Updated: Jul 7
Los Angeles-based designer Wendy Mullin talks about her fashion tribute to Harper Lee’s iconic story and the 1962 film.
Like so many fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, Los Angeles-based designer Wendy Mullin fell in love with Harper Lee’s seminal story when she was a kid, and her affection for the 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck, Brock Peters and Mary Badham, soon followed. “My best friend, Jenny, and I just loved this movie and book so much,” Mullin recalls. “We would act out the scenes; I was Scout and she was Dill. For some reason we thought it was so funny to yell, ‘My lord, Aunt Stephanie, you almost gave me a heart attack.’ We’d say it over and over, cracking up.”
The film later inspired Mullin as an artist. “Since the ’90s, I would just smoke pot and watch movies, put them on cc for subtitles, take photos of the TV on pause and make collages and little stories,” she says. “To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic people love all around. Good theme.”
That’s the idea behind the pair of T-shirts Mullin has included in her Built By Wendy collection since the early 2000’s. The graphic T’s feature Mullin’s original artwork highlighting a pair of iconic scenes: Scout in her ham costume, coming home from the school play, and later as she sits with Boo Radley (played by Robert Duvall in his film debut) on the front-porch swing. What was it about these particular two moments that inspired her? Says Mullin simply, “I connect with getting lost and being found.”
Other pop-culture inspirations throughout Mullin's T-shirt collection include tributes to 1970s favorites, from Mean Streets to Bad News Bears and Ice Castles, films she terms “probably not ‘classic,’ but these are all my classics. I like color [vs. black-and-white films] and more pop culture. I mean, I like Sunset Boulevard — but no, not my main jam.”
Born in Chicago, Mullin founded her label in 1991 and has since gathered a following of artists and musicians that includes Sofia Coppola, Zooey Deschanel, Michelle Williams, Jack Black and Justin Theroux. Her line includes a full women’s ready-to-wear collection, while she also designs custom guitar straps, but it’s her graphic T-shirts and pop-culture references that seem to attract her biggest fan base. All-natural fabrics — cotton, linen, wool and silk — are key, Mullin says, while she also focuses on working with women-owned businesses to craft her designs. “I have a few manufacturers I’ve worked with overseas, [all] women-owned. I make only a very small quantity per style, so it's hard to find manufacturers here [in the U.S.] that will work with me,” she adds.
On July 11th, To Kill a Mockingbird will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its publishing; why does Mullin believe both the story and film continue to resonate with fans? “I think ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ is one of the most classic film themes there is,” she says. “It’s Storytelling 101.”
Featuring original artwork, Built by Wendy’s graphic pop-culture T-shirts retail for $45 each; click here to view the full collection.