Chatting Up Fashion Star Winner Kara Laricks
This out designer took her queer inspired aesthetic all the way to the bank.
When it comes to lesbian representation on television, reality TV has been a boon. From The Real World to The Real L Word it has provided a venue for queer-identified women to be visible. One of the latest and greatest lady-loving trailblazers to grace our screens is Fashion Star winner Kara Laricks. This statuesque and fauxhawked fashionista is working double duty not only representing queers but also combating the gradually diminishing stereotype that lesbians lack fashion sense. With her overtly androgynous designs she is bringing a queer atheistic to primetime and proudly declaring herself a lesbian tastemaker. And we couldn’t ask for a more charming representative than this elementary school teacher turned avant garde designer.
How did you get involved with Fashion Star?
I was teaching fourth grade for 10 years and I always had a dream of designing so I decided to go back to school at the Academy of Arts at San Francisco for Fashion Design. Once I graduated I packed up my car, and my girlfriend and my dog and we drove across the country and moved to New York. I started my own little accessory line…and I’ve been selling my little accessories at a market in SoHo and then the opportunity came up for Fashion Star. And I just thought, I would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to be able to really create a full women’s wear line, which was what I always dreamt of doing but just haven’t been able to afford to do so. And the rest is history.
It was pretty brave to give up a secure teaching career to follow your passion. What is about fashion compelled you to quit a stable job and move across the country— twice?
I love teaching. I love that career. The tough part about it was that I felt always partially in the closet when I was teaching. And not because I wasn’t proud of who I was or anything like that. I’ve always been fortunate to have a really accepting family and great girlfriends. But I loved that job. I didn’t want to lose it. And I always wanted to design. After 10 years of teaching, [I thought] I’m not getting any younger. This is something I really want to do. And I took a huge risk.
Photo credit: Tyler Golden/NBC
You went from being afraid to be out, to being out on primetime.
Talk about one extreme to the other, right? It was crazy. As soon as I went back to school for fashion design I felt really like this huge weight of responsibility was lifted off my shoulders. It’s given me the strength and the purpose in order to be one of those out—hopefully—role models, for those kids that I should have been a role model for the entire time I was teaching. So this is kind of my message to all of those kids from all those years, too: That you really can do whatever it is you want to do. You might have to take some twists and turns in order to get there, but that’s OK.
You also almost appeared on Project Runway. What happened with that?
Well it was really crazy. I was in school, in San Francisco. And somewhere along the line I heard that there were auditions for Project Runway in L.A. So one weekend my girlfriend and I packed up the car and drove down to L.A. The next thing you know, I was standing before Tim Gunn. [But] the taping of this show was going to happen at the same time that I was finishing my final collection for the Academy of Art. And I just thought: Man, I haven’t taken out all of these student loans and all of this to not finish my program. It was a very hard choice to make at the time. But now I’m like, everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t know what it is right at the time.
Fashion Star seems like a more complicated format, in that you have to focus both on design and business. How was that experience?
I have never been happier in my life. We started at the crack of dawn and then worked late each day. But I have to tell you, it’s what I love do to. So to be able to design without worrying about…can I afford to do this, can I afford to do that? To really have free reign and all of the resources that I needed just to strictly focus on design, I was in heaven. The challenge with the show is, you’re really trying to appeal to three very different markets. The people who shop at H&M, versus the people that shop at Sax and Macy’s. Honestly all three ofthose retailers are huge powerhouses and the opportunity to get in front of buyers from those three retailers is a chance of a lifetime. The trick was really trying to please all three.
Photo credit: Tyler Golden/NBC
Your aesthetic is very androgynous. Has being queer influenced it?
There is no doubt that being part of the queer community has influenced my style. I love kind of a masculine style, but that fits a female body. And it’s so hard to find great men’s-inspired clothing that really fits a woman. And the truth is when people say I’m trying to do menswear for women, there really is no such thing. We really have to cut it for a woman’s body. Another challenge on the show was really keeping in mind the mainstream consumer. Because I know that the amount of women that want to wear a menswear style head to toe is very few compared to what most of America wears. But what I really tried to do on the show was introduce little ways that you can incorporate an androgynous piece into your existing wardrobe and still get that kind of cool feel from the masculine-meets-feminine, but not have to do it head to toe.
Is there a political statement behind menswear for women or is it strictly your personal taste?
I feel like wherever I go, I see a lot of women really trying to fit themselves into a tight dress… they’ve seen so much of the media telling them that they have to accentuate their waist, or they have to do this or they have to do that to look thinner or to fit some standard of beauty. And in my mind, a standard of beauty is seeing someone who stands out, is someone who has got their own style. Someone who can take a piece that not everyone can wear and really make it her own and make it in a way that she feels comfortable and confident and fabulous, whether she looks like a man or woman or something in between. I would love to challenge that sort of standard of beauty where women have to look thin and nipped and tucked.
Do you feel any pressure to represent us fashionable queers on TV?
You know, I’m just really, really proud to represent our community. I don’t necessarily want to be known as a lesbian designer, but I do want to be known as a talented designer and that I’m happy for everyone to know that I’m gay as well. So I just really hope that I will do our community proud and represent and be exactly who I am and hopefully that will be something that America will really connect with.
Photo credit: Tyler Golden/NBC
Which celesbian would you most like to design for?
I would love to dress Tilda Swinton. Oh my gosh. And then, I have to tell you, a long time ago, I sent one of my ties, through fan mail…to Ellen. Who knows what happened to that tie. But I would love to get a tie to Ellen, for sure.
What is the hottest trend right now?
Unquestionably the menswear inspired pieces. I love how it’s really becoming en vogue to wear a menswear-inspired look.
Who’s your favorite designer?
Yohji Yamamoto is a Japanese designer that has been around since the ’80s. He’s kind of quiet and behind the scenes, but he puts out spectacular collections season after season and has such a distinct look.
What is the worst lesbian style stereotype?
Flannel forever! I am proud of every look that any lesbian has ever tried. I would say go for it. There’s not anything that I would say no more of.
What article of clothing or accessory can you not live without?
I have a lucky pair of pinstriped pants. They go with me everywhere. And anytime I have an important interview or anytime I just want to feel foxy, I wear those pinstriped pants.
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