Interview Series: Karolyn Pho
California-born, New York-based Karolyn Pho is a relatively new face on the design scene. She launched her eponymous collection in 2012 and began showing at New York Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2014, and she is steadily making a name for herself. The stylist-turned-designer, who is known for her minimalist-yet-feminine wares, has received some impressive nods from an array of industry publications (think: the cover of WWD, positive reviews from Nylon, BlackBook, and Cake – just to name a few, and a Paper Mag shout out as one of the 10 Designers it was Watching for Fall/Winter 2014). Oh, and she already boasts a significant list of stockists that includes Satine in California, West LA in Dubai, Beaute in Japan, Melange in Kuwait, and Raised by Wolves in New York. Pho, now 25, says her brand’s aesthetic is based on the silhouette she shows pretty consistently from season to season, and certainly reflects her young, yet sophisticated customer. We caught up with the designer who talked about putting her name on her brand, NYC v. Los Angeles, what she has learned about the business of fashion, and more …
The Fashion Law – How old are you and where are you from?
Karolyn Pho – I am 25 years old from Los Angeles, CA.
The Fashion Law - Tell me a bit about your brand.
Karolyn Pho - The Karolyn Pho collection is designed for the modern, young professional. A woman who is not so defined by age, but rather her presence in the modern work force. The collection boasts clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic that uniquely emphasizes feminine curves. The modernity of the collection’s silhouettes and fabrications are bolstered by the relationship between form and function – a masculine concept applied to a feminine aesthetic.
The Fashion Law - The word “minimalist” comes up a lot in connection with your brand. With so many brands at the moment from Celine to young brands focusing on this aesthetic, how do you think your brand is different?
Karolyn Pho - I’m not trying to regurgitate a concept and I’m not trying to be different than the rest. My intention is to create something new, beautiful and offer a fresh perspective … for myself. It’s a completely selfish approach, but I don’t think there’s any other way to be organically creative.
The Fashion Law - You were based in Los Angeles but have since moved to New York. How do you think the fashion scene and the fashion customer is different in NYC vs. LA?
Karolyn Pho - The LA market relies heavily on relaxed and casual execution. It’s simply the nature of the west coast — laid back, easy, and comfortable. Life in NYC is based around efficiency, controlled chaos, and momentum. There is a structure and complexity that exists in the NY fashion scene.
The Fashion Law - From your experience thus far, do you feel that New York takes the building of international fashion brands more seriously than Los Angeles or facilitates it better?
Karolyn Pho - It’s not my place to say which city takes brands more seriously, but I will say that NY has the upper hand in facilitating international brands because of it’s proximity to Paris, Milan, London, etc.
The Fashion Law - What have you learned about the business aspect of fashion so far?
Karolyn Pho - The industry is fickle and persistence is key. Work is never done.
The Fashion Law - You’re not a formally trained designer. How did you learn to design?
Karolyn Pho - Design fell in my lap when I began costume designing for music videos and short films. Working on surrealist pieces really pushed me to create from concept, rather than foraging for period wardrobe. In these instances, I was challenged to develop garments from my imagination, which was my initial step towards design.
The Fashion Law - Do you ever worry about your designs being copied? Is this something you’ve encountered?
Karolyn Pho - Working in fashion now-a-days, you learn to accept that designs will be copied and distributed within weeks. It’s happened to almost every designer I know, including myself. The thing is, as designers, we can conceptualize new ideas all day, everyday. That’s our job.
The Fashion Law - Any words of wisdom for other young designers?
Karolyn Pho - Stay strong to your voice and your concept. Don’t waver. At the end of the day it’s your name and it’s your brand.
The Fashion Law - Speaking of which, your brand is literally your name. Is there an extra element of pressure since you are so obviously attached to it?
Karolyn Pho - I named the brand after myself for that very reason. It’s my name, it’s me, and it’s my reputation … So naturally, the brand is propelled by the same expectations that I have for myself. I feel I’ll always be chasing the end of a rainbow, and I’m absolutely fine with that!
The Fashion Law - When you are not working, how do you like to spend your free time?
Karolyn Pho - I’m always planning for my next trip even if its just a weekend getaway upstate. Removing myself from the everyday is an incredibly important practice. It keeps me sane, inspired and helps to keep my priorities straight.
The Fashion Law - What are you obsessed with right now?
Karolyn Pho - Right now I’m obsessed with having my afternoon French 75. And also, Terence Koh.