Photgorahpy by CJ Isaac
We are so grateful to the lovely Diana Warner, mastermind behind DWNY, for such a wonderfully open, honest interview . . . she epitomizes the term, “strong southern woman” and we totally dig that about her!
Talk to us a bit about the earliest single artistic experience you remember having.
Rocks—I painted them and sold them to the neighbors. Funny, I still am sorta in the painted rock business . . .
When did you become interested in design, and how did that eventually evolve into DWNY?
Growing up, I loved fashion and drawing. I would spend hours making “catalogs” for my mother that consisted of drawings of women and their outfits and accessories. I would tell my mom to pick out what she wanted from the catalog. I loved putting things together and designing accessories even if it was just little drawings.
Was there anything in your childhood or at any point while you were growing up that had an impact on your career now or pushed you in the direction or fashion?
My maternal grandmother, Grace Lesher, was a huge fashion and jewelry lover. I spent a lot of time at her home growing up. Her home was always beautiful and tidy; she did not like toys or clutter. So instead of toys to play with at her house, she always gave me huge boxes and bags of costume jewelry. I would constantly take things apart and put them back together.
I also spent a lot of time at my paternal grandmother’s home in Nashville, and she had grown up with big sisters. Her collection of beautiful dresses and clothing dated back to when she was a child. We had the most amazing dress-up collection to play in. I was always having over the neighbor kids or the other cousins and putting on fashion shows for the adults in the family. I absolutely loved fashion and music and my grandmothers were very influential and encouraging of my pursuit and love of arts/fashion/design.
When I lived in Knoxville I opened my first Diana Warner Store in Sequoyah Hills. When I moved to NYC the company was growing so fast that the only aspect of the company I could handle was the wholesale part (distributing to authorized retailers). So that is what I did, just operating out of my office and factory since 2007. This past year my father and mother became my business partners after working with me for the last three years. This has been amazing because we have been able to reorganize the wholesale part of the business and expand back into retail, creating a Diana Warner New York Store. This store acts like a list of my favorite things that I have gathered from my years of travel. I have been living in New York City for five years, and traveling for much longer, so I have had a lot of time to gather my favorite brands of clothing and accessories to pair back with my jewelry. Creating this Diana Warner “concept store” has been really fun because we have been able to really define through our tastes what Diana Warner is. We also wanted to create a little “south in the big city” by creating a fun, friendly, colorful shopping environment, which I believed and still believe the city is lacking. We have been open since June 1st and have received high praise, winning best store in Gramercy Neighborhood, and many other awards and recognitions from the city’s press.
Discuss some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and as an artist.
There have been many many times in which I was afraid I would fail. There have been many times in which I have failed as a business owner.
I have also survived a good number of personal hardships from watching my brother fight cancer, being the lone member of my family who was not involved in a horrible car crash, and leaving an abusive relationship with a man I loved. All this has made me and my family the people we are today . . . and my work has provided me with a creative outlet in which to heal. Making art, and pouring yourself into what you are passionate about, really heals far beyond even what I currently understand. Morphing and changing in order to survive the economic meltdown as a young company in 2008-2009 was an enormous daily challenge and feels like a huge accomplishment. In business I tell people you must “be Madonna” in order to make it (constantly changing in order to stay relevant). I learned first hand what hard work, concentration, and a little Madonna music can do. And on the other side (almost) of this economic meltdown, breathing room feels so nice.
Please take us through a typical day in the life of Diana.
Wake up early . . . find my gym clothes, pray, walk Princess (my dog), and then head to the store. I spin for a couple hours and come back to the store before it opens. A day can be anything from meeting with customers to do custom design things, or helping them select the perfect items for their wardrobe or a gift for someone special, to having my photo made for a feature, or designing new pieces with musicians . . . or when I am lucky, I get to work on designing my own collection.
