What’s Your Favourite Karen Walker Item? A Coterie Of Stylish Women Share Their Fashion Memories

By Dan Ahwa
Karen Walker collections conjure up special memories for some of the brand’s loyal customers.

What makes a Karen Walker piece special? A league of creative women behind the scenes share their memories.

When it comes to New Zealand fashion, Karen Walker’s unique ability to combine nostalgic points of reference with a sense of whimsy is part of what makes her brand distinctive.


She has placed New Zealand fashion firmly on the map from London to New York. The brand is loved and lauded and has been worn by everyone from Alexa Chung to Madonna. Some of her greatest hits, of course, aren’t just her clothes but her accessories - specifically, jewellery and eyewear.

In 2007, the Leo in me felt compelled to buy a sterling silver lion pendant from her Newmarket store embellished with diamonds for eyes. For others, it may be their first pair of Karen Walker sunglasses, the category famously supported by some gallery-worthy campaigns, including one that starred the designer herself in 2017 in a Warholian parade of wigs and kabuki makeup.

After 35 years in business, what makes a Karen Walker design last the distance?

To help us take a trip down memory lane, the following women share their cherished memories and pieces. They’re a league of style leaders, familiar faces in our creative industries behind the scenes — editors, agents, photographers, stylists, journalists — whose discerning voices have also played a pivotal role in communicating Karen Walker’s designs to the world.

Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Serge at home.
Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Serge at home.

Karen Inderbitzen-Waller, photographer and stylist

The prolific creative is a longtime Karen Walker collaborator.

Ever since the late 90s and working for Pavement magazine as a fashion editor, I spent all my spare money on Karen Walker and I’m still wearing it today. I have a great collection. I finally got to work with Karen and Mikhail for their brand in 2017, a cool collection based lightly on Mary Poppins, with a twist of incredible Victoriana. This shirt I’m wearing was David Bowie-inspired and has a matching fringed cravat, the tall boots are classic KW too. Serge wears a collar that was a Karen Walker x SPCA collab.

Melanie Roger at her gallery in front of a Martin Poppelwell painting.
Melanie Roger at her gallery in front of a Martin Poppelwell painting.

Melanie Roger, gallerist

The revered art dealer has a particular penchant for Karen’s collection of iconic denim.

I’ve been a fan of Karen Walker’s designs since way back when she was selling from the tiny World store in Century Arcade off High St. I love her denim range for its versatility and longevity - that truly stands out for me. And I have a lot of it - from the original flared jeans, the jumpsuits, a great one-shouldered mini dress and probably my most versatile piece, a trench coat that has been on high rotation for years now and showing no signs of being relegated to the corners of my wardrobe.

Courtney Joe at 15 with her Karen Walker Runway Girl pendant.
Courtney Joe at 15 with her Karen Walker Runway Girl pendant.

Courtney Joe, stylist

The stylist and former member of Karen Walker’s PR team shares a sweet teenage memory.

One of my most cherished Karen Walker pieces (and I have many!) is my Runaway Girl necklace. Ask any fashion-obsessed Millennial of the naughts the same question and chances are that they too once wore her like a medal around their necks. While she doesn’t quite get the same wear as she used to, I’ll never quite forget the excitement of opening that shiny black jewellery box, embossed with a gold lion jumping through a flaming hoop, on my 15th birthday. Little did my 15-year-old self know that this necklace would spark a long-time love for the brand - and that I’d find myself working for Karen Walker’s PR and marketing team many years later.

Behind the scenes with Babiche Martens wearing her faithful Karen Walker coordinated set.
Behind the scenes with Babiche Martens wearing her faithful Karen Walker coordinated set.

Babiche Martens, photographer

Viva’s go-to photographer has photographed pretty much everyone.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a huge supporter of the Karen Walker brand. I’ve loved wearing Karen’s designs right from the beginning. They also know that I’m particularly fond of sets. The first set I ever bought was this silk ensemble from the 2017 ‘Unicorn Riders’ collection, one of my absolute favourite collections. This is me on location for Gourmet Traveller magazine balancing awkwardly over a beautiful table setting at Monique Fiso’s restaurant Hiakai in Wellington.

Karlya Smith and husband Anthonie Tonnon.
Karlya Smith and husband Anthonie Tonnon.

Karlya Smith, stylist

Having worked across commercial and editorial shoots, the leading stylist is a particular fan of Karen’s famous eyewear.

