A visit to Stella Carakasi

You know when someone speaks your own language, beyond geographies and grammar. When I saw Stella Carakasi’s collection, I immediately felt a connection, we were on the same page (or screen, if you want, to update the expression), we spoke a common language, the language of real women with real lives and real bodies.

Dressing is a language, and designs speak. In Stella’s design language, dressing is inclusive. It is about expressing who you are, without bending to what others expect or impose on you; it is about your body, and your age, and your spirit. It is about you.

Inclusion is not just a philosophy stated on her website. When my piano teacher and friend Agnes put me in touch with Stella, she immediately responded that she would be glad to have me visit her studio and design house, that she “welcome(d) the opportunity to connect and work with more” stylists and bloggers, and put me in touch with Yarra, her Customer Engagement Manager. Inclusion for them is not only a style practice but also a human practice. Both Stella and Yarra were enthusiastic about meeting me, because the more the merrier, because they love collaborators, because they support women supporting real women, because they stand against the constraining and exclusionary underpinnings of fashion. I know, it sounds like a style manifesto. I probably got carried away by feeling my two careers converging – styling embracing inclusion and female empowerment - such a great feeling. Excuse the detour, back to the narrative.

Before meeting Yarra at the Stella Studio Design House in Berkeley on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I had the chance to "curious around" (curiosear) their "brainstorming" room where a mannequin was suggestive of the way fabrics are chosen and models are shaped (Postpost clarification by Yarra: the mannequin's design if by Lexi, Stella's 7-year-old daughter! It runs in the family).

 

The forthcoming catalogue lying on the table gave me the chance to glimpse the process from conception to final product.

My imaginary journey was interrupted by smiling Yarra's words: Welcome to Stella Studio! 

Yarra walked me through the studio on the way to the store in front where the shooting for the catalogue is done (styled and directed by Yarra). I wandered among sample pieces, desks, women working on big tables, and the fascinating archive gallery. 

The archive gallery deserves a special note. In general we see a collection, and collections are "synchronic." We see all the pieces for each season at the same time, and maybe sometimes the collections for an entire year. It is really a rare and unique opportunity to have a diachronic view of all collections, a sort of visual history kept in dry-cleaning-like merry-go-round hangers, where you get a sense of evolving colors, cuts, and patterns. (Unfortunately and understandably, no photos were allowed.) In all their different forms, each archive piece conveys a single message: we are here to make women feel good everyday without compromising who they are. It is comforting to see design arising upward from the needs of real women rather than downwardly imposing a fashion beauty ideal. I would call it a grassroots design.

I finally made it to the store! It is spacious, it has high ceilings and a big glass front wall that invites in natural light. The space itself gives you space, it soothes you. I looked around and the clothes seemed alive - there are whimsical diagonals and other design features that bring movement to every piece. The pieces seem to caress you with their softness and texture. 

I saw very few buttons and very few zippers - it is the quality of the fabric and how it is cut to follow the shape of different bodies that makes each piece suitable for the range of women’s bodies and needs. My analytical eye couldn't help picking up on the fact that (most) models aim at flattering pear shape bodies and apple shape bodies, the reality of (most) women that the fashion industry continues to deny.

Colors mostly belonged to the cool palette, my favorite being teal, and there were also some warm bright colors in pieces from past collections on super sale in the back. I would love to see more of bright and warm colors in upcoming collections!

The accessories bring all the bright colors to the store. You can find everything to complete your outfit, to dress it up or down, to funk it up or biz it up. There are scarves, necklaces, bracelets and earrings, belts and bags, carefully selected from independent designers all over the country, and with different price options. My favorites were necklaces and earrings in silver and in gold colors, fabulous to spice up a look, and to flatter both cool and warm skin undertones. (I know, I forgot to take a picture!)

The idea is that you come to the store and can leave with complete outfits, making it convenient for women who do not have the time (or will) to tour around many stores. (Well, everything except for shoes, and I was happy that it was that way, since shoes are a completely different thing, and they should be treated accordingly - which Yarra confirmed!)

Stella´s principles are simple, but compelling. Uncompromising quality and design, and inclusive style and price point. We definitely speak the same language. 

My visit was coming to an end, but it was the beginning of a relationship. Besides the pieces I took away (and the client I brought two days later), I asked Yarra if I could write a blog about my visit, and she invited me to participate in their spring presentation where different stylists create looks with the new collection -and model them! 

What else can I say? Stay tuned!