66 Magazine Issue 4 Summer 2018 - Page 51

Collaborations have become a big part of the business and while much consideration is given to each approach, there was no hesitation when Disney came knocking in late 2017. They wanted Karen Walker to create a limited-edition collection celebrating Mickey and Minnie’s 90th birthdays, as their exclusive designer partner in Australasia. “It was an immediate ‘Yes’ without even asking any questions,” says Walker, “because it’s Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. How could you not? The amount of fun that you can have with that as a designer is limitless.” She picks up a pair of oversized white spotted rose-pink sunglasses shaped like Minnie’s distinctive bow. “These glasses are so intrinsically us... but it needs that Mickey and Minnie element to go that far into that fun space. That’s taking it to another level that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.” The collection launched globally in early November and these glasses, along with several other pieces, sold out online less than a week later. When the pressure of collections and collaborations ebbs, there are carefully scheduled holidays with Mikhail and their 10-year-old daughter Valentina, but it’s always New Zealand the family comes back to. “This is home,” says Walker emphatically. “I did feel that pressure to be based elsewhere, but it was just never enough. You still have to get on a plane every other week, but this is home.” She agrees that her innate “New Zealand-ness” informs her design and the business itself. “There’s a casualness here… that’s why you see streetwear mixed with more elegant elements; that’s very much part of our work. And in business it’s the expectation around honesty and straightforwardness that comes with living here.” Reflecting on the past 30 years, Walker notes her pride in building a successful business that is more than just a label. “You know you’ve got a brand when you can cover the name and know who it is: whether it’s on product, in store, on social. That’s what separates a brand from just a label, or a trademark.” And while she acknowledges that celebrity sightings “move the needle” business-wise, she says she gets as much of a buzz seeing someone in the street in Karen Walker. “If I can see they’re wearing our product or they say, ‘I bought this for my daughter’ or whatever the story is, I love that. “There’s an ongoing thrill of having that community around me, who appreciate what we do. They’ve probably got a million other brands they appreciate too, but if I’m a little bit of that, then I’m happy. Left “It’s Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. The amount of fun that you can have with that as a designer is limitless.” Below Karen with official Karen Walker studio assistant, Laika the Labradoodle.