University of Fashion Blog

Posts by: Kara Laricks

Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.

Machine Made Masterpieces

A look by Machine Maven, Iris van Herpen Photo courtesy of

A look by Machine Maven, Iris van Herpen Photo courtesy of scostumista.com

What if you were told to “think outside of the fabric store and a dress form” when creating a garment?

And we’re not talking “you’ve got one hour in the grocery store and a budget of $25 to create a red carpet look” Project Runway challenge.

If a trip to the fabric store was not an option, where would your creative mind go? Read More

Is this a wrap on immigrant designers in America?

Diane von Fürstenberg, Immigrant from Belgium Photo courtesy of Variety.com

Diane von Fürstenberg, Immigrant from Belgium
Photo courtesy of Variety.com

Stop for a moment and imagine—what if the wrap dress didn’t exist?

You know the one.

The looks-good-on-every-body-shape, waist-slimming, made-in-every-color-and-pattern, made-popular-the-world-over-by-Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress, also known as a staple in the vast majority of American women’s closets. The wrap dress has even earned it’s own Wikipedia page due to its longevity and popularity. Read More

Ball Culture: Inspiration from the LGBTQ Underground Scene

Pride month – there’s no more colorful month of the year. And what better opportunity to acknowledge a part of LGBTQ history that has influenced fashion, music, dance and culture for almost four decades?

Attention, legendary children!

We are about to give you the basics of ball culture.

Since the early 1920s (and possibly even earlier), LGBTQ people have been coming together, often in underground secret spaces, to celebrate the art of dressing a part, dance and creating a safe space for creative expression. In the 1980s, these gatherings, or balls, were where those often cast out from society (many black and Latino) could be whoever they wanted for a night.

And while many equate balls with drag shows, there is much more to ball culture than sequins and feathers. Runway competitions included categories like “Executive Realness” allowing LGBTQ people of color the opportunity to dress the part of a Wall Street executive—an option not available to minorities during the day. And for young LGBTQ kids kicked out of their homes, ball culture offered a family, shelter and safety.

Thanks to the summer’s breakout hit show Pose on FX, a new generation is getting schooled on what life was like for a segment of the LGBTQ community in the early 80s in NYC. Severe shoulder pads and all.

Pose is ground-breaking in that it stars/employs more transgender actors and extras than any other scripted show currently on the air, however, Pose is hardly the first show to document ball culture. In fact, any in-the-know designer should immediately move the documentary Paris is Burning to the top of their must watch Netflix list.

In addition to a primer on late 80s/early 90s fashion, Paris is Burning reveals the roots of voguing as a dance and art form, so named from the model poses seen on the actual pages of Vogue magazine. And as an emerging designer, the deeper your understanding of history, the bigger pool of inspiration you have to draw from for your future collections.

So sit back, children, and learn your ball culture. If you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race (anyone else #TeamAquaria this season?), Mama Ru’s catch phrases are about to make much more sense.

Houses and Families

At a ball, participants walked as houses. Houses were often named after fashion houses or beauty icons, for example, House of Saint Laurent. Each house has a mother who sets the tone/rules for the house and takes in new family members. Family members often adopt the last name of their house, not only showing their loyalty, but also creating a sense of belonging not provided by a biological family. And house mothers refer to their children as legendary.

Walking in a Category

Balls are made up of runway competitions and each competition fits into a theme or category. The emcee of the ball will call out, “Category is….” and all those who are participating will prepare to show off their best super model, evening wear, military, school girl, uptown/downtown, etc. garb.

Serving (Category) Realness

In order to win a runway competition, participants are judged on realness, or how likely they are to actually pass in real life as the individual they are representing on the runway. Serving Park Avenue realness means the participant could fit right in strolling down Park Avenue with the ladies who lunch.

Mopping

Because the ball participants of the 80s had very few resources, some mopped or stole the materials they needed to create their runway looks. We don’t advocate stealing at U of F, however, we know many designers are operating on a shoestring budget and therefore, studying ball culture can be pretty inspiring to see what those who had nothing can create on no budget at all.

Reading and Throwing Shade

To read another participant in ball culture is to ruthlessly insult another’s outfit, look, walk or presentation without breaking a sweat. Reading is in good fun, and thus, the phrase “the library is open,” often clears the floor for a good read. Throwing shade is a more subtle form of reading, saved for the most clever and witty of readers. The library doesn’t necessarily have to be open for shade to be thrown.

From Marc Jacobs to Alexander McQueen to Jeremy Scott to Vivienne Westwood to…the list goes on and on… designers have drawn inspiration from underground club scenes over the course of history. You can, too. Just make sure to learn your history before attempting to throw shade, darling.