Recently I have been working with a lot of musicians, and that has been really fun for me to help artists have a new fresh feel on their merchandise―making it designer, making it in America, making merchandise special and not mass produced anymore. Some days I create things for a stylist to use on the red carpet or in music videos, some days I spend at our factory working out the kinks in production, or at the silk importer selecting fabrics. Each day is different, but there are a few things I do every day: pray, play with my dog, work out, talk to my family, play a joke on someone, and attempt to make someone or something feel beautiful.
What are your three favorite pieces you’ve designed . . . what makes you feel a particular connection to them over others?
My pieces that say Le Cancer Le Fait Cher (fuck cancer or piss off cancer). My customers have stories, battles and victories and losses, and somehow I get to be a part of them with this piece. I love encouraging others, and helping them in some small way fight for what they know to be true and good, and sometimes that is a healthy, cancer-free life. And my Eimear Necklace with vintage scarab . . . it is earthy good. The vintage scarabs I unwrap out of this old fabulous paper from the 1940s every time I make one, and the paper feels so good and rich and full of history and some how when I mix them in with new metal and crystals it creates something that I feel like is very me.
And my new signature envelope clutches. These oversized envelopes are beautiful leather bags that are handmade in New York City . . . the quality of these bags are incredible and I decided they were all going to be lined in Tennessee Orange. They are also very me.
Please tell us what influences your work.
Current fine art, modern art, and architecture all influence my work. I find myself inspired by others whom are chasing dreams. I love learning about powerful women, hearing their stories, and I am totally energized by people who are powerful enough and secure enough to be badasses in whatever they do and be kind at the same time.
What other artists/designers do you look to for inspiration?
I generally keep my head down and work, but I admire Carolina Herrera, Alexis Bittar― and Diane Von Furstenberg is the sexiest woman alive.
Who are some of your dream clients?
I would love to work with Jon Bon Jovi, Gwyneth Paltrow, and whom ever the next First Lady is. I think they are all different and have met unique challenges and created the life they want along the way.
What accomplishments/projects are you most proud of?
Creating a loving work environment. Our company knows how to work hard, laugh hard, and love well. You feel it when you walk through our door. It stays with you when you leave. I also am most proud of the fact that I was able to create something my parents have become a part of. I admire them both very much and to know that they respect what I have built and are now a part of it is amazing to me every single day.
What advice/encouragement can you give to fledgling designers and creatives?
Go for it! Half of success is showing up. Don’t give up. When in doubt . . . sparkle. Take care of your body; it is a reflection of your soul, and if you want to create art you must be healthy both in mind and body. Set goals. Stay humble―you will learn every day and you will fail every day. At the end of the day you can let those failures define you or you can pack them up, stick ‘em in a box, and stand on them, thus making you that much closer to your goal. Find someone who has gone before you, and watch them with an open heart and with open ears, learning from their successes and their failures. Do not align yourself with someone who makes you feel less than you are. Only be with someone who brings out all your glitter, and is better than okay when you let your freak flag fly.
What are some other things you’d like the readers to know about?
Cooking and feeding people is my passion. I have a bad habit of “truffle-ing” everything. Tuesday nights are open door dinner at my apartment—all are invited. I dance often both when people are watching and when they are not. I love college sports more than I should. And I am finally okay with the swirling mass of contradiction that people know as Diana Warner, two parts sparkle, one part grass stains. I hate wearing shoes and can often be seen around the city dancing the night away barefoot―I know it is disgusting. I hate talking on the phone, so don’t call me. I don’t have voicemail, so just buy a plane ticket and come see me. I pray every day, so if you don’t want to be prayed for we probably shouldn’t be friends. I long to have a home I can call my own in Tennessee one day, and lots of kids to fill it with. Because while the other kids in Gramercy Park “summer” in the Hamptons . . . mine will be “summering” on the lakes of Tennessee. And I cannot wait for this fall to show you my clothing collection.
Every parent should know I asked my father what he wanted me to be when I grow up at four years old. He told me he wanted me to be “whatever I wanted to be.” I have never ever forgotten that.