I’m an introvert and usually run away as soon as someone aims a camera at me. However, in life and in photos, I feel much more comfortable hiding behind sunglasses - I even wear them when trying on outfits to plan for photoshoots. My Karen Walker sunglasses are my absolute favourites. I’m lucky to own several pairs. They’re practical but never boring. They’re also extremely robust - this pair has been on high-rotate since 2017. I would miss them dearly if I lost them as they’re irreplaceable to me.

Zoe Walker Ahwa (left) wearing the Karen Walker 'Liberal & Miserable' T-shirt (pictured with Viva colleagues Jessica Beresford and Rosie Kelway in 2016).
Zoe Walker Ahwa (left) wearing the Karen Walker 'Liberal & Miserable' T-shirt (pictured with Viva colleagues Jessica Beresford and Rosie Kelway in 2016).

Zoe Walker Ahwa, editor and co-founder of Ensemble

The former associate editor of Viva, Fashion Quarterly editor, and co-founder of cult 2000s blog So Much To Tell You is also an ardent Karen Walker collector.

The original red silk Karen Walker skater dress is my KW holy grail that I’ve shared and written about a lot. But really, any of my archive pieces from that same 2004 ‘Liberal and Miserable’ collection are treasures to me - the ‘Liberal and Miserable’ T-shirt (feels a little on the nose to wear it at the moment ... ) and one of my first ever KW purchases, another red T-shirt that says ‘Hi There’ in what might be comic sans, with a cartoon hand holding a top hat (it’s this, but a T-shirt). Another favourite is a cropped trench coat from Queenie was a Dog - 2003 - printed with cartoon dogs that I get comments on every time. They all convey Karen’s wit and slightly dark sense of humour. Her early tailoring - the coats especially - are also incredible. Asking me to pick one item is impossible!

Jessica Beresford (right) wearing her 'Perfect Day' printed trousers pictured in 2011.
Jessica Beresford (right) wearing her 'Perfect Day' printed trousers pictured in 2011.

Jess Beresford, writer

The contributing features editor at Viva and HTSI recently caught up with Karen Walker to discuss her staying power.

My most cherished Karen Walker design is not a singular piece but a print, from the spring summer 2011 ‘Perfect Day’ collection shown at New York Fashion Week. I bought a pair of boat pants made with the distinctive pink, orange and white floral silk - which I believe was inspired by a vintage pattern - when the collection first launched, and it was definitely the most I’d ever spent on an item of clothing at the time. Since then, I’ve collected more with the same print, including a relaxed double-breasted blazer, a spaghetti-strap jumpsuit and a top (the original pants met an untimely death when they were inexplicably run over). I still look for the print on Trade Me to this day.

Katherine Lowe wearing her favourite bird print shirt from 2011.
Katherine Lowe wearing her favourite bird print shirt from 2011.

Katherine Lowe, director of Super Management

The model agent and one of New Zealand’s foremost fashion bloggers shares three great memories.

I have three favourite Karen Walker items, all of which I have owned for at least a decade. My first-ever Karen Walker purchase was a black strapless, boned, self-belting silk cocktail dress from when Karen had a store on O’Connell St. I put it on Layby and paid it off over six weeks. It was around $700, which was insane for me at the time but I wanted it badly. I would have sent a photo but I don’t actually think I can fit it anymore!

I also have a Karen Walker hoodie with a giant ‘K’ print - it is not in good condition. I got it on Trade Me because I never managed to obtain it from the store originally. I felt like it was an iconic piece and although it had marks on it, I had to have it. I’ve kept it in my wardrobe for years and never really had the heart to move on from it even though I don’t wear it that often. I actually don’t think I will ever let it go.

The bird print shirt is probably my most worn Karen Walker item. It’s the first thing I ever got gifted, back in 2011. I remember I had gone in and asked to take photos of myself in things that I liked, so I could put them on my blog. That is the kind of unhinged thing I used to do back then, when blogging was new and sponsored content didn’t exist. They must’ve seen it and decided to give me something. I remember opening the box and being incredibly shocked that someone would give me something so special and fancy, for no apparent reason other than I liked the brand. The print is amazing, I love it - it’s giving pyjamas and I am here for that. I also think the boxy fit is perfect. I have taken the shirt all over the world with me and worn it everywhere. I will never pass it on.

Sarah Murray wearing her Karen Walker shirt.
Sarah Murray wearing her Karen Walker shirt.

Sarah Murray, editor of Fashion Quarterly

The editor who recently acquired the quarterly magazine shares two fond items of note.

