Karolina Zmarlak may have grown up in communist Poland, but she truly has a New York state of mind. After all, her critically acclaimed line has everything NYC women are looking for these days: Structured blazers, flattering trousers, and more than enough black to keep us looking sharp. So, when we got the chance to tour her studio and showroom, we couldn't get to the Garment District fast enough.
What we found was a bevy of basics perfect for us working girls, as well as more prints than we could shake our (print-loving) fists at. We also got a behind-the-scenes look at in-the-works pieces and sketches, and quizzed the designer on all things inspiration and advice. Click through to get a look at all the goods, and find out how this stylish New Yorker got her start in the biz.
Photographed by Nina Westervelt/MCV Photo
How would you describe your line in five words or less?
"Modernist European tailoring with innovative techniques."
Karolina Zmarlak dress, coat, and pants, Jil Sanders booties, Miniature Crystal bangles.
Tell us about designing in NYC, do you have any words of wisdom for people starting out in the business?
"Aim to understand the Garment District. It is a veritable United Nations: Thailand, Korea, Italy, Germany, China, Mexico. As an aside, keep calm and carry on."
What is one thing you want readers to know about your line?
"Less is more."
Do you find yourself designing for your own wardrobe, or do you have a different girl in mind for your clothes?
"I am always on the run, so I want pragmatic, flexible clothing that defines a forward design vision while liberating. I design with this in mind."
What is a typical day at your studio like?
Karolina Zmarlak jacket, top, and trousers, Robert Clergerie wedges.
Where do you pull inspiration from for your designs?
"From the essential design period (modernism) and my exposure — travel and those around me, especially my partner."
How does your Polish heritage influence your work?
"I grew up in Poland during the Communist period, when materials were scarce; this austerity forces you to reflect on and pay attention to the details."
Who are some of your favorite designers to wear, and designers you look up to?
"I am attracted to all arts and designs that employ toil, talent, and technique, and there are several designers, who I think are readily recognizable, who execute on this level."
What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants near the studio?
"My partner in business and life, Jesse Keyes, has made it his life to develop such spaces. He insists we engage in good spatial times — our favorites are the John Dory, Szechuan Gourmet (this is a real treasure) and Hotel Americano fit that bill, and they are right next to our studio and factories."
What is the one piece you can't stop wearing this season?
"I cannot lie, it's my Matadora Jacket."
Where do you shop in NYC?
"Whole Foods, the vintage/antique garage on 25th street, Saks for shoes, The Standard boutique for magazines and sunglasses, Van Alen Books for great design and architecture books."
What is one thing you're always re-stocking?
"Our core valuables...the detailed knits that undergird each collection, and women wear in varied arenas of day into night. And, our seamless, reversible jackets, which are in demand each season."
Do you have any in-office rituals or traditions with your team?
"Since we've been fortunate enough to collaborate with Belvedere — which I love as a Polish vodka — on our fashion films (Matadora and Double Identity) and events, we always have a bottle on hand to celebrate the end the week."
What will fashion week look like for you this season?
"A film, a photo shoot, a setting in a modernist piece of architecture...all catered to create the imagery that expresses this season's design direction."
Karolina Zmarlak jacket, top, and pants.
What can we look forward to from you coming up?
"Our pre-fall collection will debut at Saks Fifth Avenue in June; we so respect the team at Saks, and their visionary commitment to forward design. Also, a newly revamped website."
What is one thing you've accomplished in 2012 and one thing you hope to accomplish in 2013?
"Designing the Inauguration gown for Amy Rule, Chicago's First Lady (Rahm Emmanuel's wife) was extraordinary, and we can't wait until actor Ambeth Davitz shows the (Hollywood) corporate world what's what while wearing our pieces in this Fall's movie, Paranoia, with Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford...I love her work. More importantly, for 2013, we look to continue to create an inspiring, innovative work environment that facilitates our passions to create focused designs."
Fiorentini + Baker booties.