In a lot of ways, our nation’s capital can feel like it’s America’s city—we all know about the monuments, the historically significant documents, and the museums. But according to local clothing designer and creative director Will Sharp, there’s plenty in the District of Columbia that remains undiscovered. “D.C. is this hidden little gem… Underneath the surface, it’s just waiting to be polished up.”
Sharp loves being a part of that process of transformation, so 10 years ago, he decided to dedicate himself to a creative life in the city of his birth. “My whole life, I assumed I’d go elsewhere after college.” But right after graduation, he spotted a bike messenger with a D.C. flag tattooed on his calf. “It dawned on me that there were full-blooded, proud as-hell D.C. residents. It made me feel proud of where I came from.”
This moment inspired Sharp to found a creative company called DURKL, which gives D.C. residents a wearable sense of city pride while encouraging independent thinking. And with his partners Erik Bruner-Yang and Chris Vigilante, DURKL has expanded into the realm of food and culture with an eatery called Maketto. “The next steps for DURKL go hand in hand,” Sharp says. “We will continue to blur lines and create a culture around blending scenes and lifestyles.”
Sharp describes D.C. as a very segmented place, full of dualities: creative and introverted; diverse and segregated; modest and proud. “I’ve always felt like a bridge between different worlds, with a sort of duty to expose people to new things.” And he’s inspired by the progress he’s seen in recent years—improved bike lanes and transportation options, more and better parks—all encouraging residents to intersect. “The streets are the best place for everything… the city’s natural lobbies. They’re where you run into friends, people-watch, kill time, smell the air.” Unplanned encounters are the root of creativity, he says, so it’s important to cross boundaries.
Sharp’s billboard art for the GOOD Cities Project addresses this phenomenon by taking a close look at the city’s very visible boundaries. In the 1700s, George Washington and his men marked with stones the boundaries between what were, at that time, separate port towns—now neighborhoods. “To walk on a street that I can imagine as Georgetown and Alexandria. In the very center, there was the federal government district—Columbia. D.C. was carved out by our forefathers to be a special place for Americans. A place of beauty, power, diversity, and change. These original boundary stones are still in place today, and so is the spirit in which they were built.”
Sharp’s work in D.C. is very much about these boundaries and how to cross them, though he cherishes its history and architecture, as well. “To walk on a street that I can imagine was walked on a hundred years ago makes me feel connected.” So he often finds himself walking through the neighborhoods, smelling the fall air, getting a bit cold and popping into a friend’s small business to say hello. “So many small-business owners here are so supportive of each other. I love their energy, their struggle, and the sense of community.”
Sharp is most inspired by the passion of his neighbors, each contributing to the city in their own ways, whether by painting their row houses a bit differently from their neighbors, or by starting something completely new. “In D.C., there’s a quietness on the surface,” he says. “But there’s limitlessness under that surface, too.”
Will’s visual love letter to Washington, D.C., was on exhibition as part of the GOOD Cities Project throughout November.
The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.