Wildfang Co-Founder Emma Mcilroy Talks Rihanna, Music Inspiration, And Tomboy Style

Wildfang looks.
Photo: Wildfang

Tomboy is in. In case our style icons (and ruthless gender benders) Aaliyah and TLC didn’t make that clear, look more recently at Peter Som’s NYFW show, Rihanna and Beyonce BOTH wearing Givenchy menswear right off the runway and En Noir’s very menswear inspired first womenswear collection. Women have claimed men’s clothing with a newfound vigor and those who are anxious to join in, but can’t quite afford runway, can turn to Wildfang.

Co-founders Emma Mcilroy and Julia Parsley came up with the concept for Wildfang while working for Nike: a brand for all the women who find themselves shopping in the mens section. Three years later, it materialized, first online and now with a Portland-storefront selling over 80 brands, half women’s that use a masculine silhouette and the other half men’s or unisex that use a more feminine silhouette. Since opening its doors in March, Wildfang has attracted tons of loyal shoppers and followers, including Ellie Goulding and Tegan and Sara, who recently teamed up for a Wildfang contest. The brand just started its own line of button downs that almost completely sold out (last we heard, there were fifteen left, so hurry up!) and continue to work with musicians on monthly mixtapes. “I think it’s a happy coincidence that the fashion world happens to be focusing on it right now,” says Mcilroy over the phone. “But we see tomboy as much more than that. We see it as a movement. This girl’s been there for a couple hundred years, so we’re just trying to offer her the stuff that she’s been looking for.”

MTV STYLE: What sparked Wildfang?

EMMA MCILROY: Basically Julia [Parsley] and myself found ourselves in the men’s department at Urban Outfitters several years ago. I was looking at a very provocative graphic tee of Kate Moss, the kind of thing you’d never find in the womenswear area, and Julia was looking at a men’s blazer with patches on the sleeves. She was holding it and said to me, “Why don’t they make this s*** for us?” and I couldn’t answer the question. I said, “Do you think other people would want this stuff too?” She was like, “Absolutely.”

So then you did three years of market research before launching Wildfang. Now how do you define “Tomboy style?”

On one end of the spectrum, you have the Rock n’ Roll—what we call “The Rebel”— which is a very liberal, relaxed look. The baggy, oversized blazer or the red jeans, the baggy t-shirt. You’ve got the “Utilitarian Tomboy,” workwear inspired. Think Amelia Earhart. She’s rocking the overalls. You have what we call the “Street Tomboy” or the “Urban Tomboy” like Rihanna. Her Timberland or Red Wing boots with sweatpants, an oversized men’s crew and a beanie. To the more jockey look, the prep rocking the button up, all the way down to at the end of that spectrum you have the very “Conservative Sophisticate.” Think Janelle Monae. It’s a massive range of girls from a style perspective. This style and attitude represents a lot of girls in some way.

Why do you incorporate music into the brand?

Oh, well, because she [the “she” Wildfang exists for] told us she wanted it. Our girl’s a massive music—I was gonna say “whore,” but that’s not the right word. She’s a big music fan. There’s a lot of DJs and stuff like that that follow our brand. We’ve worked with DJ Kitten, we’ve worked with DJ K. Marie. We work with a lot of artists and musicians and in many cases they’ve come to us—Tegan and Sara, Sirah, Gossip, Hannah Blilie. In many cases they’ve said, “Hey that thing you’re building, it reflects me and who I am and I want to be a part of it.”

Who are some of your musical tomboy style icons?

There’s a ton. We believe there’s a little Wildfang in most woman honestly, but Patti Smith and Blondie are both icons for us. We would absolutely love to work with either or both of them at some point. I think they’re very independent, free-spirited, strong-willed women who have changed the path for everybody who came behind them.

Rihanna wears Fall/Winter 2014 Givenchy menswear.
Photo: @badgalriri Instagram/Getty Images

Now Rihanna’s wearing menswear straight off the runway.

I love it. Rihanna’s a tough one for us because she plays all over the board. She also does the hyper-sexualized thing which is not true to our brand, but that’s why I love what we’re doing. You don’t have to rock it head-to-toe seven days a week. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about choosing when you want to play in that part of the spectrum. That’s certainly true of me. Over the weekend, I was at a black tie event wearing heels and a mini-dress, and yet, today, I’m rocking men’s sweats, a men’s crew, and boots. I think that’s part of the charm of this movement. It allows you to be who you want whenever you want. I think the fact that she can rock pieces straight off the men’s runway is testament to what we’re trying to create.

She’s kind of perfect at bringing sexy and tomboy together.

Yeah, it’s just saying that other people have created boundaries, like, you can’t wear this or you can’t be that, and she keeps saying, “Well, f*** it, I’m gonna be whatever I want to be.”

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