Introducing the CFDA’s Young Guns

Mike Amiri, Kristopher Brock, Nadja Swarovski, Aurora James, and Kerby Jean-Raymond - Photo courtesy of WWD.com

Mike Amiri, Kristopher Brock, Nadja Swarovski, Aurora James, and Kerby Jean-Raymond – Photo courtesy of WWD.com

As fashion educators and bloggers, we have a responsibility to cover important events in our industry—for example, the recent 2018 CFDA Fashion Awards—even when the CFDA honors Kim Kardashian (GASP!) with the CFDA Influencer Award. While we are still a little stumped on that decision, we are thrilled to introduce you to the honored newcomers to the fashion industry – also known as the five nominees for the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent. Read More

DROP Everything and Read This

From a death drop…

To a mic drop…

To dropping it like it’s hot…

Retailers and designers alike are taking advantage of the hype that surrounds the newest, hottest drop – or a limited edition release of a product for a short run of time. Most often, one-off drops take place in brick and mortar locations and attract droves of brand fans and devotees.

And in a time when “on the ground” retailers are struggling to stay alive due to online competition, finding creative ways to bring shoppers in is critical.

Last September, Barneys put a drop event to the test when the retailer invited more than 80 brands to release limited-edition goods that could only be found at Barneys. But Barneys didn’t just stop at offering limited edition products by brands with impressive social media followings. The social media savvy retailer also tapped additional influencers—think well-known tattoo artists and DJs—to sweeten the draw for the audience Barneys was trying to attract into its doors.

Add a branded café and a t-shirt bar, and BAM! Drop history was made.

According to WWD, of the 12,000 people that showed up to The Drop @Barneys on Madison Avenue in NYC, half were current customers and the other half brand new customers. The event was held over one weekend and sales increased 35% from the previous year on Saturday and 9% on Sunday. Most importantly, 40% of attendees returned at a later date to make a purchase at Barneys.

The Drop @ Barneys was so successful, a second drop is planned for June 2 and 3 at the Beverly Hills store on the West Coast.

But what can emerging designers pick up from what more established designers are dropping?

Several ideas:

1. Use what you know to give the people what they want.

If you’re lacking Barney’s vast resources and connections, not to worry. You can take a lesson from Barneys “mega drop,” and use your knowledge of your own brand and product success to create a “mini drop.” Take a hard look at your best sellers or perhaps your garments/accessories/items that get the most attention on social media.

In other words, many designers recreated their biggest sellers for The Drop @ Barneys, and the crowd flocked to the event. No need to make more work for yourself or reinvent an already popular wheel.

Reincarnate your best seller with a slight twist or alteration in a limited edition run. Set up shop at a local market, arrange for a pop up event at a local boutique or permits permitting, sell on a corner in a shopping area that caters to your audience. Blast your social media following a special date/time and look forward to existing fans of your brand bringing their friends for a peek at your drop!

2. Get creative—think of the long game.

This tip takes a shift in thinking. When your resources are limited, it can be hard to think about putting your time and energy into a “hype” event that may not garner too many sales. However, if you are in it for the long haul as a designer and business person, giving some focus to “getting your name out there” can pay off down the road.

Barneys didn’t just focus on garment sales during their first drop event, they thought beyond sales to provide an environment that would appeal to the demographic they hope to turn into buying customers in the future.

As an emerging designer, consider organizing a panel about fashion, design or owning your own business and invite your local community. Try offering to style customers at a local boutique for one afternoon a week. Seek out networking events in your area—offer to speak, help organize or provide a branded item for attendees’ swag bags.

3. Form like-minded partnerships.

Just like Barneys researched DJs, tattoo artists and other influencers that their desired audience might want to take selfies with, so can you.

Who do you follow and admire on Instagram? How might you partner with them, eventually turning their fans on to your brand? Can you swap a post for a post and somehow bring your like-minded followers together?

Think about your customer’s day, week, month and year. Sure, they might wake up and put on one of your accessories, but considering their 24/7 can give you great insight into who your beneficial partners might be. If your customer spends her weekends at the club, you might consider hosting a party in exchange for a pop up shop during the club’s off hours.

If you design golf shirts, networking with county clubs and offering a unique “meet the designer” buying experience for members during busy brunch times might be an option.

If sustainability is part of your design philosophy, try partnering with a recycling facility or donation organization, giving your customers (and new customers who will be appreciative of your efforts) a literal Drop Off the Old, Shop the New opportunity.

What are other ways you have attracted new customers?

We’d love to hear—and so would our students and followers. Maybe we can get creative and form a like-minded partnership? Drop your comments below.

Stars Shine and Show Some Skin in Cannes

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 8.25.55 PM

Photo courtesy of www.standard.co.uk

Last Tuesday marked the start of the 71st Cannes Film Festival which runs through May 18, 2018. The beauty of reviewing fashion at this annual gathering of who’s who in film is that celebrities and attendees are not only wearing red carpet looks for film screenings and events, but also a chic variety of daytime head-to-toe looks for panels, photoshoots, promotional events and interviews.

No matter the time of day, three top trends are emerging as the stars promote their latest works. Read More

Cyborgs, Drones and the Queen, Oh My: London and Milan Wrap Up

- - Fashion Shows

Tasked with reviewing both London and Milan fashion weeks, I suffered a slight panic attack before settling in to write this week.

Gender bending, logo presenting, fake head carrying, pattern mixing and matching, balaclava wearing, houndstooth-plaid-sequin donning—all descriptors that don’t even begin to cover the Gucci show in Milan. As a fashion student, I would have savored every detail of the Gucci extravaganza and devoured every look, head-to-toe. Read More