Sylvana Ward Durrett made a name for herself during her tenure at Vogue, where she rose from assistant to Anna Wintour to the Director of Special Projects. Durrett plans what is arguably the most important fashion event of the year—the Met Gala.
And now she’s turned her focus onto Maisonette.com, the company she co-founded with Luisana Mendoza, when she realized nothing like it existed. It’s an e-commerce space for all things in the luxury children’s merchandise sphere—think Net-a-Porter, but for kids.
Durrett currently resides in a townhouse in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her husband and three children—Henry, 5, Grace, 3, and her youngest, Camilla, who is only two months. They’ve been in their home for four years, but will soon be moving to another townhouse, just a few blocks away. Durrett welcomed the Observer into her home, showing us her eldest son’s perfectly decorated room.
How did you make the transition from Vogue to Maisonette?
We conceived of it almost two years ago. I had two children at the time, and shopping for them was a total chore—a nightmare. You have Net-a-Porter for women’s, or Moda [Operandi]. Instacart for your groceries. As an adult, you have an aggregated source online somewhere for everything you need, except for when it comes to your kids. You’re seeing all these beautiful brands all over Instagram, on Pinterest, and you’re trying to buy them. It takes hours to find their websites, or you’re looking in Europe.
So your experience shopping for your children impacted your decision to create Maisonette?
The amount of time I spent looking for a bed was really insane. It’s the growing pains of having a kid, they get bigger, they have different needs pretty regularly. Not just the need for those pieces, but also with a taste level. In the women’s market or in the men’s market, you have all of these people telling you what to wear. There are trusted sources. But in the kid’s market, there’s no voice anywhere. No one’s telling you what to wear to the christening, and no one’s telling you where to shop for their rooms. We really want to be that for our customers, and be the place they feel will give them advice, and inspiration, but also allow them to actually buy them there.
And you’re still working with Vogue and on the Met Gala.
I’m still at Vogue on contract, consulting. I still do the Gala. I left about a year ago to start Maisonette. I was just at Vogue this week. It’s great because it’s important for me to continue those relationships, and you know, it’s an exciting thing to work on.
How did your experience in the fashion industry influence Maisonette?
The school of Vogue is very much a part of my everyday life. There’s just lessons learned in terms of how you start a brand, and how you grow that brand, and what’s important, which is really the look, the feel, who you’ll align yourself with, really solving a problem for people. All of those things, you know Anna [Wintour] was always on top of that. The second you walk into her office, it’s all engrained in your head. But particularly working with young designers, I worked a lot with the Fashion Fund finalists. Learning about their businesses, silly things, it’s like Business 101 really, but those were all really helpful in launching Maisonette.
What inspired you to finally launch the site?
You have that sense of urgency. I felt like it was now or never. I was having my third [child], at a time in my life where it was a possibility, if I was going to do it at any time it would be now. I didn’t want to wait.
It’s truly a one-stop shop, that was the whole intent. It was really meant to solve the problem of growing with your kid, and getting them everything they need in one place, every time you come. We’re expanding a lot in terms of categories—art has been really big for us. People love to buy art for their kids’ bedrooms! We’re reinventing the way parents are shopping for their kids.
How did your son’s room become the room you want to show off the most?
My kids’ rooms in general; it’s just so fun to decorate them. It’s so lighthearted, less serious. You can take risks. They randomly get into it. It’s fun to do it with them and it can be sillier than your own spaces. Particularly given that I have the resource of my own website, I go crazy!
What’s your favorite part of this room?
A few things! But that’s an Irving Penn pen print [of monkeys on the wall], that when I first started at Vogue was just obsessed with, and drawn to. It was a gift from Anna [Wintour]. They transition from a grown up wall to a kid’s wall pretty nicely.
Tell us about this print of the orange silhouette of your son’s head.
You send the artist, Carter Kustera, a picture of your kid, and he does the silhouette, in a color and he writes the name. You explain to him who your kid is, and he tries to get a phrase that embodies your child. They’re great gifts, they’re personal, I love them. We’re trying to get the artist on the site!
What’s your biggest source of inspiration for decorating a children’s room?
I think it’s your kid’s personality. Henry loves animals, cheetahs, things that are fast, so he has the personality that lends itself to these vibrant bright colors. He’s obsessed with dinosaurs, we have so many books on dinosaurs. Your kid’s room becomes an extension of your personal style. It is just an extension of your own aesthetic, but you can be a little more playful with it.
What advice do you have for people who are decorating kid’s rooms right now?
My biggest piece of advice is to measure before you order. You’ll see something and you’ll think it looks like it’s going to fit, and then it comes and it’s not even close. You’ve gone through the trouble, and returning furniture is not fun. Go get a tape measure and make sure you measure everything because it will save you so much time and misery!