With roots in the influential early 80’s San Francisco music scene, designer Barbie White of Japanese Weekend Maternity brings a unique counter-culture perspective to the maternity market. Style Wylde caught up with Barbie via phone recently to discuss her collection, inspirations and of course, techno-pop.
SW: On the Japanese Weekend Maternity website it mentions that you have a background in dance and performance art, can you give us a little more info?
BW: Japanese Weekend was a conceptual art piece, or performance art piece in 1978. I had transplanted from Portland to San Francisco with a group of artists, and we formed an art group called Del Mar Art Club. We did art, performance pieces, and made videos. Japanese Weekend was the name of a performance piece that we rehearsed, but never actually performed.
SW: What did the piece entail?
BW: Well, you have to remember this was conceptual art, and this was the lat 1970’s. A young man would sit cross legged in a loin cloth, with a bamboo mat fastened to his head, eating rice out of bowl with chopsticks, while myself and another gal dressed up as nurses would keep piling straw mats on his head.
SW: What was the inspiration for that?
BW: We were just having fun trying things. It was the era of The Deaf Club, Talking Heads, Lori Anderson- everybody was just experimenting! The kids that were at the Art Institute at that time they were doing really amazing things, SRL (Survival Research Laboratory) was starting, In local music there was a lot of experimenting, Romeo Void was starting, as was a band I was affiliated with called Voice Farm.
SW: VOICE FARM?! The 80’s band?
BW: Yes! The techno-pop band. I was responsible for the costuming, the choreography and the stage sets for Voice Farm. I danced and choreographed. It was a really, really fun time.
SW: So from costume designing for Voice Farm, how did you decide to launch your own Maternity Clothing line?
BW: We didn’t start with maternity; we started with ready to wear. But I always had an interest in things that could be worn in more than one form, so the clothes that I was designing for early Japanese Weekend were unisex. They were very pop, very colorful, and the pants were adjustable so, a man or a woman could wear them. Now, you have to remember this is the late 1970’s and early 1980s, and there were so many new wave/punk designers, boutiques wouldn’t pay you. They would just bring some cool stuff in, sell it and not pay the designers, because the designers were a dime a dozen. So we are having trouble getting paid, and all these pregnant women started buying our clothes, because maternity at that time was truly awful. It was truly the peter-pan collar tent dress in a little house on the prairie print. So all these pregnant women started buying our clothes and we thought, HEY, hey maybe if we go into maternity, the shops will actually pay us, they will be more responsible because they are dealing with family-oriented customers! AND THEY DID. So that is how I got into maternity
SW: Did your dance and music background influence the line?
BW: It worked well for me having a dance and costume background because I had been making pieces that were convertible for performances. I had made dresses for the Depeche Mode tour that started out as mini skirts, and could change into knee length, and then full length for the stage.
SW: Voice Farm opened for Dépêche Mode?
BW: Yes, we did. It blew everyone’s mind. On that tour I had to get really creative. We had very minimal dancers, and we couldn’t go off stage for changing in between numbers. So I was wondering, How am I going to do this? and I thought, I’ll just make dresses that are convertible! I’ve taken that convertible concept to maternity.
SW: For the current line, where do you draw inspiration?
BW: Girls on the street! At least I do. Japanese Weekend is truly a collective group of designers. There are four of us who bring ideas in from different places, and then we get together. There are times when the finished product is collaboration, but there are also times when certain pieces come from just one person. So my personal influence is absolutely what I see on the streets, and then how does one cultivate that to become more accessible.
SW: What aspects of the Japanese Maternity Weekend collection are unique? What innovations have you made?
BW: Our Mama coat is a great piece, that we have recently had patented. It’s a convertible coat that can be worn three ways. First there is an adjustable panel for pregnancy, then there is a panel that can be worn with your baby that allows you to take the coat on and off without disturbing your baby in a baby carrier. And finally it can be worn without the panel at all and is just a nice contemporary coat. We also have the OK flip it- dual-support band, on either pants or skirts. It’s a wide support band that goes under the lower abdomen. Then there is another band, that you can flip up if you want extra support on your Thoracic part of your spin and on your abdomen, or your can flip it down for more support for lumbar and your abductor areas which get strained and throw your out alignment when ligaments loosen during pregnancy. This provides more comfort and encourages better posture.
SW: What are you working on now?
BW: We are always playing with silhouettes; we’ve had a lot of success with skinny denim, and twisted twill collections. We have been seeing that women want a slimmer fit in maternity that skims the upper arms and bust area, then room for the tummy, then comes in again. This accentuates the baby bump and makes pregnancy a point of pride! We are also noticing that pregnant women are wanting to dress up a little more. I believe this might have something to do with the economy, and the belief that if we all just dress up, if we all just get a little more polished good things will happen. With this in mind we have developed a great line of dresses and separates that can be worn to work, and then out for the evening. That’s important to us to have clothing that you can work in, make a simple change and then dress it up and move toward evening. This dressier collection is made from a beautiful Ponti di Roma fabric that feels amazing and elegant on, it’s really beautiful.
Japanese Weekend Maternity’s San Francisco boutique is located at 500 Sutter Street at Powell, Hours: 10AM-6pm Mon-Sat, 11AM-5PM Sun. The collection is also available online at Japanese Weekend Maternity, and at select bay area retailers.