Podcast Ep. 20, KAREN WALKER, BEYOND TRENDS
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EPISODE 20 FEATURES KAREN WALKER
New Zealand designer Karen Walker is one of The Business of Fashion’s 500. Her brand sells in 42 countries, in prestigious stores like Barneys New York, and Liberty of London. She is a New York fashion week veteran, with some very famous fans. Everyone from Beyoncé and Rihanna to Scarlet Johansson, Alexa Chung, Lorde, Lena Dunham, Toast the dog, oh look everyone, wears her sunglasses.
She also designs ready-to-wear, handbag, shoe and jewellery collections as well as homewares. Okay, Karen Walker is a hot brand...
But what does it take to be an ethical one too? How can successful designers incorporate sustainability and social responsibility into their business models? Karen says "ethical values of responsibility, uniqueness, quality and connection, are at the heart of what we do." What does that look like on a practical level?
Karen is engaging with all these issues. She is working with Baptist World Aid Australia on their Ethical Fashion Giude, for example, and has an ongoing collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative. She is highly invested in the process of producing her products and the people who make them, but also in what it means to work as a creative in fashion today, from responsibilities around supply chains to the impacts of advertising and messaging. She also has a lot to say about the deep stuff: the purpose of design. Ultimately, what is fashion for?
We start off this interview talking about widening the lens on beauty and Advanced Style, we discuss beginnings - Karen started out by making a single men’s floral shirt for a musician friend when she was 18-years-old - what’s changed and what’s remained the same. And we look to the future. How can fashion designers meet tomorrow's challenges?
Karen has a longstanding committment to ethical fashion. She is very invested in the process of producing her products and the people who make them, but also in what it means to work in fashion today, from responsibilities around supply chains to the impacts of advertising and messaging, and also the deep stuff: the very purpose of design. What is fashion for?
One thing it's most certainly not for? Disposable trends. "There’s no reason to throw things out at the end of the season," says Karen. "It’s about style.”
BAGS OF STYLE
This tote bag is handmade in Kenya by artisans who are part of the Ethical Fashion Initiative/ Artisan.Fashion. John Reynolds and Deborah Smith’s Federico Garcia Lorca-inspired motifs are intricately screen-printed, embroidered and beaded on each bag, made of 100% East African farmed cotton woven in Kenya. The pom-pom charm features brass hardware reworked from parts of car engines, taps and padlocks, and the iconic Karen Walker arrow handcrafted from recycled cow horn from Kenya. The residue dust from the creation of the horn arrow is then used as plant fertiliser in rural communities. Find out more here.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT...
Collezioni Magazine was the fashion editor's bible before the internet. YES, THERE USED TO BE NO INTERNET. I know! Crazy. And to see the runway pictures, without attending the shows, you had to wait for Collezioni to come out several months later. And it was EXCITING.
Lisa Fonssagrives was a 1950s supermodel, before that was an actual word. This, from her New York Times obituary (she died aged 80 in 1992): "An elegant blonde, the Swedish-born model posed for some of the most famous photographers of the age, including Horst P. Horst, George Hoyningen Huene and IRVING PENN, whom she married in 1950. In the late 1940's, when most models were paid $10 to $25 an hour, she was earning $40 an hour. When most models's careers ended before their 30th birthdays, hers flourished until she was past 40."
Richard Avedon shot for Harper's Bazaar from 1945 to 1965. Read about it here This was an era in which the women in fashion pictures looked like grown women. Impossibly thin and glamorous grown women, but women none the less. Then along came... TWIGGY...
And KATE MOSS...
The 90s and noughties saw the beauty ideal get younger and younger, at the same time as digital photographic retouching became more sophisticated. In this process, we erased character of ageing from much of the imagery used in fashion magazines. It's time to wake up! As Karen says, "cookie cutter" youthful gorgeousness can get a little "cold" and predictable.
We love her boundary-pushing campaigns, like this one, Magic Hands, shot by ARI SETH COHEN of Advanced Style.
"Hands can be every bit as expressive as faces. These Magic Hands speak of a life well-lived and they absolutely have their own stories to tell." - KAREN WALKER
LINDA RODIN (below) was one of the models in the first Karen Walker eyewear campaign shot by Cohen, a New Yorker with a love for lived-in faces. In an interview with Jessica Martin for the ABC, Rodin, suggested the older models phenomenon might a fleeting one. But happily it shows now sign of fading. Rodin and people like Iris Apfel are enduringly fascinating fashion pin-ups.
Old the new black! Why not? We're all headed that way. And these women demonstrate that style has nothing to do with age.
Oh and by the way, Karen says she does not wear her SUNGLASSES AT NIGHT, but that's no reason not to share this:
KAREN WALKER EYEWEAR
Did Karen Walker invent the fashion eyewear market as we know it? Probably. When she launched her first sunglasses collection 13 years ago, there was no such thing. “People didn’t have eyewear wardrobes – I don’t think that was even a word,” she explains. “It was just ‘sunnies’, and they were usually an afterthought. People didn’t buy them to go with different outfits the way they do today.”
Karen was “wearing mainly vintage” back then – or squinting. “The sun was in my eyes! Auckland [on New Zealand’s North Island] can be a sunny place. We saw a gap: no one was giving sunglasses the love that was being seen in other areas.”
"GOOD DESIGN IS WHEN SOMETHING HAS BEEN CONSIDERED...WE'RE NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF CHURNING OUT PRODUCT, THAT'S NOT WHAT MOTIVATES US. WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF IDEAS." - KAREN WALKER
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