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Wilster Set for Barney’s Debut

With years of design experience behind them, Sarah Wilsterman and Mimi Levitas are stepping out on their own with the contemporary line Wilster.

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With years of design experience behind them, Sarah Wilsterman and Mimi Levitas are stepping out on their own with the contemporary line Wilster, which will hit Barneys New York next month.

The collection consists of supersoft cotton and cashmere fabrics made into tops, dresses, leggings and skirts. There is a cotton and nylon short trench jacket with extra large buttons and a best-booking long black cotton top with pockets. The collection wholesales from $50 to $145.

“There is a mix of vintage-inspired dress shapes with a modern versatility for any age or body shape,” Wilsterman explained of the design. “It’s fun, comfortable and sophisticated. That was the idea.”

Wilster came to be when the business partners decided it was time to stop working for others, take their experiences in the business and work for themselves.

“You come to a point in your life as a designer when you realize that you have to just follow your dream,” Levitas said. “I have put everything I have into this company. That’s how much I believe in it.”

When Wilsterman, a native of Los Angeles, graduated from UCLA with a fine arts degree, she could only think of a career in design and wouldn’t rest until she got there. Her father was a scientist working for NASA and her mother a designer of satellites, so Wilsterman said they weren’t supportive of her career choice. Needing money to survive in Los Angeles, she began working at the Coffee Bean on Sunset Boulevard, where she got to know some of her famous regular customers.

“There were always celebrities coming in for coffee, but I was mostly interested in getting to know the designers,” she said. “Richard Tyler was a regular and so was Henry Duarte.”

One day, Wilsterman worked up her confidence and asked Duarte if he needed any interns. Soon she traded lattés for rocker fashion.

After working with Duarte, Wilsterman moved on to Richard Tyler and then to Arden B., where she was a designer responsible for wovens. After three years there, Wilsterman went to Guess as senior wovens designer. She worked there until she met Levitas, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, with 20 years’ experience in design at companies such as Guess and Bebe before opening her own line, Opera by Mimi. After leaving that business, Levitas worked on the designing and manufacturing of sweaters for brands like Diane von Furstenberg, Tocca, Joie, Three Dots and Seven For All Mankind. After meeting Wilsterman, the duo decided to start Wilster, where Wilsterman designs each silhouette and Levitas puts the finishing touches on the product before it hits the rack.

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Mimi has really pounded in me what works and what doesn’t,” Wilsterman said. “She has pushed me to focus, which has made me an even better designer.”

Besides Barneys New York, where Wilster will launch with its capsule resort line, stores such as Fred Segal, Intermix and Nordstrom have picked up the collection for spring selling. Levitas said she expects to reach $5 million in first year wholesale volume.

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