I cannot remember if I went to Daryl K’s first show in the early 90s, but I went to several of them. (My friend and Bazaar colleague Andrea Linett became friends with Daryl, so we knew each other but not really well.) I also had a few pairs of Daryl K. pants, as did every fashion editor and much of the rock’n’roll community, because they fit like no other pant ever had. Her stretch leather leggings continue to be her best seller. Daryl’s downtown edge has always been authentic and everyone gravitated to her Bond Street store. In 2012, Daryl shut it down, and recently began holding shopping salons at her Brooklyn home/studio; the Spring’s first event is this weekend (see image in story for details). If you can get yourself to Brooklyn I highly recommend it. Beyond her evergreen jeans, leather leggings and tops, she started working on a new collection with artisans in India, adding indigo-dyed and other hand-crafted pieces. It’s the kind of warm weather clothing those of us who don’t do frills want to live in. Plus once you start talking with Daryl, it’s hard to stop. Which is exactly what her salons are for, not just shopping, but perhaps a glass of wine and some conversation. Here, she shares how those pants came to creation, the kind of men in women’s clothes she gets inspiration from, and her very valid concept on how to keep fast fashion from creating a clothing and environmental crisis.
When did you decide to close up shop, so to speak, and change your business model? I closed my Bond Street store in 2012. I really wanted a break from the whole thing. There were so many bad experiences from the financial crash and all of that it really did hurt us. We managed to stay afloat but I didn’t need to have that stress anymore. So I just managed my website and did trunk shows, and traveled around. With trunk shows you have to have this direct connection with women. So then when I moved to my space I thought, “well this place is perfect,” you know, and I started to do the salons here. A lot of my customers are around here, and a lot of people remember me, they still have my clothes from back in the day. So they all come here. They all find me, bit by bit.
What do you love about doing your salons? I really like connecting with women. You’re just talking about stuff that matters and you end up talking about everything. Clothes are just the icing on the cake.
Plus, they’re really cool women. I have great customers. Because I design from my kind of core beliefs of what I think clothes should do for you as a person and your body and how they should serve you in your life, then I end up relating to women through my clothes who also require those same facets of their clothing.
What is your philosophy or your design ethos? Sometimes I think, am I a fashion designer? Am I a clothing designer? When I started designing back in the 90’s, it was always about designing clothes that I felt fitted those ideals of what you needed. They became fashion, and that’s what fashion is. They’re ideas that become a part of our culture.
So my ideas became a part of fashion. But I don’t like it when fashion takes over you. Even if I’m getting dressed myself, I don’t like things that have too much going on. I like kind of serious clothes. I like clothes that function. I don’t like details that don’t serve a purpose. Unless it’s maybe for something that I think is really artful, but I’ll still do it in a minimal, subtle way. I like fabrics that move with your body. It’s not just about putting clothes on the body and the body is static. This is a body in motion. Even in the 90’s it was the healthy body and those healthy models you know, Cindy and Christy Turlington, they were always very healthy. You know?
They weren’t super tiny like some girls are now. They weren’t super tiny. They had muscles. That’s the kind of woman who I aspire to design for–the woman who actually uses her body and needs to use her body, but also loves style and likes to look good. Then again, beyond that it’s a bit rock and roll. Maybe sometimes there’s a little bit of hippie thrown in, just a little bit. Sometimes a bit of biker chick is in there with the leather. But not Harley tough biker chick. A bit more of an Italian like an Emma Peel or a Euro sexy biker chick. So there’s lots of influences in there like that. Then there’s something soft always and a little sensual. I like when fabrics that are natural–cottons, silks, wools, cashmeres.
Where do you pull your inspiration from? Movies and music really, somebody like Jane Fonda in the 60’s, Jim Morrison, Bowie, Michael Jackson, Keith Richards. Often male rock stars are my inspiration.
Why? I specifically loved how they would wear women’s clothes. They weren’t just men in men’s clothes. They were men who knew how to wear women’s clothes. If a guy puts on a woman’s jacket that has a fit in the waist and the shoulders are sharp and it kind of has a small waist and a kick out in the back. If you’re playing your guitar while you’re wearing that, you’ve got the sleeves pushed up. There’s a look and a feel that’s about style and you’re using your body and you’re doing something while you’re wearing it. That’s what inspires me.
