An outfit that you can both wash in your sink and wear to a five star dinner? Say it isn’t so. Alas, Christina Currey, founder of the nostalgia-infused lifestyle brand Brownlee, wants to assure people that they don’t have to be in a ballgown to feel a million bucks. Named for her dapper grandfather and longtime Southampton resident Brownlee Currey Jr., the label seeks to channel her idyllic childhood memories of her larger than life family into tangible products that everyone can feel at home in. Sign us up!
What’s the backstory to your brand Brownlee?
My grandfather, Brownlee Currey Jr., was born in Nashville and then moved to NYC where he was one of the founders of American Express. He met my grandmother at a cocktail party at the Waldorf Astoria when she was in town from Sweden—he said she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. They were just always immaculately dressed. I refer to the current ethos as a marriage of two coasts; the simplicity of Scandinavian design with clean lines and earth tones with the elevated concept of East Coast luxury. I grew up going to the Hamptons for summers with my league of cousins, going to tennis camp, soccer camp, and watching the sun go down at the Southampton Bathing Corp. My grandparents would always get an award for the most grandchildren at one school! I was never alone without a buddy, sibling, or cousin so we were the Brownlee Bathing Corp. Brownlee is born from the desire to outfit those I love in beautiful and functional clothing.
What was your background before you started?
I had been working for a fine jewelry designer since high school and when I graduated from Vanderbilt, I got an offer to move to LA to be her design assistant and I said, ‘Absofrickinlutely!’ I learned so much about what it means to be a design assistant, the back end of producing a product, and gained a deep understanding of luxury clothing and jewelry.
What’s the journey been like from then to now?
In 2018 we went to a trade show with our four-way stretch antimicrobial swimsuits. We got such a great response, we were prompted to add the other categories. In 2019, we added terry cloth, and it was really getting a lot of traction. Then March 2020 hit. It was a learning experience that was impactful, sacred, and we needed it to some degree to see what we really wanted from the brand.
I want to hear more about your grandparents’ style!
When I look back at photos, they were never wearing ‘a brand’—there were no logos! But you always knew they were wearing beautiful well made clothing. My grandfather wore a cashmere long sleeve polo and khakis to Pilates until he was 91! He was the most wonderful, witty, smart entrepreneurial businessman. I have an entire closet full of my grandmother’s custom [late First Lady-approved couturier] Arnold Scaasi gowns and pieces, which I’ve been wearing with love and adoration. They’re just divine. Equally, I hope our pieces are something they can have for generations. I still have my first samples and they look brand new! It’s important to make clothing with an artisanal concept and thought process. People used to go to a dressmaker and have it made just for them, and that was your Sunday best. Why don’t we have clothes like that anymore!
What’s your offering like now?
My friends lovingly refer to me as ‘the titan of terry cloth!’ I’m not the first person to discover it nor am I the only brand to offer it, but I can safely say that the terry cloth we utilize is the best on the market as I make a point of designing collections fabric first. Our classic French loop is our bread and butter and people come back time and time again for variety and new color options. The microsmooth is unbelievable buttery and divinely smooth, pre-shrunk, and garment dyed. It never shrinks or wears or pills. I think the key to being comfortable is layering and breathable fabrics, and I love a monochromatic look. Beautiful basics are what people need right now.
I love that juxtaposition of ‘beautiful’ and ‘basic.’
There are millions of loungewear and athleisure brands, but modern day nomads want something that’s beautiful, functional, and wearable a few times. Who has time to change after a workout into something else for the grocery store?! We want people to say, ‘You look put together, can I feel that fabric?’
What are some fond memories of your summers in Southampton?
My grandfather bought a potato field on Ox Pasture road for $80,000 in 1967 and finished building a house a year later. I grew up on that front yard, on those steps, in that pool. For us, it wasn’t about a go-to place. It was sand in our toes, family dinners, waiting for the sun to go down and hoping it wouldn’t. It was all about being totally amalgamated with family and the human connection that I experienced walking home walking from the beach or biking back from parties. That nostalgia is very different to the Hamptons I see on Instagram now. The Hamptons is preserved in times past though, that’s what makes it luxury.
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Whose style and influence do you always look to?
I have a style influence per decade! Brigitte Bardot, Jackie O, Cher, Princess Diana, Sienna Miller. I really respect Marie Curie, Virgil Abloh, and I absolutely love Riccardo Pozzoli. I really do find a lot of inspiration in both Taschen and Assoulin books too!
What do you like to do to stay calm and balanced?
I really love going on vacation with my sister Martha, we always try to go once a year. Day to day, being a real human, I really like being with animals and nature. Anything to ground myself, quite literally. And I love, love, love vintage clothing so I’ll dive into the depths of the internet or whatever city I’m in to find pieces.
Brownlee recently hosted a divine family-style lobster bake in Southampton. Peep inside the evening under the stars below!