Katiti Kironde is looking to perfect the white blouse.
“I have always hunted for that great white shirt,” says local designer Katiti Kironde, sounding like fashion’s own Ahab. Fortunately for the elegant former model, her story has a happier ending than Moby-Dick.
After never finding “just the one,” Kironde decided to produce her own line of perfect white “bloushes,” as she playfully calls her shirt/blouse combinations. With decades of design experience – including work for Laura Ashley, House of Bianchi wedding gowns, and other national retailers – the Harvard graduate knew just what she wanted for herself and other chic women: a variety of luxurious white shirts that were neither froufrou nor tailored for men.
Branded “Katiti,” the collection of 20 styles is part of a clothing business Kironde recently started with her husband, architect William Winder. Based in Cambridge, the company is called Tortue. “It’s French for tortoise,” Kironde explains, “as in slow and steady wins the race.”
“A full collection of just white shirts? I thought it was pretty risky,” says Jessica de Guardiola, owner of 5s Public Relations & Special Events/Studio 5 Showroom in the South End, which represents the Katiti line. “Buyers are used to selecting from loads of styles and colors, so it was a challenge at first. But when they look closely, each shirt takes on its own identity.”
“It’s the little details that make all the difference,” says Kironde, who obsesses about everything from collar proportion and cuff trim to the perfect button for each design. Made from high-end natural fabrics, the shirts retail for between $250 and $300.
Local boutiques like Gretta Luxe in Boston and Wellesley and Looks in Harvard Square were among the first to carry the shirts.
For feedback early on, one of the people the designer consulted was Glamour magazine editor Cindi Leive, as Kironde has a longstanding relationship with the publication. In 1968, she made history with Glamour’s “10 Best-Dressed College Girls” issue, becoming the first black woman ever to appear on the cover of a major American fashion magazine.
She is equally proud that her award-winning college wardrobe was mostly of her own design. As the daughter of a former Ugandan ambassador to the United Nations, Kironde developed her sense of style while living in a variety of sophisticated European and American cities.
“People don’t think of fashion as a serious pursuit,” says the remarkably youthful-looking 63-year-old, “but I think fashion reflects the times. The past few years, it’s gotten way out there. But in our current economy, people want to return back to basics.”