And a white shirt with a black leather pair of pants and a great boot….I’ll always have that in my own wardrobe.
It’s always good. What got you into fashion? I grew up in Ireland and my mother always designed and made her own clothes. She was a very talented seamstress. She made some beautiful things and had beautiful things. My dad also had suits handmade and all his clothes tailored. So the two of them were quite stylish…not like wild way, but in a quality, beautiful way. Even in Ireland they were not like a regular couple in the way they looked. That was an inspiration.
In Ireland, there weren’t really clothes available. Not then. So everything was left to your imagination. I would do a lot of thrifting and altering things, vintage, antique clothes, and I’d cut them up and customize them for what I wanted.
You cut the best pants ever. How did that evolve? And what do you think it is about your tailoring that so many women like? I have always, and I still do, fit it on myself. I’ve got kind of an athletic body, I’m not a model’s body. I’m more like that woman I talk about who uses her body. I don’t have super skinny little legs and I have a butt. I can put on several different pairs of pants and some will look absolutely horrible on me because I don’t have a body like a model where I just sort of look great in everything.
I did start with a vintage pair of men’s flared, hipster pants from the 70’s. I took them apart and reassembled them to fit me. I figured out where exactly I wanted to take them out and where I wanted to add in order to give me the look. Today girls know … my teenage daughter says, “Oh mom, that’s called a thigh gap.” Now they know what that is. Whereas back in our day, in the 90’s, nobody really talked about a thigh gap. I always wanted to put a thigh gap in my pants. So you get plenty of negative space around the legs, and then how I’d cut the butt of the pants to make your legs look as long as possible and to make your butt look as good as possible. We all want our butts to look good.
Now, it’s just part of fashion.
But still, so many people can’t get it right. Yeah. Well I think my pants pattern did kind of make it around the world a lot.
I’m sure. What do you like about fashion right now? What you don’t like about it? Being quite an environmentally conscious person, I’m very disturbed by the way the industry is uncontrolled. Especially with the fast fashion business. There are so many aspects of business in the world that have raced way beyond our capability or capacity to control or monitor these things. Companies like H&M have manufacturing distribution centers all over the world. There’s no quotas on how much they can make. There’s no global fashion, export or manufacturing control to say, “No, you’ve already made 20 billion pieces this year. You’re not allowed to make anymore and you’ve used up this amount of resources.” Do you know what I mean? I mean, that’s crazy.
That’s an interesting concept, creating quotas…..There should be because they are using up the resources for the whole world. These are our resources. Like, the air from China blows over to the West Coast. We can’t catch up with this.
What do I like about fashion? I think it’s amazing the way there’s been a fashion kind of explosion, the way everybody has a style nowadays. Everybody has a look. It’s cool. I used to say that … cool was the new kind of product. That was the new commercial product and that’s what everybody wanted to be. It kind of happened when the Apple phone came out, the iPhone. It was all about the white, minimal, and I think that was a very big inspiration for design. The huge TV’s and everything we had before that, everything was clunky and big. Now everybody wants to be cool and it’s great but there’s far too much stuff being made that nobody needs.
Agreed, there’s too much sh** in the world. I still love things and I love beautiful things, but I think you have to be so careful about what you buy now and really thoughtful about it. Yeah. I teach a fashion class in Pratt. This is my second year and sustainability is a part of it and it’s difficult to teach sustainability in fashion because the mere act of making more fashion is unsustainable. We don’t need any more clothes, there’s enough clothes out there to last us the next 25-30 years. More. Or maybe not, because the quality is such crap.
One thing that is sustainable is to make clothes that are quality and that last. That’s what I like to do these days–make clothes that are quality, that last and are seasonless. I don’t create big collections anymore. I’m really glad that I don’t. The age I am as well now, I don’t demand masses of things like my daughter, you know? Lucky for her I’ve got loads of stuff for her to pick from. There isn’t a lot of junk coming in… which would really disturb me.
What motivates you? Again, connecting with women and talking about clothes and people. When they come and see what we do and they love it and buy it, that makes me really want to keep going.
