Catching Up with Emerging Designer Karolyn Pho

When we met with Karolyn Pho this past October she had only just shown her first collection designed in New York and now, not even four months later, she’s preparing to present her debut collection at New York Fashion Week. Despite the usual chaos associated with Fashion Week, Pho is calm, cool and collected.  The obvious dissemination of this confidence into her clothing is probably what we love most about the eponymous label.

We stopped by to catch a quick glimpse of her mood board and discuss her inspirations, her design process and her plans for the future.

What’s changed since we talked in October? I am going to guess a lot.

A lot has changed since then. Spring/Summer was my first collection in New York. So that transition from LA to New York really affected that collection. This new collection is me being more comfortable here and having received a lot of feedback from this community, really trying to add it in and be mindful of it. Which helped me grow a lot as a designer and as a person in general. This whole transition phase has been a great leaning experience. And now I am here and I can’t believe it.

On the fashion calendar!

If you told me this a couple months ago I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s absolutely surreal.  I feel blessed and so thankful.

That must have been quite a change going from first collection in New York to showing at Fashion Week?

It’s so surreal. From last season, where I was just getting my feet wet and receiving feedback, to this.  And taking all of that feedback and infusing it in this collection but still keeping my concepts and aesthetics. That was the main evolution.  I took the community’s response and really tried to focus it and push it toward the collection. If the editors and buyers can see their notes from the last collection and compare them to the new collection and be happy, then I am stoked, because that’s exactly what I was trying to do. And that’s out of respect. Yes, you should have your own voice but at the same time you need to respect your community. These are the people supporting you.

How did that cross-country move from L.A. to New York affect your collection?

If anything it gave me more confidence in the collection. I was doing something similar in L.A. and I just don’t think the community there was as receptive to it. When I brought it to New York people were really feeling it. When the community says, yes, we’re into it, that’s everything, especially when you’re in New York. It really validated for me that I am doing what I should be doing.  New York really pushed me to my limit, pushed me to my edge. And I think New York does that for everyone, in whatever occupation. There’s a really fun energy here.

KPho FW14 Inspo board

What was your inspiration for this collection?

Well here’s my mood board (see above.) The way my mind works is kind of like a Venn diagram. I have two circles overlapping with two different ideas and whatever meets in the middle is what I take as the backbone for the collection. The left side is darker while the right is lighter with much more vibrant colors. These are clippings that I’ve gathered over the past couple of months and none of it really made sense until I printed it all out, laid them out and saw what my mind was trying to get to. And it all plays well together.

I am calling this collection “Self-Preservation”, as in the idea of protecting oneself for the purpose of moving forward; that ability to move to another life if you will, to whatever your heaven or your afterlife is. My collections always have some sort of religious undertone. I take a general interest in it. I don’t really know yet what I believe except that I believe in a higher power and all my collections have this feeling of what is purgatory, what is afterlife? My last collection was called “Unknown”.

Do you have any daily routines?

My daily routine is that I don’t have a daily routine. I don’t know what you call it because it’s not ADD or OCD. But like I have to be working on at least five different projects. And I like that. I don’t have to feel like I have to do any one of them right now because creatively I can’t force myself to do something it just comes. I just let it go when it happens, when I am feeling in. And that sounds super hippie-dippie but I don’t know how else to explain it.  My routine is that I have no routine.

What about if you’re in a creative rut?

I go for a really long walk and this is going to sound insane but I play the same song over and over. I walk seven miles listening to the same song and I don’t know what it is but the monotony of it all gets me thinking, Walking helps, music always helps. Movies sometimes too, I am by no means a cinefile but I do appreciate a really cinematic film.

Does your background styling for film still affect your design process?

I can’t say that what I was doing then is so much different than what I am doing now when I’m conceptualizing. You’re trying to tell a story and create a character and show how that character lives in the story.

If you had to pick a film for this collection, what type of film would it be? Who are the characters?

I can’t help but think of that movie I Am Love with Tilda Swinton. It’s the characters, the time, the movement, the space, the pace and the music in the film.

Favorite piece from the collection so far?

I can’t pick a favorite. Okay, that’s a lie I do have a favorite. It’s this rabbit fur tank top. It’s really the look in general. I am pairing it with a pair of slouchy, baggy tuxedo pants and it’s so formal but so andro and so masculine. I love that. I don’t think there’s a sexier, harder look.

We loved your exploration of textiles in your last collection. Has that carried into this collection as well?

I love experimenting with textiles. Every collection that I do has a similar silhouette. That keeps the consistency in the brand. Where I have room to play is in the color, fabrications and textures and I am really heavy on that. I love finding weird quirky things and adding it as trim, just a little touch of this and little touch of that. Everyone wants to wear something that they are comfortable in but at the same time they still want to be different and unique and those little touches really help with that.

Did you have a goal for this collection?

Industry approval sounds bad. But from the last collection I got so much feedback from the community that I really tried to keep that in mind and push that into the new collection and make it stronger and build it. That was my main goal. The concept is always there but as a designer I am still growing and that feedback helps so much.

What is the biggest different between this collection and collections past? 

I think silhouettes. There are certain silhouettes that I think are beautiful and conceptual but from a market standpoint maybe you can’t sell it. So I still have my conceptual pieces and I get to show them but they’re not the backbone of the collection rather they strengthen it and are building blocks for it. I feel where I’ve grown the most is in creating tangible relatable pieces that have the concept and idea but are so much easier to wear. I really played with different materials and different color ways. That was my main goal, making it more tangible to the people.

Do you have any advice for young artists?

Be true to yourself. This is so lame but I was drinking tea this morning and the tag on the tea said “know that you are the truth” and I was like wow, this is the perfect day to have this little tea bag. And I think what I want to say to young designers is you’re the truth. You are your voice and you are your concept.  Stay strong to that. Don’t waver. At the end of the day it’s you, and it’s your name and it’s your brand.

Do you have a strategy going into Fashion Week?

I am a control freak so I’ve always had a game plan but to be honest this time, I don’t. I’ve done as much as I can. And everyone I am working with is so on top of it and that helps so much. I am not worried, I am nervous but I am not worried. It’s all there.

What do you hope comes from this experience?

It sounds terrible but this whole act is totally selfish. This collection is for me. I obviously want people to enjoy it and there’s sales and yada yada yada but really at the end of the day I just want to see a beautiful show and I want to know that I can do it. It’s so rewarding even just to see the collection done and then presenting it is, I am lost for words. I may cry! I don’t know.

I can understand crying.

Yeah, there are heavy emotions. But I have to be honest after it’s all done, the designing that is, I immediately detach myself from it. Because when I start working with a stylist for instance who’s saying do this, do that, I can’t get my feelings hurt. And especially with a collection being shown on a runway, other people have opinions, and once it goes to sales buyers have opinions. And that’s something I have to be okay with listening to on the business side. I have to be receptive without getting defensive.

How do you do that?

I start thinking about the next collection. It’s like a bad break up. You just have to move on to something else and not think about. That way it doesn’t hurt so badly.

When we talked in October you described the girl who you imagined wearing your collection, is she the same girl for this collection or different? 

It’s always going to be the same girl and the same silhouettes. I don’t want to veer too far from off from that. That’s the consistency in the brand. I want people to be able to come and find that certain something. However, the colors and fabrications will be forever changing.

What’s that certain thing?

I want them to shop Karolyn Pho when they want something that will make them feel confident, comfortable, professional, classic and elegant on a day-to-day basis.  You should dress how you feel!

What are your future plans for your line?

I just want to continue doing what I love. And I want to be able show again next season!

Watch our film on Karolyn Pho here.

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