Originally hailing from Tacoma, Washington, a city with a reputation for being both grimy and gritty, Kat Brightwell is an American girl who recently found her new home in Toronto. Her adoration of architecture is clear in her structured, strong, and often bold clothing choices and her interest in restoration lies not only in buildings, but also in eyewear and shoes. In the future she wants to study architecture, not so that she can create new buildings but so that she can use her knowledge toward sustaining the past.
What’s the first outfit you remember wearing in Toronto?
The first outfit I remember wearing in Toronto consisted of a plaid bubble-hem skirt, and a shirt with a little sailor collar. It was December of 2009, we were going to Casa Loma, and I wanted to look fancy.
Were you sartorially prepared for your first Canadian winter?
Yes – sort of! I bought a pair of good snow boots when we were visiting Toronto last February, so I had those. I still needed a parka, but I got one not long after we moved here before the weather got too cold. My favourite winter accessories, though, are my red-and-white knit maple leaf mittens. I feel more Canadian every time I wear them.
Do you see any connections between your love of architecture and the way in which you choose to dress?
Absolutely! I’ve always loved form and design in general, so I see architecture and fashion as being very complimentary. I love little details, both on buildings and clothes. When people talk about “architectural” clothing, I think they refer to clothing that is very structured and tailored, and I love that sort of thing; I don’t really own anything that could be described as “slouchy”. But I’d love to see more literal architectural detailing on clothes, actually taking ornamental forms from a building and applying the design to a garment. I want to do some of that myself; I love to sew and hope to be making some architecture-inspired clothing in the very near future.
Did your interest in clothing and architecture start around the same time? If they didn’t which one came first?
My interest in clothing and architecture started around the same time, in the sense that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in both! They’ve just always been a part of my life. I mostly have my mother to thank for my interest in architecture; when I was a little kid she would buy me books about architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mary Colter, and we always had a healthy supply of books on Art Deco around the house. Art Deco is still my favorite design movement; I love how its influence spread to so many mediums including architecture, the fine arts, interior design and furnishings, industrial design, film, fashion, and jewelry.
You have ties to Mississauga, Toronto, Chicago, and Washington. Do you have any outfits that you strongly associate with any of these cities?
I was born in Tacoma, Washington, a smallish city about 55 km south of Seattle. It’s a great place, and I love it dearly. In 1909 the city came up with this booster slogan – “You’ll Like Tacoma”. They put it on everything – pins, watch fobs, pennants – someone even wrote a song with that as the title. About a year ago I took a second-hand school uniform sweater and appliqued a big “You’ll Like Tacoma” on the back, and a little “T” on the front. It was a huge hit! Whenever I wore it I always got compliments, even when I wasn’t in Tacoma (we lived in Seattle at the time). People thought it was vintage, which to me is the biggest compliment ever. Every time I wear it I think about how much that city made me who I am.
As someone who is fond of historical preservation, train stations, and silent films you’re definitely a person with a strong nostalgic bone in your body. Why do you, generally, prefer old over new? Do you even see it that way, as in old things being better than new things? Does this impact how you dress?
I don’t see old things as being inherently better than new things; every era has its high points and low points. I just usually tend to prefer old things, and I don’t really have a good reason for why I do. It’s how I’ve always been. It definitely impacts how I dress; I own and wear a lot of vintage and second-hand. I do love modern avant-garde fashion, though – I just can’t afford most of it!
How many pairs of glasses have you owned? Which ones are your favourites?
I’ve owned three pairs of prescription glasses, and out of those I wear two regularly. My favorites would have to be the 1950s black cat-eyes with gold paint and rhinestones (with the outdated prescription that I sadly don’t wear anymore), and my clear pink, round frames from the 1930s. That last pair has been getting a lot of wear recently; they’re so great, and they have a definite Harold Lloyd thing going on. My mother has a decently sized collection of vintage frames, so I got my love of glasses from her. Thank goodness poor eyesight runs in my family!
- interview by Valentina RossMottley