When women hear the word “Totokaelo” it evokes a feeling of excitement due to the incredible website that always has the best styling and designer clothing one could ever want. The breath taking new store on Capitol Hill, Seattle, which houses the top designers in women’s fashion, accessories and footwear, now includes home furnishings and menswear. We have the incredible talent and vision of Jill Wenger to thank for that. She is the store owner extraordinaire whose shop became a sensation thanks to its impeccably curated pieces, knowledge of design, and how they come together for the client. We had to find out more about her…
(Photo of Jill Wenger by Jennilee Marigomen)
Jennifer: In a previous interview you had done you said that you moved to Seattle shortly after your brother. What was it that appealed to you about the city that made you decide to move there?
Jill: I had been traveling and living abroad for the three years prior. I was ready to pick a place in the US and stay there. I knew I wanted to be on the West Coast and by water. My brother and I are very close so when he took a job and moved to Seattle, I tagged along.
I know that retail is something that you fell into however, it’s pretty clear that you have a strong knowledge of fashion. How did you refine your taste?
Practice. Determination. Perseverance. I enjoy the process of refining. That’s the largest reason I stay so involved in Totokaelo’s creative operations. I value personal growth, evolution and the process of developing a more clear and unaffected idea of beauty.
Did traveling contribute to your taste and culture?
Traveling facilitated to my becoming more globally minded. Which has had a large impact on my taste.
What cities influence your taste the most?
I love the architecture in Milan. It’s super aesthetically inspiring to me. I could walk around for hours snapping shots of hand rails, doors and of balcony details on old apartment buildings. I love Milan.
As for fashion Stockholm and Copenhagen have been influential in exposing me to style that is both directional and effortless. I think the messy top bun is one of the greatest hairstyles that’s ever existed. I love any culture that considers sneakers a dress shoe.
Your store have such a wonderful way of piecing outfits together. The styling model and photography compliment one another. The looks are so subtle but also speak luxury. Do you have a team of people that work on this with you?
Thank you! We like being known for subtle luxury!
I am very involved in the styling . I style all the looks and shoot all the clothes on the model. I have the support of a production team that takes care of all non-model images and getting imagery on the site. Styling allows me to bring the buying process full circle. I select styles based on their being something I can use to create a specific look I’m after. It’s great to be able to execute the vision that inspired me to select a style in the first place.
What is your prior education that contributed to your sharp eye in styling and buying?
I studied design at an art college in Sydney. I learned that whatever energy goes into making something is mirrored by the end result. If I want something to appear effortless and stylish, then I need to approach the process with ease and thoughtfulness.
What I got from my business schooling is understanding the companies that stand the test of time have a clear vision, have purpose and are cohesive. Reviewing case study after case study I learned the importance of clarity and editing. Companies that are poorly defined and unadaptable seem to make a few attempts at reinvention before a slow demise. A company’s purpose should stem from a unique client benefit. Figure out what you can provide people that no one else can, and don’t waiver. That’s my main takeaway from business schooling.
I am a regular online buyer and use the internet to seek out fashion inspirations. Your website is one of my top choices to visit because of your constant additions and great styling. Having one main model, showcasing the items with several photos, and the layout, is all tastefully done. How often do you guys put up new products on line?
We put up new styles everyday!
Is this a a tactical decision for your fans to check out the site more consistently?
We’re building a community and participation is a key part of that. If we want people to participate, they have to come to the site, right? So we create daily change in order to give people a reason to come check it out.
Before Totokaelo you had this wonderful little shop called Impulse in Fremont. It was a destination spot that was very forward for its time. What made you decide to venture into the city district?
It’s a pretty simplistic business model. Ask the right questions and listen to the answers. I asked 40 of my most loyal local clients where they’d like to see Totokaelo open doors. The results were unanimous.
You changed your name to Totokaelo. What does it mean?
I wanted a new word, a blank slate. Something fresh that didn’t have perceptions or meaning already associated with it. And I wanted to like how it sounds. Again, pretty simple. The roots are Latin. Toto means Total and Caelo means Sky. Total Sky. It’s a Latin expression roughly translated as ‘The shell of the sky and all of the heavens’. Western translation ‘The sky is the limit.’ My close friend Mark Kincaid came up with the name. He’s amazing at all things retail-creative and just opened his own mens store in New York called FOG.
I found with both Impulse and Totokaelo that you use the power of the internet to connect with your audience and to build your presence in the fashion community. The Impulse site back in the day was a great convenient way to shop but also your clients could actually interact with one another. Has the internet helped give your store popularity?
Its actually the other way around. Totokaelo has helped the internet gain popularity. JOKE! The internet enables free and accessible sharing of information, which is a huge factor in Totokaelo’s growth. It’s also done wonders to level the retail playing field. If you can dream it, you can build it. And a big budget does not a good project make! Yoda said that. I believe the internet is leading to the democratization of information. Which makes it more difficult to buy popularity and public opinion. So something that’s good and functioning on a limited budget has a better chance at survival and even exponential growth now more than ever.
Your new store is so beautiful and much bigger compared to your last store on Western. You also added furnishings and objects which is a nice extension of your taste. Why did you decide to make the move and to add these?
I’ve have a holistic interest in art and design so the additions came naturally. The interior of Totokaelo is a reflection of my taste and the artists I represent are, for the most part, artists I’ve collected and built relationships with over the years. The expansion felt like a great way to spread the love and create a platform for some great people creating great work. The more artists that are able to make a living off their craft, the better. I’m happy to help out in here.
The move to a larger location was prompted by a shortage of space. My last store was 1200/ft2. The new store is 7000/ft2 and already full!
You are now carrying some of your own furniture pieces. Is designing something you’ve always had an interest in?
Yes! I’ve always been interested in aesthetics as a whole and across various disciplines. I have both a business and graphic design education and the best thing I got from each is a vocabulary to communicate something I’d like to create whether it be a table, chair, look for styling, web feature, new page design, packaging, whatever. I’m a collaborative designer and generally bring an idea to the table, and work through it with whomever I’ve enlisted to build it. I largely select projects based on people. I find someone I’d like to work with and come up with an idea. Through the process of building a piece I learn all about their discipline, tools, engineering. It’s super fun. I like working like this.
We noticed on our last visit to Totokaelo that you had done a collaboration with a designer on a beautiful chair. Which chair is it?
It’s the Olmstead chair.
It is great to see such talented independent designers get exposure and being showcased with some established brands on your new arts + objects project because you have such loyal followers. How do you find the talents that you are representing?
I feel like most of the artists I represent are somehow linked. Part of a community I tapped into.
How has the launch of Totokaelo Man been received? Are your online male buyers as discerning as the women?
Great! It’s new for us and as with all things, there’s a learning curve. Male buyers are MORE discerning!
Can you tell us more about the new space downstairs ?
We renovated a parking garage into a man cave. Well, a white beautiful man cave.
Any new lines you are pleased to be carrying for men?
We’re excited about Undercover, Robert Geller, Jil Sander, Margiela and Rick Owens.
In your opinion, who is the “Totokaelo Man”?
He’s opinionated, strong, and a directional thinker. He appreciates design and wants to communicate his aesthetic and taste level without appearing ‘try hard’.