By  on August 21, 2008

The first thing that strikes you when you walk into Camilla Staerk's new downtown store is a framed image by artist Hans Henrik Lerfeldt. It’s one of his more subdued works — he's famous for his erotic, blue art — and features a pretty, veiled face with a giant fly planted over her forehead. “There’s something very sexy and mysterious about her,” says Staerk. “His women are always portrayed to be chic and powerful.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the appeal in having a strong, stylish muse greet the visitor at Staerk's first boutique. But the underlying reason for Henrik Lerfeldt's presence here is far more straightforward: Staerk's Danish, he’s Danish. And he happens to be a friend of her father’s.

Indeed, every single element in the 500-square-foot store has a personal tale behind it. The elegant leather and walnut wood chair, also by a fellow Dane, Finn Juhl, comes courtesy of Staerk’s dad, who owns a furniture company back in their native Denmark. That undulating Holmegaard ceramic vase right beside it? It’s called the Karen Blixen vase. “She’s my all-time hero,” says Staerk of the “Out of Africa” author, who used the pen name Isak Dinesen. Even the off-white paint on the walls has a story. “It’s the shade of my nail polish,” she explains. “Blanc Ceramic by Chanel.”

But it's not just her Scandinavian heritage at play here; the store is outfitted with a number of equestrian motifs. Case in point: the riding helmet encased near the front of the shop. The topper is actually Staerk’s own, from her teenage days as a competitive equestrian.

It’s significant that Staerk has planted her retail roots in New York rather than in Denmark or London, where she launched her label in 2000. Manhattan, and her Mulberry Street store, marks a new stage in her career. She moved here two years ago after she had a falling out with her London backers and lost the rights to the Camilla Staerk moniker — and renamed her company Staerk.

“I combined the relaunch with the move here,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to move to New York. When I decided to unfortunately leave my label, I thought, ‘OK, this is the time to start over.’”

Though her work skewed more colorful and sportif as a result of her Big Apple relocation, Staerk’s currently revisiting her early design vibes in dark and slightly Gothic fare. Fall 2008 was the first move back in that direction. “I’m going back to my roots in leather and texture,” she says. “It’s been fun to go back to my starting point with a different perspective.” There may be a good reason for all these retro glances. She’s been negotiating with her previous backers and might very well get her Camilla Staerk name back.

Also new for the designer: a capsule collection of lacquered black wood jewelry, exclusive to her boutique. She will also feature reissues of her classic leather crochet clutches and the sunglasses she has developed with Selima Salaun of Selima Optique. To celebrate the shop’s opening today, Staerk is launching an e-commerce site as well.

Perhaps the most exciting part about the brick-and-mortar venue, for Staerk at least, is the 1000-square-foot design studio in the back. A curtain, cut from her signature liquid jersey fabric, separates this from the sales floor. “I’m not paying additional rent so this is good,” says Staerk, adding that surplus denim scraps are being remade into shopping bags for the store. Though that’s not the only recycling going on here. The designer points to the pin in the signature head wrap she sports. “This is from a cravat I used to wear in riding competitions,” she remarks.

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