66 Magazine Issue 4 Summer 2018 - Page 48

Three decades later there are five Karen Walker stores in New Zealand, her brand retails in 42 countries (including Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Harvey Nichols) and encompasses clothing, eyewear, jewellery, bags and fragrance, as well as ongoing collaborations. Walker herself has ranked in the fashion industry’s highly respected ‘Business of Fashion 500’ list since its inception six years ago, her inclusion (among just 113 designers this year) marking her as a global industry figure. In person, she is professional and precise. She sips a takeaway coffee as we talk in the showroom of Karen Walker HQ, a nondescript brick building a short walk from Ponsonby Road. When the photographer starts to shoot, she knows exactly where the best light is and her best angles. She is, after all, the face of the brand as well as Head Designer and Managing Director. Not one to follow trends, the designer describes her brand’s aesthetic as “chic meets eccentric” – a phrase first used by a fashion writer – but which Walker says sums it up perfectly. “Our work is always based around contrasts and that was in that first Liberty shirt. There’s a sense of whimsy, sense of fun, sense of adventure, but always that chicness and sense of eccentricity colliding.” This style has kept Walker’s fans with her over the past 30 years, and drawn new followers, some famous faces among them. A who’s who of celebrity cool fills the official Karen Walker Instagram feed, from Lady Gaga to LeBron James and even the Duchess of Sussex, who wore several pieces during the recent royal Pacific tour. Key to the continued innovation is her creative partnership with husband and Creative Director of the brand, Mikhail Gherman, whom she has previously described as being “ahead of the Zeitgeist.” “That [partnership] is the core of the brand and the business. He lives only in the creative space and is given tasks and deadlines and projects, but requires a lot of time to be free within that space. That might mean business strategy, marketing, imagery or product. Anywhere there’s a creative decision required.” For her, it’s the work itself that inspires. “When it’s gone from a mark on a white sheet of paper to a finished product… you get that little frisson of creative energy that comes out of it, that feeds you. The inspiration isn’t like, ‘I was in the market in Marrakech’ – I’m not that person.”