Discovery: Karie Laks
ABOVE: KARIE LAKS IN NEW YORK, APRIL 2015. PHOTOS: MICHAEL SCHWARTZ/DE FACTO INC. STYLING: JULIE RAGOLIA/JED ROOT. MAKEUP AND MANICURE: ERIC POLITO FOR ART DEPARTMENT. HAIR: ERIKA SVEDJEVIK FOR L’ATELIER NYC. STYLING ASSISTANT: HANNAH LACAVA. PHOTO ASSISTANT: NATHAN MARTIN. MODEL: SAMANTHA ARCHIBALD/MAJOR MODEL MANAGEMENT. CASTING: CRYSTAL BUREY FOR MICHELLE LEE CASTING. SET DESIGN: ALANA MUELLER/MARY HOWARD STUDIO.
“My clothes are day-to-evening-to-day, there is no ‘walk of shame,'” says American fashion designer Karie Laks of her debut collection. What she means is the garments are imminently covetable, relatable and familiar, yet fresh. Laks has found a sweet spot in the marketplace by creating ladylike workwear that transitions easily to the dance floor and back, sans that “been there, done that” feeling. “I want women to feel comfortable wearing, and re-wearing, my clothes. There’s absolutely no shame in repeating looks.”
The California-native (and former ballerina), melds crop tops with shimmering, ’50s-era circle cut skirts, and slyly deploys sporty, dance-inspired silhouettes with slouchy evening trousers. Some garment names reference classic ballets, such as the “Giselle,” a multilayered tulle skirt named after the romantic dance choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.
We met Laks at a hidden gem on the Bowery, supposedly Basquiat’s former apartment and workspace.
NAME: Karie Laks
HOMETOWN: San Diego, California
ALMA MATERS: University of Southern California and Parsons School of Design
FIRST MOVEMENT: I grew up in San Diego with three brothers; I was the only girl. Through ballet and the community of that femininity, I became obsessed with fashion. I also played sports. I would go from school to ballet, to sports, and all my friends were confused, but the juxtaposition of those uniforms inspired me. Dance gave me an outlet to see things in a really beautiful way.
ADULT BEGINNERS: I went to USC for International Relations, but wanted to get more into fashion, so I studied a little in L.A., and then I did an internship at French Connection in Milan. It was mostly sales and showroom, and I studied a little Italian as well. The woman I worked with took me around the city and really mentored me. She also took me to a beautiful show, Etro, I believe, in a church, and it really opened my eyes.
I went back to L.A. and I worked with an independent designer. She mostly repurposed vintage silk scarves. They were really beautiful, but difficult to scale for production.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: I eventually moved to New York and enrolled at Parsons. Luckily, I was able to do an accelerated version of my courses, but it was intense. I got the draping, sketching, pattern making foundation credits, and interned at Zac Posen and Catherine Malandrino. I also worked in house Vera Wang and Proenza Schouler.
Vera Wang was great experience, but the corporate culture can be overwhelming, especially when you want to express yourself creatively. I worked in production and design at Proenza. That, too, was a lovely experience. It really opened my eyes to the great thought and detail that goes into each collection, and you see what a big operation it takes to execute each collection. It was impressive. What I really admire is their continuation of education as they build collections. Like “let’s go to the library to learn about macramé.” Of course you can be drawn to it visually, but to learn how to produce it, and manipulate it to create your own version…that’s where the fun is. Remaining curious and figuring out ways to create your own.
BRANCHING OUT: I had finally spent enough years getting that education—in sales, in production, and in design—that I felt like I could take the leap of faith to create something of my own. I love painting, architecture…I try to look at everything, not only fashion, but industrial design, too. Valentino is really emotional for me. The collections are like listening to an album where you’re not skipping tracks. Every look, one after the next, is just so beautiful. I love de Kooning, especially his late period. Ellsworth Kelly’s shapes, or Franz Klein, Robert Motherwell…art where there’s not too much going on to look at, but understanding why you’re drawn to something so simple. Simplicity and elegance really appeals to me. I love Grace Kelly, she’s classic. Audrey Hepburn, this is all very cliché, but Charlotte Rampling, too! I’m dying to see her show at the Park Ave Armory.
ONWARD AND UPWARD: It’s been in my mind since I was in undergrad. [I was] conflicted by studying a traditional subject— of course you need to know about international relations— [and] wanted to pursue something more creative. I was always reading W Magazine—most people were looking at the images, but I was interested in the stories, the brands, the credits. You can’t just come out of thin air, people do it, but I believe in getting your feet wet, training, and learning before doing.
BALANCING ACT: I love the idea of communicating beauty. I just love textiles. I love Lurex; it’s eye-catching. Anything metallic, without overdoing flashiness, if you can contain it, there’s something special and wonderful about it. Women want to feel elegant, but relaxed. Effortless, but sophisticated. Less is more. I’m inspired by vintage. Living in L.A., going to the Fairfax flea market.
I’ve been to the Paris flea, but I love the unstudied-ness of Fairfax. Sourcing vintage is the beginning of the design process for me. Reconstructing pieces. That’s where the fun comes from for me. I find beautiful pieces, and play with sample yardage, manipulate vintage and just play.
FOR MORE ON KARIE LAKS, VISIT HER WEBSITE.