Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a significant revival of printed scarves worn in a multitude of stylish ways. Whether knotted around the neck, wrapped around the wrist, or woven through belt loops, this versatile accessory is a must-have investment piece. That’s why when we came across CJW’s illustration-adorned scarves a few weeks ago we had to learn more. Thankfully, the artist behind these playful pieces was more than happy to give us the scoop. Scroll down to read her story, and let us know if you’ll be snagging one for your wardrobe in the comments.
WHO WHAT WEAR: Tell me a little bit about the scarves and where the idea for CJW came from?
CHRISTINA WANG: I’m traditionally trained as a painter. I went to graduate school and got my MFA in fine arts. I [had] a studio out in Bushwick where I was painting, and it just got to a point where it got a little bit lonely—it can be a solitary way of work. Then I was thinking, why don’t I make some scarves or something with some artwork and that would help get the word out about the art? … I became really interested in finding my artistic voice in scarves, which is sort of different than just making paintings and getting really involved in materials and fabrics and packaging and [a] website. … It soon started to take over my work full-time, and that’s sort of how the scarves came about.
CW: I’m very lucky that it was sort of a fortuitous accident that I picked a business product that is fairly easy to work with. It doesn’t really have fit issues, and there’s no trim. It’s a 2-D surface, and it’s very similar to painting, so there are a lot of things that made it a natural transition.
WWW: Are you transferring your paintings onto the scarves, or are they illustrations?
CW: They’re actually all illustrations, because the act of painting itself [takes] a lot longer and it’s a lot more conceptually and artistically … it feels a lot heavier to me, whereas these are line drawings I would do with an ink pen and colored crayon, and to me they have a more childlike type of quality that feels a little more immediate and more personal. So I do those, and they are scanned into the computer and visually manipulated and photoshopped to put them into a pattern. I’m not super good at computer stuff, so it’s very minimal low-tech type of computer work.
WWW: Are the illustrations on these scarves similar to what you were painting before?
CW: I think it’s very similar in the way I mentally conceive them—there are things I encounter on my day-to-day life that I suddenly get really excited and obsessed about, whether it’s a babka I just ate or an activity I tried out, there are just things that make me really excited, and those are the things I tend to be drawn to from a creative angle.
WWW: Yeah, it sort of reads like a dream journal or stream of consciousness.
CW: It’s almost like a real-life Pinterest board. I mark down the types of things that are really exciting or significant. Or things that I can’t get away from in my head that sort of get manifested all together.
WWW: Are you doing multiple runs for each scarf, or are they one-of-a-kind?
CW: We’re still very early on in our work, so everything so far every season has been a new set of drawings. What’s nice is that I’m starting to have an archive of drawings I can refer back to so most of the scarves will have mostly new drawings on them, and sometimes now, instead of having to redraw everything new, I have things I can start pulling from in the back. … It’s technically all new concepts and generally speaking mostly new drawings.
WWW: Have you done any custom orders, and do you plan on incorporating that aspect into your business?
CW: We’ve done a collaboration with Momofuku Milk Bar, which was a really cool one because I’ve been a big Milk Bar fan for a long time. I drew all of my favorite treats and my favorite menu items, and I got to work very closely with Christina Tosi on the creative process, and that was super fun. We also did a custom one for Sotheby’s diamond over the holidays for its corporate gifting program. And I also did one with my old alma mater boarding school, Exeter, with the kids coming up with different drawings that represented the school, and partial proceeds went back to the school.
CW: So we do do custom pieces and different projects in between our two main seasons with organizations or groups or people or businesses that we feel really strongly about. I think that’s sort of a good break where I can also then collaborate with other interesting people. But in terms of making one-off custom pieces, that might be a little difficult because it’s a lot of work to put together one scarf. Oh, and another fun one we’re doing, I’m getting married in October, so the party favor is a scarf I custom-made for me and my fiancé of all of our favorite things. So there are also little passion projects I can do.
WWW: How do you suggest wearing and styling the scarves?
CW: Well, what I like about knotting them up is that every time you sort of arbitrarily grab it and knot it up, every time you wear it, there’s a different part of it that shows. And I like that every time you wear it a little differently, it peeks a little slightly new story …For the smaller sizes, which are 36x36, I actually like wearing those as a headscarf, and that’s probably my favorite for that size. And for the larger one, I really like to travel with it, so I bring it on the plane because it’s quite big and I can use it in lieu of the plane line kit, which I actually prefer.
CW: Each scarf has a different story, which I think is great if you know the entire backstory, but as a consumer, I don’t think that’s super important, because I think the things we’ve chosen are sort of iconic and relatable in their own way. So it’s also for the shopper to have their own little stories. I don’t mind that my very direct narrative isn’t a part of it because I think it allows people to have their own interpretations.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited.
Visit CJW to see all of the scarves, and tell us what you think of them in the comments below.