Whitney Manney is making moves with her fresh prints

Local fashion designer featured on Peacock's Bel-Air looks to scale up business.
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Courtesy of Whitney Manney

Whitney Manney’s Westside studio swells with energy, creativity, and in-process projects.

Her most recent pelt on the wall comes from Peacock’s Fresh Prince reboot Bel-Air, which featured some of her looks. Manney made scarves, earrings, shirts, dresses, bags, and bottoms primarily for the Ashley Banks character. Some of her items popped up on Will’s love interest Lisa to boot through the first few episodes.

Manney, Harold Smith, and Warren Harvey are all local fashion designers working on the reboot. Show-runner and Kansas Citian Morgan Cooper has made Bel-Air a clown car of KC creatives: Jason Wilcox provides art, Ann Mann Designs created the prince’s crown, Wlaa Style is in the costume department, Amaru Son and Leonard Dstroy’s music is heard—even the on-set barber, Michael Russaw, is from the city of fountains.

“I’m just thankful. I’m humbled even to be considered,” says Manney. “Morgan did a really dope job of including so many Kansas City artists.”

Despite never meeting Cooper, Manney received a request to submit work samples for Bel-Air the day after her birthday in Aug. 2021. Due to the timing, she quite literally couldn’t believe it.

“I’m thinking someone is messing with me,” says Manney. “One of my cousins is playing with me; somebody’s just being funny.”

Manney got to work after sufficiently googling the Bel-Air costume department rep who texted her. Six days after receiving the requests and sizes from Bel-Air, Manney shipped a 25lb box of work to Hollywood with hope and a prayer. She didn’t know if the show would use her work or even like it. She almost forgot about it until a check came a few months later.

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Whitney Manney. // Photo by Lauren Pusateri

Manney has been busy enough to nearly forget her television debut. She’s had a steady rise; each of the past two years has been her best yet.

Aside from winning “Best Fashion Designer” from this humble publication, she became a content creator with JoAnn’s fabric, a wardrobe designer for a pair of tongue-in-cheek Wendy’s digital ads, relaunched her website, and worked full time as a designer for the first time.

“I like to cast a broad net, but it’s my glittery-sequin net,” says Manney. “Whatever makes sense, I say yes to.”

Manney has a maximalist style known for bright colors along with contrasting patterns, textures, and fabrics. As a Kansas City Art Institute graduate with a BFA in Fibers, Manney specializes in ready-to-wear clothing made to order.

“If I put on one of my shirts, I know I’m going to be popping against a sea of polka dots and beige,” says Manney. “Even if I’m just going to the grocery store, why not? I can’t change clothes once I leave this earth, so I might as well do the absolute most while I can.”

Manney says her clothes are for the creative soul. When designing her clothes, she claims to envision the body as a canvas to work with and transform. Sometimes she likes to tell a story, sometimes she honors people such as an underappreciated female architect, and sometimes it just comes out cute.

“I think there’s room for that in art,” says Manney. “I don’t need a torturous story for everything. Sometimes stuff is just fly, and we are gonna rock with that.”

Going forward, Manney has big plans and ambitions. In the next year, she intends to hire a full-time paid assistant to pair with the pro bono assistance of her mother. She wants to ship items to 70% of the states in the U.S. in addition to new retail partnerships and collaborations. This fall, Manney will have a unique collection called The Art of it All, which will feature silks, intricate detail, and beading. She wants to scale up in a way that doesn’t hurt her or exploit anyone—sans, perhaps, her mother. The loftiest goal is to own a brick-and-mortar building.

“As a Black Female Artist, it’s important for me to always be tied into my city,” says Manney. “I want to find a building to have ownership within the community.”

More of Whitney Manney’s work can be found on her website, where you can also purchase pieces from the Bel-Air collection.

Categories: Culture