“How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.” Anaïs Nin
Which is exactly what Marin Camille and Julia Zolinsky are doing, after serendipitously meeting at a museum job in Oakland, CA in 2011. Upon discovering a mutual passion for entrepreneurship, the two blended Marin’s design background and love of vintage lingerie with Julia’s business savvy know-how and love of the creative to launch Blackbird Underpinnings in 2014. Inspired by the indomitable flappers of the roaring twenties and the determined, able ladies of the tumultuous thirties, along with the daring writings of novelist, essayist and female erotica author Anaïs Nin, Blackbird presents a line of elegantly alluring underthings for today’s modern femme fatale.
“Blackbird for her simple elegance, dark feathers and spirited manner. Underpinnings for its nuance, suggestion and old-fashioned flair.”
We caught up with Marin & Julia to discover more about their “aha” moment in working together, what most people don’t know about the San Fran design scene, their top 3 lingerie rules meant to be broken, and what cocktail would you find the design duo sipping if spotted at a bar? This and more below.
1. Tell us about when you first met in Oakland. How did the topic of starting a lingerie line come up?
We met at our day job at a museum where we shared a cubicle wall. We became fast friends and started having lunch together every day, sharing our hopes and aspirations for the future. Marin shared her longtime dream of creating a vintage-inspired lingerie line with an inclusive and empowering message, stemming from Anaïs Nin’s unapologetic persona and sensual writing. Julia was inspired by this vision, the conversation evolved over many enthusiastic lunch breaks, and the rest is history!
2. Was there a defining moment when you both thought “okay, we can do this?”
There was literally a light bulb moment in our cubicles, where Marin was talking about her dream to start the lingerie line, and Julia expressed that she had always wanted to be on the business side of a creative start-up. We looked at each other, a light went off in our heads, and we said “let’s do this!!”.
3. For designers out there thinking about bringing on a partner in crime – what are the biggest advantages, and challenges, of working as a design duo?
We honestly think that we won the business partner lottery. 🙂 We were incredibly lucky to find each other, as we have completely complementary skill sets, while at the same time being aligned in our goals, vision, and values. The advantages of working as a duo are that you have someone to bounce ideas off of, to motivate you when things get tough, to share the enormous workload of starting a business, and to serve as a support system. Entrepreneurship can be isolating at times, so it’s helpful to have a partner who can not only understand what you’re going through, but share in the celebratory times too! A business partnership can be challenging in that it’s an intimate relationship (it’s true what they say about a business partnership being like a marriage!), but if you have a foundation of trust and open communication, it can be one of the most rewarding friendships and partnerships you’ll ever have.
4. Inspired by the daring flappers of the roaring 20s, we love your no holds barred, spirited yet sophisticated approach to lingerie. With that in mind – what are your top 3 lingerie rules meant to be broken?
a. Don’t wear lingerie to please someone else—wear it to please yourself first. If it enhances your confidence and sense of personal expression, it’s doing its job.
b. If the design allows, wear your panties over a garter belt, not under.
c. Lingerie isn’t always meant to be hidden! We love a black bra under a sheer black blouse or a lacy camisole with a blazer.
5. What top 3 lingerie silhouettes must every modern flapper girl have in her wardrobe?
a. A soft bralette and tap pants
b. A step-in romper
c. An opera-cut chemise… all in silk, of course!
6. If you could go back to Prohibition Era and throw a dinner party, what names would be at the top of the invite list?
Well, definitely all of the mavens from our collection, though that party might have to be in Paris. A stateside affair would definitely call for Billie Holiday, Amelia Earhart, Louise Brooks, and Alice Paul.
7. If you had to design from any past decade besides the 20s & 30s, what would it be?
Late 1960’s to early 1970’s.
8. Your brand is locally and ethically made right in your home base, San Francisco. What do you love most about producing there and what’s 1 thing most people don’t know about the San Fran design scene?
We LOVE producing our garments locally and being part of the San Francisco Bay Area design community. What people may not know is that there are hundreds of sewing manufacturers right here in the Bay Area. These factories used to support big brands such as Esprit, the Gap, Levi Strauss & Co., Jessica McClintock, and more. Now that most of the larger companies have moved their manufacturing overseas, the infrastructure remains in San Francisco, but the clientele now consists of a large number of small independent brands (like us!). We have found the Bay Area design community to be warm and collegial, and we are proud to support the local economy and the skilled sewers and contractors that make our clothing. It’s a great feeling to get to know the manufacturers personally and see their process first-hand.
9. Top 5 favorite spots in San Fran?
As we’re headquartered in Oakland and manufacture in SF, we’ll name a few from each beloved city:
a. Gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Chrissy Field (SF)
b. A cup of coffee and a pastry from Miette at the historic Ferry Building overlooking the Bay Bridge (SF)
c. Mountain View Cemetery – one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Oakland, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape artist behind Central Park. (Oakland)
d. Lake Merritt – the best place to take a Saturday morning stroll, eat brunch, hit up the farmer’s market, shop local boutiques, and see Oakland at its finest. (Oakland)
e. The Paramount Theater for classic movie nights. A handful of times a year, this gorgeous Art Deco theater plays vintage films, and and the evening begins with a live organist, an old cartoon and newsreel, and an old fashioned wheel-spinning raffle sponsored by local businesses. (Oakland)
10. What’s next for Blackbird Underpinnings?
This month we are launching two new styles, a silk chemise and a pair of silk lounge pants—just in time for the holidays! In keeping with the collection, the two new styles are named after iconic women of the 1920s and 1930s: Kiki de Montparnasse, the brazen Parisian model, artist, chanteuse and muse; and Sylvia Beach, bookseller and publisher who profoundly shaped the literary landscape of Paris and beyond.
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11. If I weren’t designing lingerie, I would be:
MC: Traversing Europe
JZ: Running a yoga studio
12. If I could have any 1 person in the world (past or present) wear Blackbird Underpinnings, it would be:
MC: Josephine Baker
JZ: Kate Winslet
13. My favorite Blackbird piece is:
14. My favorite lingerie moment in film is:
MC: Can I pick more than one? The corset cutting and the greenhouse scene in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, the lingerie show in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and everything in Henry and June. This doesn’t even include classic films…
JZ: I’m a big fan of the Cell Block Tango scene in the 2002 remake of Chicago. Those are some badass lingerie-wearing gals.
15. On a typical night, I can be found sleeping in:
MC: In cooler weather I like silk pants and a cami.
JZ: A tank and boy shorts (I save the silk for lounging!).
16. If I could pack up and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, I’d go to:
MC: The Amalfi Coast
JZ: Rome, Italy
17. If we were to find you at a bar, you would be drinking:
MC: A champagne cocktail
JZ: A greyhound
18. Brief or Thong?
MC: Lace thong
19. Underwire or No Underwire?
20. Stay-up Thigh Highs or Stockings & Garter Belt?
JZ: Stay-up thigh highs for practicality; stockings & garter belt for fun. 🙂
MC: I agree with Julia!
21. Early Riser or Night Owl?
MC: Usually an early riser
JZ: Night owl!!
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