The preeminent New Zealand fashion designer has finally crumbled and offered her many fans the bridal collection they have been asking her for, including and extraordinary fine jewellery collection…
In Karen Walker’s Ponsonby office, the fashion designer and her husband, Mikhail Gherman, are laughing about how many times he proposed before she accepted. “It was twice a day every day for two years,” Walker says.
The pair have been married for 28 years, and in business together for 30 years. Walker has designed collections of clothing, sunglasses, jewellery, handbags, and fragrances, and collaborated with Sephora, Disney, Madewell, Uniqlo, Blunt and Resene. This month, she is finally launching her first bridal collection.
Karen Walker Atelier is a strikingly broad-ranging collection of 12 dresses, two suits, a fine jewellery collection involving well-conceived ring sets, and four styles of veils.
There are long, elegant, dreamy dresses, shorter, fun frocks, and chic suiting. There’s a fluid, silky crêpe de Chine, a highly textured bubble jacquard, a luxurious taffeta and a sweet dotted tulle, and a breathtaking botanical lace embroidered with glass beads. Fabrics have been sourced from Gratacós, a storied Barcelona company that produces textiles for couture houses like Chanel.
The collection is accessible, though, with shapes and fabrications that would flatter many different figures and all styles made bespoke for the client. Prices start at NZ$1450 for dresses and NZ$3250 for suits, which includes a dialogue with Walker, and measuring and fittings with her team in Auckland. For brides in a hurry, there are also two styles that can be worn off the rack, and that also come in black.
What unifies this collection, and what you notice at first glance, is a certain nonchalance that is unusual in bridalwear, although thoroughly characteristic of Karen Walker, who has referenced the jauntiness of the 1920s and the free spiritedness of the 60s in previous collections.
Some of her most enduring and beloved design flourishes are traceable — balloon sleeves, a swooping low back adorned with a floppy bow, pie-crust collars, a spaghetti strap, sweetheart neckline.
These are not starchy dresses for simpering brides who will be trapped at the top table beside a towering cake. These are danceable styles, some of which, Walker suggests, would look cool with some white Stan Smiths.
There is also an adjacent Karen Walker Atelier jewellery collection built on champagne diamonds, black diamonds, peach morganite, rutilated quartz and grey or peach moonstones, cast in white, yellow or rose gold.
There are several two or three-part wedding ring suites, which range from discreet, delicate styles involving a pattern that the light winks and glances off — a take on Walker’s signature arrowhead motif — as well as more grand, Art Deco-inspired suites of nesting, flashing diamonds.
Clients can choose their mix of styles, stones and metals in consultation with Walker’s team.
Everything is made bespoke by a family-owned-and-run Auckland workshop founded in 1953 and still faithful to laborious, traditional, and highly specialised handcraft processes, from the melting down of the metals to the filing, setting, and polishing.
Although Walker loves a good wedding, she knows there’s a difference between pulling off one amazing day, and achieving a lasting marriage — which she says takes patience and humility.
“You’re no longer the lead in the movie. You’re no longer the most important thing in your world. Your partnership is, and you stick through everything by thinking of what’s right for that entity, not just yourself.
“It’s a constant exploration. You’re changing all the time, your partner’s changing all the time, so you have to keep working at it.
“A marriage isn’t just a habit. It’s not a given. But when it works, there’s nothing better than knowing there’s somebody there who has your back no matter what.”
Thank you to Karen Walker and her team for sharing with us the Karen Walker Atelier journey to date and for inviting us into your workroom and jewellery workshop to learn about the meticulous amount of care and devotion which has gone into creating these collections.
Portraits of Karen, the jewellery workshop and lifestyle product shots by Karen Ishiguro for Together Journal.
Look book gown shots and jewellery brand shots with model suppled by Karen Walker