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Icon of the West – Karen Walker

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Karen WalkerIf she set out at an early age with a dream of dominating the world of international fashion we would certainly have to say that Karen Walker is well on the way.

Karen Walker is a name known throughout the Western World. It is a name to be reckoned with in the fashion capitals of London, Paris, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Sydney and elsewhere. The top fashion magazines talk about her. Karen Walker designs are sold in 200 cities in 30 countries. There are more than 140 KW stores. The Karen Walker label is worn by such glittering personalities as Madonna, Rihanna, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway, Claire Danes, Liv Tyler, Alexa Chung, Florence Welch, Zooey Deschanel, Kelly Osbourne and Bjork.

That’s quite an empire for the Swanson woman who had achieved all this while still in her 30’s. The Epsom Girls Grammar graduate was on a fast track from the day she left design school. She developed a very distinctive style of cool, high casual, women’s wear, emphasising print and colour and the contrasting of opposites; masculine and feminine, tailored and street, luxury and non-luxury.

Within five years of leaving college, she’d opened two Karen Walker stores and was selling her label in Australia. Within eight years, her masculine style had attracted the attention of Barney’s New York, the luxury department store chain with outlets in New York, Beverly Hills, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas and smaller centres. Here the edgy new look from New Zealand sold alongside Yves St Laurent, Christian Louboutin, Fendi, Givenchy and other household fashion names.

The trademark style helped make 1998 the year that launched Karen Walker into the world’s consciousness. Madonna, at the height of her fame, came knocking to purchase a pair of Walker’s “Killer Pants” to wear at that year’s MTV Awards. The style also gave rise to “Daddy’s Gone Strange,” the title she chose for her first international Runway Collection, developed for the 1998 Hong Kong Fashion Week. Now big news, she went on to showcase her “Live Wire” collection at the 1998 Australian Fashion Week, in Sydney.

As a coming giant of the New Zealand industry, she was one of the “New Zealand Four” group of designers to show at the 1999 London Fashion Week. She was there, and at the Australian Fashion Week in 2000 and then stepped up another level entirely, with a solo show at New York Fashion Week. She was the first New Zealander to achieve this recognition.

In these two years 1999 and 2000, the fashion press also caught “Walker fever” and her work received rave reviews in the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Elle. In Britain, Time Out London profiled her as one of the magazine’s six favourite designers showing in London and I-D magazine lauded her as one of the best designers in London. The same magazine also later selected her as one of the world’s 160 most important fashion designers.

In 2007, Marie Claire, one of the world’s most prestigious women’s style magazines, selected Karen Walker to receive the Prix de Marie Claire Award for the fashion industry’s most creative talent.

Two years later she was a key figure in the creation of The Department Store in Takapuna, billed as a new take on the traditional department store concept, that brought together the best in beauty, art, interior, fashion and food.

In 2011 she was invited to create costumes for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Stravinsky Selection.

Today the Karen Walker name is seen on designer jewellery and eyewear together with a range of Resene paint colours sold in New Zealand and Australia.