On February 14, Birdies will be celebrating its 12th anniversary. We spoke with owner Peregrine Honig about the shop and the philosophy behind it.
Two years before Birdies debuted, Peregrine Honig’s first fine art prints with Landfall Press were purchased for seven major collections, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, Harvard and Yale. She felt equally trapped and free when it came to how she wanted to define herself. She was printing in Chicago, showing in New York, and creating small wearable pieces in her studio between larger bodies of work. Enter Birdies.
Birdies began in 2003 as an art installation of pretty underwear silkscreened with Honig’s line drawings—she was 25. She tied two laundry chords against the wall and hung the garments up with clothespins on Valentine’s Day. The opening space immediately received national attention and continues to garner international press today.
“My inspiration for Birdies came from lace. It’s the ceremonial material of all stages of life. Birth, sex and death,” she says. “Conceptually, my work is delicate and disturbing—deceptively simple executions of complicated subjects. My line documents early sexual awakenings, the visual manifestation of disease, and the social anxieties of realized and fictional characters. By illustrating stifled habits, residual adolescent vulnerability, and issues of beauty and popularity, my imagery documents trends in fear, private and public, commercial and independent.”
Today, Birdies carries beautiful European and local and emerging designers with Honig’s drawings printed on a line of cotton boy shorts.
Everyone has a different experience at Birdies. To make customers feel comfortable, Honig explains it simply: “Lingerie is the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night, so it is a very personal narrative. What is closest to your skin determines your day. Poorly made, ill-fitting under things are irritating, unhealthy and disposable. As a nation, we have gotten into a bad habit of buying in bulk instead of choosing where we shop, being selective, and purchasing with consideration.”
Honig and co-owner Danielle Meister select and sell beautiful, well-made layers. Birdies’ lingerie fits all body types, carrying bras for “cupcake caps to full melons,” and slips that vary from amuse bouche to five-course-size ranges. Their swimsuits are luxury items because as Honig says, “It’s better to have one well-patterned garment that fits perfectly than seven cheaper things that sort of do the job.”
As for the big anniversary, Honig feels that owning a business is powerful, wonderful and stressful at any size and more importantly, “slow and steady wins the race.”
Honig throws the Fahrenheit Valentine Ball every year and opened Birdies on the same day. The Fahrenheit Valentine Ball started as a gallery space happening and has become a Mardi Gras Society Party with a love theme as well as a nod to the success of Birdies. This year’s theme is I LOVE ICE CREAM, complete with pastel-punk attire.
When it comes to choosing inventory and designers, Honig does so carefully. She’s looking forward to collaborating with Rachel Rector on the West 18th Street Fashion Show, “I love the event and I adore the people on the board. It’s one of my most consuming and rewarding roles,” says Honig. She is also excited to be the first boutique to carry MADI underwear. For every MADI undergarment purchased, a simple, modest pair is donated to a rape crisis or domestic abuse center.
Honig is also very proud to be producing locally with Contour, a post-plastic-surgery garment manufacturer. “I’m currently looking for investors who understand the sensitivity of this business’s goals as All Is Fair will be the first brick-and-mortar store to focus on transgender undergarments,” she says. “So I’m researching that culture and its needs in order to create a line of basics for people transitioning.”
Honig credits her fantastic team for her success. El Dorado, Wenzel Steel and C & G construction are working with her on making the space amazing. Stephen Jordan and Megh Knappenberger, are helping with marketing and vision. Laura and Miranda Treas are designing and testing binders that fit well and won’t internally bruise wearers. Youngest sister Esther Honig and Mark Allen are helping her navigate social media.
Honig recalls one of the most memorable moments in Birdies history this past summer when Homeland Security “threatened to confiscate our limited-edition run of locally printed Take The Crown cotton boy shorts—unforgettable.” But her favorite part of having Birdies?
“Opening the door.”
Congratulate Honig in person and browse and purchase elegant lingerie while you’re at it. For hours, visit birdiespanties.com. Also look for our interview with Peregrine Honig, “Breaking Boundaries,” in the February issue of Kansas City Spaces.