As Said By


This entry posted on March 10th, 2008

It was the high-necked frills of Victorian and Edwardian children’s clothing that started Karen Walker off this season. “I love all those creamy night­gowns,” said the designer backstage. “And we threw in some street elements,” she added. While the sweetly ruffled and pintucked look-worked liberally here into blouses and dresses-is an idea that has often been tapped in the past few years, Walker is a talented mix master with a vision that’s wholly her own. The designer’s turn-of-the-century-meets-street look had a youth­quake vibe spanning decades, weaving in both sweetness and groov­iness from the sixties and the layered, stripy tee-and-thermal insouciance of nineties grunge. The look gained some of Walker’s charac­ter­istic whimsy with big, colorful my-gran-just-knitted-this pompom beanies, mittens, and even handbags. But not all was layered and access­orized to the hilt. On the simpler side was a terrific chic black textured silk sheath with ruffled shoulders. Walker’s tailored pieces-shrunken tuxedo jackets, blazers, and even slim trousers-also deserve special mention. With the recent opening of her pop-up shop at East Village store Den, New York may soon find that it hearts Karen Walker.

Pin-tucked cotton dresses in angelic white were thrown together with acid-blotched denims and rigid naval pea coats at Karen Walker, who was inspired by doll’s clothes and the Edwardian era. Walker spoke about the airplane motif she developed for the season. “We mixed extremes — inspired by Edwardian childrenswear, lace doll dresses and naval influ­ences of the time, making jetfighter planes look delicate with embroidery and craft aesthetics.” Edwardian rose-print dresses in crimped wool gauze were accen­tuated by boudoir frills and crochet pompom beanies, while silk cotton voiles gave pretty doll-like dresses a sophist­icated city shine. The soft femin­inity of her cream tunics and cinched-waist dresses were countered by tailored tuxedo cuts. Skinny pants and a shrunken double– breasted naval jacket, layered with striped rib sweaters, gave the collection a subtle menswear edge. Amid all this, Walker reinstated her signature vintage American refer­ences by bringing in acid-blotched wide-leg jeans, plaid coats, tanned leather belts and cowboy-fringed waist­coats (US: vests). “We wanted to create anantidote to the softness with taffeta touches. Our fabric stories combine street, elegant and old-school elements,” she said. Lush painterly red velvet suits, energised tangerine silk blouses and cobalt wool flannel coats looked especially great for autumn when worn with metallic Jonathan Kelsey shoes in orange, hot pink and copper.

Karen Walker has always been a go-to label if your idea of sartorial bliss is cute balanced with a dangerous edge. For fall, the New Zealand-based designer stayed true to form. Floral-printed silks were cinched with a wide, tough belt and worn over thick black tights. And what could be more fun (with a dash of sexy) than a red velvet tuxedo suit worn with flat, metallic-hued leather laceups?

What a difference a baby makes! The lullaby versions of Ramones classics that were playing while the audience arrived for Karen Walker’s New York show were an early indic­ation of new arrival Valentina’s impact on the designer’s autumn/winter collection. Swingy, pintucked smocks looked like grown-up dolls’ clothes. A white ruffled dress tied with an outsize tartan bow was straight out of an Edwardian nursery. And there were shrunken half-belted coats that evoked Princess Anne five or so decades ago. But Walker anchored this girly-girl sweetness with acid-wash jeans in denim, velvet or corduroy, in her signature high-waisted style or a leggy pipestem version. And the frills, ruffles and florals were balanced by sober grey flannel cut into a tux and a biker jacket. Walker’s tailoring gets tauter by the season. There was also gutsy outerwear in the form of an oversized fringed vest, a grey sheepskin, and a shaggy-fronted waistcoat. Put these together with the pintucking and what you got was an idiosyn­cratic take on the pioneer spirit. Appropriate enough — motherhood’s a new frontier.

Artsy Acid Wash-Ahh, Karen Walker. Season after season, we can count on the daring New Zealander to bring us something truly cool and covetable. These acid-wash pants skip the retro and go right for the purely modern.