Barbie dolls get criticized for setting unattainable body image standards and we’ve gotta agree: If Barbie was a real person we would never be friends. She seems just a little too high maintenance. And a lousy conversationalist. But before we write her off, let’s thank her for the untold inspiration she has visited upon some of our favourite fashion designers.
Karen Walker is one. Although you mightn’t know her face you’ve definitely lusted after one of her dresses or even own some of her iconic sunglasses. Rihanna loves her. Florence Welch loves her. We love her. And she loves Barbie. Sort of…
“I fell in love with fashion when I was seven, thanks to Barbie!” As a child, Walker passed time stitching hundreds of skirts for her Barbie. The seeds were sewn, so to speak, and after enrolling in fashion college straight out of school, the rest, as they say, is history.
Upon meeting Karen Walker, we’re immediately struck by her commanding presence. The New Zealand native is striking to look at and exudes a strength that’s both imposing and totally inspiring. We can picture her in a turn of the century gentleman’s parlour arguing astronomy and evolution with radicals and poets.
But as we enter her Sydney hotel room on the eve of her Ten Year Eyewear Anniversary event, we can hardly wait for the chance to rifle through her suitcase.
As we frantically dig through her accessories and cosmetics, well aware that this is every woman’s fantasy, we maintain our class and dignity. There is a reason this designer has amassed a cult following: She produces cult products. This is no exaggeration: Karen Walker sunglasses have the power to complete an outfit.
Hanging out as we try to play it cool is Walker’s husband Mikhail Gherman, who functions as Creative Director for the fashion label. Having worked as a partnership since the beginning, you get the sense that these two have a shared eccentricity and quirkiness that stamps its vision on the brand. Colour, bold patterns, clothes that wow.
It’s endearing to watch their interactions, as Gherman chats about everything from the genius of David Byrne, to the art of choosing albino models, to the finer points of cake. They form a fascinating duo, and we can’t help but slightly envy their daughter, Valentina, who gets to be around this level of creativity night and day.
For Walker, beauty is something that comes from within. Her daily skin routine is minimal. “Nothing beats plenty of sleep to keep you sparkly, but I add to that plenty of yoga, and Osmosis and Aesop for skincare.”
Proving that health and happiness trumps any products, her one piece of beauty advice for her young daughter is simple – “NEVER SMOKE!”
It’s funny because Walker’s subtle, barely there look is the kind you might expect to see in a Jean-Luc Godard film where the actresses do nothing BUT smoke.
All this, combined with her French gamine pixie ‘do, and she is hopelessly chic.
All you need, is confidence. And Walker has it in spades.
Oh, and cheekbones. Great cheekbones don’t hurt either.
Photographed by Tim Ashton