dresses.
What is the one thing you’ll never make? Where you’d just be like, “Sorry, can’t do this…”
I remember reading this quote from Miuccia Prada, one of my favorite designers, saying that if she was ever stuck for a collection, she’ll think about what she hates – in her case, lace. Then, she re-interprets it into a way that she likes. I try to think about that too.
How do you get in the mood to design? I know you and I know that you have tons of reference points. You are someone who pays attention to everything from mix tapes and synchronicity. Fashion is a medium that borrows from film and music, in a way that other mediums don’t, right?
I have a huge catalog of images: 20,000 saved on my hard-drive. I’ll go through them and see whatever catches my eye. I think of shows or editorials as having a classical narrative or story-structure: beginning, climax, and resolution.
Miuccia Prada: she’s an example of a successful woman who merged the art world with the fashion world. It’s so intelligent, and it takes a certain sort of person to wear Prada clothes, which are totally different from accessories. Nicolas Ghesquière and Balenciaga are some of my favorite, and they do more of what I want to wear. There’s something very space-age about their work.
What kind of trends do you hate?
I hate cheap stuff! [laughs] I love thrift stores and I love finding things for two bucks, but I hate this sort of wearing a ton of aluminum jewelry or buying a ton of polyester dresses. It’s not fashion, and it’s not even about enjoying a garment. Maybe you like to wear it because you feel cool, but you throw it away three months later – you don’t really love it.
You graduated from Parsons, stayed in New York for a bit and moved to California, right?
I love New York so much, but I have to say that being broke here is one of the least fun things you can do – especially when the weather is difficult. I went back to California for Christmas, and… never came back. [laughs]
You now are a successful designer at Stewart+Brown in Southern California. How does someone like you, who very much has a unique voice, manage to make the clothes fit a certain expected model?
I think of it as a science experiment: what are the constants and the variables? Fabrics are sort of the constant (we use organic cut, linen, cashmere as opposed to silk or overly decadent fabric) and what are the variables – how do I make it more me?
You moved out of New York to make clothes. We both have this love affair with California – what do you think is they key difference between designing in this metropolitan city versus a sleepy beach town?
I know that when I was living in New York, almost all of my other friends were into fashion. You’re looking at it all the time, or walking by it…. If you want to go to the forest or the ocean in New York it’s hard when you’re broke. In California, there is a nice amount of space: if I want to jump in my car and go look for ideas in the desert, there is nothing stopping me.
You always taught me to pay attention to fashion. I remember going over to your house and we’d watch that movie with Jane Fonda… What was it called?
You’d say: look at the style, and the clothing… Same thing with Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby or The Virgin Suicides. Now I look at pop culture things from a fashion standpoint. Suddenly, everything can have something to do with fashion.
Exactly, and some of the best ones as well. Wherever I get my inspiration, the way I approach design always has to do with improving my work That’s what I constantly strive for.
You should also check out Ryan O’Connell’s work at Thought Catalog, for which he writes and edits.