Super-stylist Karla Welch is bringing her Hollywood magic to the masses once again, this time at Express.
The celebrity wardrobe architect for Tracee Ellis Ross, Busy Phillips, Elisabeth Moss, Cleo Wade, Justin Bieber and more is teaming with the retailer on a 20-piece capsule collection of everyday summer basics with a twist in neutral hues, including oversize linen boyfriend blazers (“shoulder pads are back” she says); mechanic’s jumpsuits; tie-dye cropped Ts; men’s wear-inspired shirts; clear sequin-coated boxing shorts; off-shoulder eyelet lace shifts, and high-waist Latex miniskirts. Launching July 17 in sizes 00 to 18, the Express x Karla collection is priced $19.90 to $128, and will be sold at select stores and online.
“I actually hate summer dressing, that’s how I went into this. But this is who I am and what I want to wear. I wanted to keep it really limited and small and just what you need,” said Welch, an L.A. fashion fixture known as much for her tomboyish personal style and democratic-leaning political Instagram posts as for her red-carpet finesse.
[In Hollywood], “red carpets are massive fashion moments. But for every woman out there and every guy, every day is a fashion moment and it feels great to like what you’re wearing and there is power in that,” said the stylist, who has now collaborated with a handful of iconic American everyday clothing brands including Levi’s, Dockers and Hanes. “I want to empower.”
She designed the collection with the Express team at the New York studio. “I brought in my old basketball shorts I love to wear, and an old vintage dress that’s covered in clear sequins and we mixed the two,” she said of the process. As a native of Vancouver, she doesn’t have much nostalgia for the circa 1980 all-American mall brand, but says the capsule collection does have a bit of nostalgic feel. “There’s a bit of ‘Miami Vice’ and Au Coton from Canada back in the day, and shoulder pads and linen and a neutral palette. And I love that they let me cast misfits and badasses because I love making the pictures as much as making the pieces.” (The campaign photos and films were created by the stylist and her photographer husband Matthew Welch, through their agency Meritocracy.)
“We are super excited about this collection,” said Patrice Croci, vice president of brand marketing for Express, noting that the retailer already had a relationship with Welch from a previous collaboration with Cleo Wade. “Design collaborations with influencers like Karla have been a brand strategy for us,” she added, noting the collections with Olivia Culpo in January and Rocky Barnes in April, with more to come through 2019. “For us, it’s about forming strategic partnerships with inspirational women,” she added, praising the stylist’s ability to create modern, seasonless pieces with a fashion edge.
Regarding Welch’s other high-profile brand collabs, Croci said the more the merrier. “Dockers and Hanes are iconic brands like ourselves, so we think that adds to her expertise and authority.…We are happy to be in that company.”
As for the stylist’s Instagram posts criticizing President Trump, and tackling topics like gun violence and reproductive rights for her 218,000 followers, Croci said it did not give her pause. “We are apolitical as a business. For us, it was about leaning into her styling expertise.”
The collection will be launched through Express and Welch’s social channels. “She has an engaged follower base, her friends are getting behind it. We’re doing paid, owned and earned,” said Croci of the strategy. “Today, it has to be about layers of influence. It can’t just be us.” A second Karla x Express collection will bow for holiday with more dressed-up options.
Croci maintains an upbeat outlook for Express despite quarterly losses reported in March, praising the new chief executive officer. “We’ve been celebrating women since 1980. We are about outfitting ambition and leveling up. We are really excited about Tim Baxter coming on board. He started a couple of weeks ago, he has a wealth of experience in retail.
“Digital is centric for us, that’s where our customer is. But we don’t shy away from being a mall brand. It’s an important part of our DNA, and there is a role for our stores. We know our customers still like to try on work items, try on denim and try on going-out clothes.…So we feel like our properties compliment each other,” she said, adding a personal anecdote about the plot point a mall plays in season three of the Eighties-nostalgic Netflix hit “Stranger Things.” “When I was watching it, my branding wheels were turning.”