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NEW YORK — The red carpet set may be fickle, dressing in Versace for one premiere and in Chanel the next. But with the swooning loyalty of the love-struck, social butterflies like interior designer Celerie Kemble and rocker Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs find that sticking with one designer has its rewards — especially when your nocturnal schedule is double-booked.
Making her rounds during New York’s hectic party season, Kemble has unwaveringly chosen designs by Lela Rose since her first visit to the showroom last Spring. “It’s a total love affair,” she sighs. “If I have one of Lela’s dresses hanging on the back of my closet door, I look for a reason to strap on the shoes and go.”
By putting her trust in one designer, Kemble has also eliminated any wavering and cut down on her prep time. “I have total trust,” she says. “Lela could probably send me out in a garbage bag and I’d go willingly.” More often, however, the designer offers up perfectly feminine, delicate silk and lace dresses.
And invariably, when Kemble — in her role as unofficial spokesmodel — steps out in those creations, good things happen. Friends ask where they can find a Lela Rose of their own. Strangers ask for the designer’s phone number. And Kemble is happy to comply. “My boyfriend thinks it’s so funny,” she says. “We get into an elevator and it’s usually only a few seconds before a woman will say, ‘OK, where’d you get the dress?’”
For her part, Rose, who has also dressed Ashley Judd and the Bush twins, appreciates the chance to promote her line vicariously. “Celerie projects a great image,” Rose says. “She embodies my ideal of who should wear the clothes — she’s sophisticated and sexy and adventurous.”
But adventure of a different sort — the wildest — has defined the collaboration between punk princess Karen O and Christiane Hultquist, the designer behind the fledgling label Christiane Joy. “She has such a huge personality that the clothes don’t wear her,” says Hultquist. “But sometimes I give Karen outfits, like this corset with big muslin flowers tacked on it and hanging with newspaper fans, and even I’m shocked that she can pull them off.”
While Hultquist, now 28, was working at the Daryl K store she promised O, a frequent customer, that if the band ever made it big, she would sew all of the singer’s clothes. Ever since, O has refused all other offers, both for her debauched stage performances and for photo shoots, favoring Hultquist’s tattered, tarty creations. The designer will have the opportunity to show her first full collection — a tamer take on the painted DIY stage gear — in New York this September.
But don’t expect to see any of those O originals on the runway. “The clothes I did for Karen are all super trashed,” says Hultquist. “When I see her pouring beer on something that took so long to make, well, it bothers me a little. But after that first can hits, I always like the way things look. She makes clothes look like vintage immediately.”
A customer like O is more than a mere muse. She’s the designer’s ultimate challenge. “Karen lets me have free rein over what I make,” says Hultquist. “She says ‘Christiane, you can do whatever you want. I’m your doll.’ “”