Karen Karch is making her debut at COUTURE this year in the Next Wave salon, yet she’s no stranger to design. A 25 year veteran of jewelry design, she’s also been on the front line working with clients, first in her NoLita boutique and currently in her Gramercy Park area store, since 1996. Her jewelry is edgy and distinctive, containing seemingly contradictory qualities, much like her personal style. I’ve been friendly with Karen for years and was thrilled when I learned she’d be joining us at COUTURE this year, so we took a little time out of our mutually hectic schedules to connect over lunch and talk shop, and dig a little deeper into some of Karen’s design influences.
COUTURE: For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been very interested in fashion; who are some of the designers you admire?
KK: I love Rick Owns, Alexander McQueen, Haider Ackermann and Marc Jacobs. I’ve loved Nicholas Ghesquier since he was at Balenciaga and now that he’s at Luis Vuitton, I’m interested in Luis Vuitton! I’m also really into Greg Lauren, who is a nephew of Ralph Lauren; he’s a painter and creates clothing that is re-worked army surplus, or a white shirt with “Beauty in Imperfection” written in marker. He has a very unisex sensibility.
COUTURE: Are any of these sensibilities influencing your designs in any way?
KK: Men’s jewelry has been a lot more on my mind these days, so I’m looking to fashion for inspiration. Men have responded well to the textures in my jewelry, they like that they can tell that somebody made it. I have dog tags already, and I’m exploring more ambi-sexual, unisex pieces, even doing similar things that I do for women, just with different proportions.
COUTURE: What else about fashion influences you?
KK: The thing I find most influential and inspiring about fashion is the runway! That’s when these designers show this balls out creativity! It really challenges my bravery and forces me out of my comfort zone. Working with clients one-on-one I can sometimes fall in to the trap of constantly asking the question, “Can this sell?” But I realize that my clients want to see that way out there creativity! They may not want to buy that big, statement piece, but it can inspire them and they’ll possibly be drawn to the more every day pieces that come out of the bigger picture piece.
COUTURE: Where did you grow up? Did that influence you in any way in your life and/or work?
KK: I was born in Syracuse and we moved to El Paso when I was 10. While I really missed the seasons at first, I developed an intense love of the desert and now have property in New Mexico, near El Paso. We are currently working on designing a house to initially use as a vacation home, then later a place to spend half the year, and eventually “retire.”