Nony Tochterman at home in the House of Petro Zillia(Photos by Wild Don Lewis)
Walking under a spectrum of shiny, colored tiles and through the doors of House of Petro Zillia is a bit like entering Willy Wonka’s factory if his everlasting gobstoppers were garments. Everything is bright and fun, saved from being garish by an artist’s eye that pairs lavender and turquoise with gray; pink and red with brown; plaid with stripes; and rainbows with everything. But even more than the bold colors and patterns, it’s a childlike, whimsical spirit that defines Petro Zillia. A wool suit matches the upholstery of a midcentury chair, skirts are dotted with cheerful felt flowers, a Day of the Dead skull on a cashmere sweater has Frida Kahlo’s eyebrows, fitted jackets have heart-shaped elbow patches, and a coat opens to reveal a silky cloud lining — “so you can say, ‘I’m walking in the clouds,’” smiles the line’s designer Nony Tochterman without a trace of irony. There are hints of Alice in Wonderland, such as dresses printed with Lewis Carroll’s text, and a blouse with clocks swirling across it — reminders of the rabbit who is always late. You’ll also find handbags and wallets with cute leather appliqués, like a cameo on punky plaid, and Tochterman’s signature rainbow on a tweed bag with yellow-leather handles. Even the shopping bags are special: sewn from colorful, mismatched fabrics with vintage-ribbon handles.
But it’s not just movie stars and stylists who are in love with the youthful designs. Back at the real House of Petro Zillia — Tochterman’s home — her 7-year-old daughter and youngest client, Romie, greets me in a mini Petro Zillia hot-pink leopard-cashmere hoodie, a green T-shirt and jeans. “Paris was wearing the same outfit as me today,” she announces, referring to another of the designer’s devotees, Paris Hilton. Then she starts doing the robot, singing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” I ask Romie if I can peek inside her closet and she leads me by the hand to her room, sliding open a door to reveal an explosion of color, netting, lace and flowers. It’s like princesses gone wild, and I don’t know who might be more jealous, Romie’s classmates or me.
“She’s a diva in the making,” says her mother indulgently, telling me that Romie knows exactly what pieces she wants from each season’s collection. “She gives me orders, are you kidding? She looks at the look book and she says, ‘I want this, I want this.’ But I’m not gonna make her everything she wants . . . I’m not going to make her a couture dress. She tries, though.”
Tochterman obviously adores motherhood. During the work day she’s on the phone with her kids constantly; her chunky homegirl hoop earrings bearing the names Etai and Romie are further proof that they’re never far from her mind. And at the end of the day, though she loves what she does, Tochterman realizes that it’s just fashion. “I try not to take myself too seriously, not to take this business too seriously,” she says. But make no mistake: Despite her playful pink hair and easy laugh, this is a woman with big ambitions. “I don’t want to just be the icing on the cake,” she declares. “I want to be the cake.”