Karen Walker is the amazing New Zealand designer that brought fun back into sunglasses. She started her label in 1988 at the age of 18 and the rest is history. The label, which is now showing twice a year during New York Fashion week, started as a clothing line, but now it includes everything from internationally acclaimed eyewear collections to jewellery and paints. She is being helped in taking the Karen Walker brand to new heights by both her husband, Mikhail Gherman, who is involved in the creative aspects of production, and since 2002, stylist Heathermary Jackson. Click continue to check out our little Q&A with the very talented Ms Karen Walker.
Karen, you’ve started working on your label, immediately after the graduation. What prompted you to start so early, what message did you want to send to the world?
There was nothing out there at the time that excited me so I had to create something of my own.
When and why did you decide to introduce eyewear to your fashion line?
We introduced eyewear in 2005. We introduced it because, again, we couldn’t find the sunglasses that we wanted to wear in the market.
Given the vast amount of choice in terms of eyewear, especially considering the online environment, how difficult is it to come up with new designs and still remain relevant?
Not at all difficult if you have imagination and taste.
Where do you draw your inspiration for all those wonderfully quirky pieces?
We start with a blank piece of paper and draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Our collections have been inspired by everything from 70s African and South American dictators to comic books, toys and candy.
Where do you see eyewear in the fashion context?
The shoes and the eyewear pull it all together.
What is the most difficult part about designing eyewear?
Editing back the ideas.
Your eyewear line has been spotted on a very large number of celebrities. Who were your early adopters and how would you describe the perfect Karen Walker eyewear ambassador?
Our earliest fans include Beth Ditto and M.I.A. Our perfect eyewear ambassadors are interesting people.
Being part of the New York Fashion Week must be a surreal experience in itself. How do you find the whole process?
We’ve shown in New York 14 seasons now and in London 8 seasons before that, so the whole process is just business as usual really. Nothing surreal about it. We have a team and a system and the only surprises each season are what’s on the runaway.
What designer do you admire?
How would you best describe your style?
Favourite pair of sunglasses?
Anything from next season.
Tell us 3 things you never travel without
Sunglasses, iPhone, iPad.
What are your favourite hangouts in Auckland? Are there any attractions that no visitor should miss?
- THE DEPARTMENT STORE – Auckland’s best retail with a great edit of fashion, design, beauty and food. plus, it’s right across the road from Auckland’s best beach, Takapuna Beach.
- THE OYSTER INN – just a 45 minute ferry ride to laid-back, get-a-away, Waiheke Island, The Oyster Inn is the dreamiest little spot there for food and accommodation, hosted impeccably by Andrew and Jonathan, the best hosts in town.
- THE FRENCH CAFÉ – Auckland’s best fine-dining experience and especially wonderful with a small group in their new chef’s kitchen dining room, designed by Katie Lockhart.
- THORNE BAY – Auckland’s best swimming hole, a secluded little gem hidden away at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac. 10 minutes from down-town but a world away with the best views of the gulf.
- FLOTSAM AND JETSUM – the perfect edit of new and old, designed and thrown-together, polished and junk, Flotsam and Jetsam brings out the fossicking Magpie in all who visit.
- SUNDAY PAINTERS – A neighbourhood treasure beloved by Ponsonby locals, Sunday Painters puts together casual, country cooking in a cool way and set against a charming and easy interior. The best bit: the record player guests are welcome to select the records for, anything from Wham! to Cat Power.
- THE GOLDEN DAWN – what started as a temporary bar has become an Auckland institution with a locals-only vibe. Great from early afternoon through to early morning The Golden Dawn has a casual, effortless cool that gives it the feeling of partying in someone’s home. Especially love the music, the bands and the food all topped off by festoon lights and an outdoor open fire.
- BETHELL’S BEACH CAFÉ – open on the weekends from spring through to autumn this wee caravan hidden in the spectacular sand dunes of Auckland’s most dramatic West Coast surf beach, The Bethell’s Beach Café is easily worth the 45 minute drive from downtown. Great at any time of day, excellent coffee, organic homemade cakes and fantastic for summer evening concerts after a walk along the breath-taking beach.
- COCO’S CANTINA – one of Auckland’s best dinner spots, a hip crowd, great food and superb people-watching as its smack-bang in the middle of the red-light district.
Have you visited Eastern Europe? Do you feel there’s a different sense of style in Eastern Europe? Any plans on visiting Bucharest in the near future?
Prague, Moscow and Odessa. My husband’s been to Bucharest, but I’ve not managed to get there yet. I’d love to though. One on a long list of places I’d love to visit.
All photos courtesy of Karen Walker Instagram.