Woman We Love: Karen Walker
If Karen Walker ever had to apply for a new job—she won’t, this is radically hypothetical, but if she did—her CV would flummox any would-be employer. The Auckland-based designer launched her namesake label with $100. She was the first Kiwi to show solo at New York Fashion Week. She counts Rihanna and Alexa Chung as fans.
Beyond her much-loved, elegantly offbeat clothing and accessories, she’s done paint colors, pollution face masks and costumes for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. That doesn’t even account for her hobbies. With Walker we ponder the rhetorical question, what can’t she do? In turn, she answers 15 non-rhetorical questions.
YOU STARTED YOUR LABEL IN 1989 WHEN YOU WERE 18 YEARS OLD. WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW THEN THAT YOU KNOW NOW? Everything! But also, nothing — it’s hard to beat entering a career with nothing but enthusiasm, passion, naivety and not knowing the rules.
WHAT INITIALLY DROVE YOU TO DO YOUR OWN LINE? I just couldn’t find the type of things I wanted to buy so decided to make them myself.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST THING YOU EVER MADE THAT REALLY SATISFIED YOU? The very first thing I ever made was a circular skirt for my Barbie doll. I was about 10 years old. It was a thrilling moment because it was the first time I made something and it worked and that opened up a whole world of possibilities for me.
TELL US ABOUT SPRING '18. WHAT INSPIRED THE SILHOUETTES, PALETTE AND PATTERNS? The urge to set off on an adventure has always been a jumping-off point for our collections. Our new collection ‘Escapism’ is inspired by intrepid journeys; the zoological and botanical explorations of Charles Darwin; and, by the whimsical daydreams of our favorite Victorian adventuress, Mary Poppins.
YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND ARE PARTNERS IN THE BUSINESS – HOW DO YOU WORK TOGETHER? ARE YOU MORE SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT? We’re very similar and very different at the same time. We share a vision and taste and an intrinsic understanding of our brand and its purpose. In terms of differences, Mikhail has an unbeatable ability to create chaos out of order and I have an unwavering need to create order out of chaos.
HOW DOES WHERE YOU'RE FROM INFLUENCE YOU? There’s a sense of ‘outsider-ness’ that comes with being so far away from fashion-central that I quite like. Plus, a historical requirement to be resourceful.
WHAT WAS THE NEW ZEALAND FASHION SCENE LIKE WHEN YOU STARTED AND HOW HAS IT CHANGED SINCE THEN? It was isolated, limited and derivative. Since then it’s become more outward looking and more varied.
ARE THERE ANY UP-AND-COMING NEW ZEALAND LABELS THAT HAVE CAUGHT YOUR EYE? Yeah, there are always new brands coming up which is great. Right now, I really like what the Knitter is doing.
SAY SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS VISITING AUCKLAND FOR THE FIRST TIME, WHERE DO YOU YOU SUGGEST THEY GO? Take a boat ride on the Waitematā Harbour, a walk on Te Henga beach and a swim at Thorne Bay.
YOU'VE COLLABORATED ON A LOT OF DIFFERENT PRODUCTS, ANY OTHERS ON THE HORIZON OR DREAM COLLABS? Lots. We’ve got a very big and exciting one planned for end 2018 but we’re always looking for exciting projects with interesting people.
TOKYO WAS YOUR FIRST STORE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME COUNTRY, ARE THERE PLANS TO OPEN ELSEWHERE? No plans at present. We’ve got plenty going on as it is.
WITH SO MANY PROJECTS ON THE GO, WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX AND RECHARGE? Yoga, reading, dog-walking, tennis, piano, swimming, cooking, movies and a good podcast all do the job for me.
PLAYING PIANO IS ONE OF YOUR NEWEST HOBBIES. WHY'D YOU DECIDE TO PICK THAT UP, AND WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SONG TO PLAY? I picked it up a year ago mainly due to my love of Glenn Gould and Bach. It’s mainly Bach that I play but very poorly and only the easy, wee Minuets and Preludes really. You can tell it’s music but I won’t be performing any concerts any time soon. It’s for my mental health only.
I HEAR YOU'RE A SCRABBLE FAN. WHAT'S THE LAST, BEST WORD YOU LAID DOWN? I LOVE Scrabble and Words With Friends. Can’t remember my best Scrabble word but my phone tells me that my best scoring word on WWF is ‘autistics’ bringing in 138 points.
WHAT IS THE MOST SPECIAL ARTICLE OF CLOTHING, ACCESSORY OR OBJECT YOU OWN? My great-grandmother’s gold fob watch is my most special accessory. So special it barely sees the light of day as I’m too scared I’ll lose it.
Shop Karen Walker right here.
By Joy Pecknold
Photos c/o Karen Walker