KAREN WALKER // Optical Collection

High-End Design from Down Under

Born and raised in New Zealand, Karen Walker launched her eponymous fashion label in 1987. Since then, her designs have become a constant fixture at runway shows across the globe. Karen’s love for creativity not only applies to apparel, but also includes eyewear design. On the eve of her first prescription eyewear collection, we connect with Karen in our SPECTR interview.

Hello Karen. Let’s start with a general question: Which characteristics should a successful designer possess?

Curiosity and a unique handwriting.

And do you have all these?

I hope so.

You not only design fashion, you also create accessories and glasses. Aren’t these completely different product areas?

Well, they’re all fashion so the essence is the same – it’s all about creating a feeling. In terms of functionality, of course there are differences, but the intent is there across everything we touch.

You first applied your touch to eyewear when you launched your debut collection in 2005. Why?

To create eyewear that would make people happy.

How would you describe your design philosophy?

Everything we design comes with the intent to put a smile on people’s faces.

Do you follow a specific color code?

We don’t have a set code for everything we do, but our eyewear features our own CrazyTort, shiny black acetate and metallic that reappear every season as well as often dusty, slightly “off” colors thrown together.

Speaking of ‘throwing together,’ should every human have a wardrobe of eyewear to match their outfit choices?

I do think that having a few different options for your eyewear makes pulling together a great look that will give you joy that bit easier.

However, this kind of eyewear arsenal can be costly to assemble… 

The question isn’t about cost, it’s about value – what value do you get out of any product in your life? How often do you use it? How long does it last? What does it mean to you when you use it? How does it make you feel? My husband’s been wearing the same pair of KAREN WALKER »Deep Freeze« he got over ten years ago. He’s worn them twelve hours a day, for 365 days for a decade – and he’s very happy with them. Other people have many different pairs of glasses. Some even buy their glasses from a $1 shop or from Canal Street. There are lots of choice out there and it all comes down to the individual and how they value things.

And to what extent is this compatible with your insistence on using high-quality materials?

We’ve always demanded excellence in our materials as well as our make and, naturally, our design.

Quite recently you launched your first optical glasses collection. What was your motivation?

We’ve always made sure that the majority of our sunglasses are prescriptible and many of our clients wear them with clear prescription lenses, myself included. This is the first time we’ve created a range specifically for prescription lenses, taking into consideration all the many things germane to this category.

The shapes are clearly ‘quieter’ than your sunglasses. But are there some common design elements?

The optical range has to be lighter than the sunglass range, so naturally that means less metal and acetate. As a result, it’s harder to get that pumped-up feel that’s intrinsic to our sunglasses. However, the prescription styles have the strong graphic shapes and drama that we’re known for from many of our strongest silhouettes, not to mention our arrow branding and our love for detail.

How many models does this optical collection include?

There are 50 SKUs across 16 shapes.

That’s a major undertaking. Do you handle all designs personally or are other people involved in the design process?

There are four of us on the creative team. I’m head designer. We connect most weeks on something-or-other within the creative process.

What do you get inspired by when designing eyewear, especially optical frames?

Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere. For this first optical range, it was an opportunity for us to finally celebrate the high school spelling bee.

Like your glasses, your visuals are also very extravagant. Once you’ve also stood in as a model yourself. How come?

I don’t know about extravagance, but our storytelling is never limp. There’s always a strength to it. Otherwise, why bother? For the »Transformers« line, I was the model and that was central to the idea as that series of images was all about the sense of disguise and dressing-up that a fresh pair of sunglasses gives you. The feeling of stepping into a new persona for a moment – the transformation.

Speaking of new personas, your label is also very popular among actors and celebrities. Care to do a little namedropping for us?

We have many fans around the world who love wearing our glasses and I’m always thrilled to see them. Whether it be in my local coffee shop or on a celebrity’s Instagram feed. Last week, Robert Downey Jr. wore our glasses, yet again, and I always get a thrill when that happens. But in the last few months, we’ve always seen them worn by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion and that’s thrilling for us as well.

What does the typical KAREN WALKER customer look like?

I don’t think there’s a typical look to our customers. I’m constantly surprised and delighted by how our customers put their looks together and how we fit into their creativity.

Find out More about the Brand Karen Walker.

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