Camilla Staerk | Designer Interview

Danish-born, New York City-based designer Camilla Staerk creates pieces that somehow manage to exist in a world of concrete tactility and the gauzy shadows of early morning dreams. Growing up on a farm outside of Copenhagen, Staerk developed a longstanding love of leather from the saddles on the horses she rode, connected to images of the fog that swirled around Hamlet’s Elsinore castle, and took Seven Gothic Tales/Out of Africa author Karen Blixen as one of her personal heroines. As a designer she’s consistently garnered attention for designs that are stark, minimalist, graceful, and deeply noir (think Lauren Bacall meets Tilda Swinton meets the “Perfect Drug” video by Nine Inch Nails)–her designs carve out a female silhouette not to be trifled with. She recently returned to New York after traveling, so I caught up with her about her inspirations, the future of her brand STÆRK, and her enviably iconic head wraps.

Camilla Staerk Photo by Dan Lecca

Ok. Straight away, what’s the secret to your amazing head wraps? If I tried that look, I’d come off more like an unkempt gardener from an unidentifiable decade.

Ha! I started wearing the head wraps very early on, always trying out a variety of ways of knotting and tying them. Again, as a way to always be playing with form and creating silhouettes. I’m quite sure they were originally inspired by one of my heroines growing up, Karen Blixen…and then, it just became part of my “uniform!”

Rumor (aka the Internet) has it that you’re collaborating with Helena Christensen for a capsule jewelry collection with Skagen this summer.

Yes, one of our upcoming collaboration launches this year! It’s is the first jewelry capsule for Skagen under the name STÆRK & CHRISTENSEN + SKAGEN. It’s such a pleasure to get the opportunity to really draw on our Danish heritage by creating a modern jewelry collection in both ours and Skagen’s spirit. Our (mine and Helena’s) collaborative creative space is very clear and derives from our combined constant flow of inspirations and impressions, which we then translate together into focused collections and/or projects, and through a variety of media.

Can you give any sneak peeks or hints of what that might look like? Do you have a muse?

Our main “muse” and inspiration for the unique Skagen pieces was our signature swallow. To us the swallow symbolizes the Denmark of our childhood, freedom, as well as a sensual shape to work with; the swallow in flight silhouette.

Camilla Staerk Photo by Geoff Barrenger: STÆRK ‘VANITAS SADDLE BACK BLAZER’ (LEATHER WITH NET BACK)

You’re often referred to as “Danish style setter,” but you haven’t actually been based in Denmark for quite a while. Do you feel that growing up there played a formative role in your design interests and philosophy?

Yes, I certainly do, but this was also due to my family and their passion for and involvement in Danish design–both modern and antiques. And in art.

Have you seen your philosophy morph as a result of your travels and your life in London and New York?

I feel moving to London at a young age showed me a freedom I hadn’t before experienced. I could choose to be anonymous in this big city, and I loved it because with that came the room to really experiment and find both my own style and also my older self. Professionally, I developed a clear brand “DNA” from the beginning, so London was a good place to start because artistic expression in fashion is so valued and comes first there. In New York, my big lesson has been to truly translate that into a business, which really comes down to always staying true to yourself and what you believe in. To be able to express what you stand for in a very clear way and with true confidence.

Camilla Staerk Photo by Geoff Barrenger: STÆRK ‘VANITAS NET WAVE BRA’ & ‘VANITAS BUTTON-UP GLOVE BODY’
(LACE WITH LEATHER NECK TRIM)

So how did you decide to take the New York leap after your successful beginning in London?

I fell in love with New York the very first time I visited when I was about 17, and promised myself that I’d live here–it just simply felt like home to me. But I had an amazing beginning for my brand that happened around my London graduate collection, so it would be a while til the time seemed right. During the first six years after getting my degree I stayed in London and built my business–I  was suddenly part of London Fashion Week and a very supportive industry. In 2006, I made some big decisions and changes in terms of how I wanted to go forward with my business, so it made complete sense that it was the time for me to finally relocate to NYC.

And have you found the cultural change to be creatively inspiring in particular ways?

I think that big changes like this, no matter where you go from and to, always fuel changes within yourself, it opens you up in a sense. You become alert, aware, receptive to impressions with new energy. So yes, I have found the change most creatively exciting and inspiring, and on so many different levels.

A lot of your work and personal style seems to draw on noir and fairy tale (the Grimm kind, not the Disney kind) visual elements, and you’ve referenced Hamlet’s Elsinore  Castle and David Lynch as influences. Have you always been interested in exploring the darker side of things?

It feels like yes, I was always drawn to the dark romantic, the melancholic. And growing up, both Bergman and Blixen left big impressions on me.

You’ve been spending time in LA recently–one of my favorite cities.  Are you feeling inspired by anything you saw out there?  

I’m drawn to Los Angeles for sure. And I have great friends out there, who are all doing amazing things in various creative fields; music, fashion, art.

Camilla Staerk Photo by Helena Christensen: FROM A STÆRK LOOK BOOK FROM THE ARCHIVES, 2001.
CONCEPT, CASTING, HAIR AND MAKE-UP BY HC AND CS

Given your interest in the melancholic, it seemed like a great fit for your aesthetic, too. It has a reputation for sunshine and palm trees, but there’s an undercurrent of something so mysterious and almost gothic in the vibes there.

Yes, exactly. I find Los Angeles intriguing and like no other place. I like that. A lot is going on under the surface, and you have to know how to find it, which also reminds me of Tokyo, where I’ve also spent a lot of time.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about your work is your ongoing commitment to working in black–what draws you to that color palette?

Everything becomes more focused on textures, silhouettes and detail, and even on craftsmanship–inside and out. Developing special leather surfaces is where it always starts for me, the tactility and emotion of a piece, sculpting specific shapes, and always aiming for that fine balance between heavy and light, dark and delicate. Telling stories with my work is what I love to do. Stories holding a certain darkness, a certain romance.

Camilla Staerk THE STÆRK SIGNATURE HANDKNITTED LEATHER CLUTCH

What direction do you think your stories will take your work in?

My focus is on the STÆRK wardrobe as well as home and lifestyle brand, which is an evolving, yet timeless, core item collection. I’ll be launching a new online gallery and e-boutique this year, and part of my business has expanded into creating special custom pieces for clientele like Karen O and Chrysta Bell, David Lynch’s muse and collaborator, to mention some. So very inspiring.

So maybe we can’t all pull off an amazing Blixen-inspired head wrap, but if you had one piece of style advice you’d like to put out into the world, what would it be?

Confidence.

And what’s one thing you’d tell that 17-year-old Danish farm girl who fell in love with NYC?  

Don’t ever forget to enjoy the ride.

To stay up-to-date on Camilla Staerk, follow her on Instagram and check her website

 

Photo By: Helena Christensen From A STÆRK LOOK BOOK from the archives