I went to India a few weeks ago. I had wanted to go for a very long time. I wanted make some clothes there, because I love indigo and I love a lot of the hand work that they do over there. It’s a really interesting place because they have an attitude that even though they are extremely overpopulated, everyone works. Everyone wants a job, and they need a job. So people are happy to put the time and the effort in to make things by hand, which is becoming a lost art. That’s what we value now in our clothes. Things that are special, like a shirt that’s been hand embroidered by women in Guatemala. They make beautiful things in India and I’ve been connecting with the people who are making them and visiting the people who are dying the fabrics. It’s been so enjoyable. I’m so inspired by their joy for life and what they do. That really motivates me.
Looking back, what has been your biggest success? And what has been your biggest dud or failure and what did you take away from that? When I first came here, I waitressed and I did all that stuff and then I worked in the movie business for five years. I started with nothing, my first collection fit in a tiny suitcase. I didn’t have any family with money or backers or nothing. Everything I did with my partner Paul was basically from the sweat of our own brow.
I had many opportunities along the way to really make it big, to partner up with people, because my clothes are super wearable, women liked them and they fit well. I pretty much turned down most of the opportunities because I didn’t understand what they were. People would say, “Well do you want to be a $100 million dollar business, or do you want to be a $700 million dollar business?” The only thing I could think of was, well if that means that I have to sit in a board room, in an office in a tall building in midtown every day, I definitely don’t want that. That was the only way I could even evaluate what that meant. So I always turned that down.
You know, these days, I don’t regret that because another part of what I always tried to do is to never have any regrets. I always thought, if there is one thing when I’m in my 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, it is that I don’t want to have any regrets. I don’t want to be bitter. So I always tried to do everything with that idea in mind.
My life is good. I’m in a really good place right now. I’m not super rich but I have time. I have time and I’ve had time to be with my kids.
What are you most proud of? I’m not really a proud person, actually. I’m always kind of thinking about, “What do I still need to do? What do I need to do now in my life?” I think now, in fact, is the most difficult time in my life, because I’ve done this for nearly thirty years. I still live in New York. I would like to have more nature in my life.
It’s kind of like what’s next? Yes. What’s next? What’s going to keep me motivated from now on? Those questions are coming now and now is when I think I could make mistakes. I would actually enjoy partnering with some other women to make something happen for this passion I have, which is, women of our age, again, are very much ignored in the market. Nobody pays any attention to us and if they do it’s about clothes that don’t really work for us.
Plus as we’re also actually becoming our most powerful, we’re told if we don’t look a certain way, if our faces don’t look young anymore, that our opinion doesn’t matter. I think that’s why we like to connect to each other, so we can make each other feel better. Be strong and say, “You look great, I love those pants on you!” You know and, “That’s a really cool coat, you look so good in that!” That’s what you get when you hang out with your other women friends. I think that’s why the whole salon thing and that’s why I really do like it. It really fuels me and fires me up.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: The desire to connect with people and empathize. I am a people person. I don’t think I’m an asshole [laughing]. I do consider other people’s feelings a lot and appreciate them for what they are. Even people who worked for me. I always feel like I tried to be a good boss and be kind and understanding.
I think being a boss is so much easier than being a mother. Even going back to talking about something that’s been difficult. I certainly don’t regret it but my god, rearing kids is really hard! Really hard. It’s so much easier to run a $50 million business than rear kids sometimes.
Let’s talk clothes. What’s new for Spring? I have lots of indigo and because of working in India I’m able to really take advantage of the hand work. There are some great shirts. I love a shirt. For me it used to be a t-shirt and a pair of pants. But shirting is a great fabric for when you get a little older. It doesn’t cling. I’ve also got silk shirts, I’ve got this nice cotton shirt with a little drape and it’s so easy and soft and flowy. I can tuck it in for a great high-waisted, I can let it flow over the leggings. The shirt dresses are a great grown-up length, to the knee or just a little below with an asymmetrical hem and a little bit of volume in the skirt so they feel feminine but also fit in the right places where most women look good.
Then I have another project that I’m talking about working on with my manufacturing partners over there, which is about trying to give back as well. That’s called Mothalova. It will be pieces hand made in India and part of sales proceeds will go to women and the environment. I really do want to try to see what I can do to get involved in the problems that we’re facing. It won’t matter about voting rights if the water is making us sick and we can’t breathe the air.
Follow Daryl: Instagram.