Of all the incredible pieces I’ve owned by Karen Walker, the one I got the most wear out of was this classic white shirt. It was the perfect weight, cut and colour (an off-white rather than a stark white!) Not to mention it was absolutely perfect in terms of sheerness. I teamed it with shorts, jeans, and tied it over dresses. It became a much-loved staple in my wardrobe until the fateful day I somehow caught it on a draw and ripped it beyond repair. Whenever I look for white shirts I always hold them up to this one, but I’ve never found another quite like it!

During my first year of university, I worked in retail at a store on High St (circa 2003). It was one of those stores where you were supposed to use your pay to buy outfits from there to wear when you were rostered on. I had other plans. Once I got my first paycheck I walked across to Karen Walker’s O’Connell Street store, and spent my entire pay on a lilac textured turtle-neck knit jumper that I had been pining over for at least a month. I wore it constantly and loved it for many many years. Unfortunately, this was the era before iPhones and I don’t have a photo that I can find of me in it.

Jiali Yang in New York wearing her Karen Walker shirt dress from 2009.
Jiali Yang in New York wearing her Karen Walker shirt dress from 2009.

Jiali Yang, head of marketing and communications at Karen Walker

The long-serving communications whizz is an integral part of the brand.

I’ve been fortunate to add pieces to my wardrobe from the KW archive over the years - pieces I missed out on previously or that weren’t quite in my student budget. One of my absolute favourites is from ‘The Believers’, a collection from 2009. Fourteen years later I still regularly wear this shirt (or dress, as it is for me), including at eight months pregnant. It’s a perfect example of Karen’s timeless style and signature charm.

Karen and Mikhail have given me incredible opportunities both professionally and personally, for which I feel incredibly lucky. Among these, collaborating with Mama Tukua and the Kūki ‘Āirani Creative Mamas stands out. Together, we created a tivaevae dress showcased at Buckingham Palace as part of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange. This project was the most joyful celebration of collaboration, craft, and the passing on of traditional skills.

Johanna Thornton wearing a Karen Walker polo knit. Photo / Rosie Herdman
Johanna Thornton wearing a Karen Walker polo knit. Photo / Rosie Herdman

Johanna Thornton, deputy editor, premium lifestyle

Viva’s deputy editor shares a few special pieces.

I’ve had many Karen Walker pieces in my wardrobe over the years that feel special to wear including this ribbed polo knit top from 2019 with its exaggerated preppy collar and sporty striped cuffs and hem. It has a subtle sparkly thread through it, and I love wearing it buttoned to the neck as a layering piece, or tucked into trousers.

My Helter Skelter sunglasses in Crazy Tort have probably had the most wear over the years. I wore them so often that I broke the arm off the first pair and had to buy another, after which I diligently stored them in their ice-blue sunglasses case. They’re like Karen Walker’s tortoiseshell version of classic round Ray Bans, and they went everywhere with me back in the day.

Another fave is a cropped frill jacket from SS17 in KW’s signature shade of mustard that I picked up from Scotties Recycle Boutique. I used to wear it with a Karen Walker black ruched skirt with the same frill pattern. There’s a photo of me somewhere wearing this combo on one of my first shoots for Viva in Sydney. I’d worn the outfit on the plane over and thought I’d be heading straight to a glam interview with Adut Akech, instead I was put to work holding the photographer’s light. At least I looked cute doing it.

Emma Gleason wearing her Karen Walker bloomers.
Emma Gleason wearing her Karen Walker bloomers.

Emma Gleason, deputy editor, audience lifestyle

The writer and one of the country’s pioneering fashion bloggers during the 2000s is an avid fashion historian.

One of the most special, longstanding items in my wardrobe, I bought these Karen Walker shorts around 2008, I think, when I was 19. I walked into the brand’s Newmarket store, which at the time was located in a small space on the corner of Balm St and Nuffield (the shop’s footprint has since expanded considerably) that smelled strongly of Flowerbomb by Victor&Rolf, and there on a sample sale rack was a pair of shorts that I’d been preoccupied by. I first saw them when pouring over the runway photographs from Karen Walker’s New York Fashion Week show in 2007. The collection was Victory Garden, inspired by the land girls of the British war effort. Of course, I bought them. The early 2000s were my favourite era of the brand, with Karen embracing the weird and disparate references, and these shorts are a good example of that. Made from an overdyed Liberty-esque floral, they’re a bricolage of elements (bloomers, cargo shorts) and have a fabulous slouch. I still wear them regularly, and still feel just a little bit 19 — in a good way.

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