When asked to describe the mood and aesthetic of her mama-motivated fashion brand Sonnet James, Whitney Lundeen’s response couldn’t have been more poignant. “She’s a dreamer and she believes in magic,” Whitney explained, “And she creates whatever kind of world she wants to live in.” Well, we were more than a little giddy to discover that this playful zest for life carries over into Whitney’s home and lifestyle, too! Below, Whitney shares her perspective on life as the feminine facet of her family of four, plus she offers us a peek into the play-filled rooms of her bright and colorful home.
What’s the story behind Sonnet James? How did you choose the name?
I am first and foremost an advocate for children. And I believe that the best way to support children is to support their mothers. Sonnet James was created to help mothers feel ‘young at heart, present in the moment and more playful with the ones they love.’
I didn’t find out the gender for either of my two pregnancies, so I had both a boy and girl name picked out. I had a dream that I had a little girl and her name was James so I was convinced my first son was a girl and I was supposed to name her James. He came out a beautiful baby boy, but the name still meant a lot to me. My second son was a surprise, too, and the girl name for that pregnancy was Sonnet. I put the two names together and the company is sort of the daughter I never had.
Your shop is so pretty! What is your creative process like?
The first thing I have to do is unplug. I need quiet and time alone. My essential supplies are a pen and pad of paper. Once I clear my head, the ideas start to come. I’m an introvert, so this is actually how I recharge—spending time alone in my head trying to create something beautiful. I also get a jump-start if I visit a museum, watch a beautiful movie or read a great book. Anything that inspires a mood, a lifestyle, a dream or even a color palette can serve as inspiration. I feel the energy in my heart like a fire has been lit and I know it’s happening.
And surprisingly, desperation, deadlines and even procrastination all work in my favor. One of the best dresses from our new spring line was picked up from my pattern maker on the way to the photo shoot! I can start working on a collection a year before it’s due (to my deadlines), and still my very best ideas will come at the very last minute. I’ve just had to accept it. It drives everyone nuts, but especially my pattern maker, Lynn, who is producing these new ideas in the final hours!
What would you consider your “big break” when it comes to your business?
My big break was when Design Mom agreed to post about the dresses on her blog. I had hand-sewn those first dresses, and at the time, I didn’t have a clue how I would produce the dresses. But after that post, everything kind of took off!
Sonnet James is smart, funny, romantic, playful, strong, gentle, practical and extravagant at the same time…but most of all she’s a dreamer and she believes in magic and she creates whatever kind of world she wants to live in.
How has your work evolved since you began your own label?
I’ve been able to hire help! I have one full-time employee and a long-distance team that is incredible. Plus, I’ve hired a babysitter for 20 hours a week, which frees me up and enables me to be so much more productive without feeling guilty about my boys being bored or neglected.
I understand better how I work and give myself what I need and trust myself more. I’m also under less stress financially, which is a double-edged sword creatively. Less stress equals less stress! But less stress for me also equals less motivation. It’s harder to get out of bed at 6 a.m. than it used to be!
What type of woman do you have in mind when you are designing?
I think a lot about Audrey Hepburn, Miss Honey from Matilda, Jane Birkin—but mostly, I think about Sonnet James, my alter ego, as they say!
Sonnet James is smart, funny, romantic, playful, strong, gentle, practical and extravagant at the same time. She’s very natural, healthy, vulnerable, honest and a little bit of a rebel. But most of all, she’s a dreamer and she believes in magic and she creates whatever kind of world she wants to live in.
How has your view of work changed since becoming a mother?
My career was much more selfish before I had kids. I was working for myself and not for a purpose. Ninety percent of what gets me out of bed and keeps me going is the necessity to take care of my boys. My view of work has changed a lot, too. I’m trying very hard to be in the mentality of working to live and not living to work. It’s a tricky balance.
What was the biggest surprise to you about having children?
I finally found true love.
What is the most valuable thing motherhood has taught you?
Patience, compassion and the realization that every person you encounter is somebody’s little boy or little girl, so treat them accordingly.
What advice would you give to a woman about to have her first child?
I was given this advice: Don’t panic! And every time you see your child throughout the day—even when they just walk into the room—light up and let them feel how excited you are to see them. Read from the very best children’s literature and sing to them from the moment your child is born.
Anything that inspires a mood, a lifestyle, a dream or even a color palette can serve as inspiration. I feel the energy in my heart like a fire has been lit and I know it’s happening.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
- “Put chips on your sandwich!” -Liz Lemon
- “Stay soft.”
- “You got this.” (I tell myself this approximately 100 times a day)
Did the aesthetic of your home change after you had children?
Yes! Now I’m 100-percent justified in filling my house with stuffed animals, twinkle lights, Lego bins and children’s books. I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I will keep all these things long after they have left home. Every home should feel playful, creative and magical.
What rooms in your house seem to get the most use?
Currently my bedroom, because I spend a lot of time working in bed. The boys come to chat or play by me while I work, at least one of my boys sneaks into bed with me almost every night and we watch movies together on my laptop. I love my bedroom.
What keeps you inspired to create new collections each year?
There are so many things! My love for fashion, the thrill of solving problems through design, the challenge of keeping things as simple as possible while still creating something functional and interesting.
Who inspires you the most in fashion?
Iris Apfel and Italian men.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Changing the world!