Kara Baker is what the French call la perle rare. The rare pearl, that exceptionally precious thing that is so hard to come by – and a real joy to find. She’s also what the French call a couturière. Inadequately translated as ‘seamstress’, even worse as ‘dress-maker’, English lacks the gravitas her métier implies.
Headquartered in a first-floor walkup in Melbourne’s downtown, Kara Baker provides a unique service to a select clientèle. She measures, fits, drafts, cuts, sews, refits and delivers individually-tailored garments to women with a refined eye, an appreciation for sublime detail. In the process she becomes counsel, confidante, friend. It’s an experience that today may seem an indulgence, but until some fifty years ago was simply a reality.
What inspires you to design?
I design fashion, I can’t help myself! It is my passion.
How did you develop your style?
I read English teen fashion magazines in small town NZ in the early 1970’s. I realised later that many of the clothing designs I was in love with at that time were influenced by Yves St Laurent’s shocking 1971 haute couture collection in which he referenced the street girls from 1940’s occupied Paris. Also by watching Hollywood films from the 30’s and 40’s on TV, I adored the glamour of the clothing. This is evident in my work from Sirens (1984-’92).
What do you think is the biggest challenge in the Fashion industry today?
Living wages for workers in the fast fashion industry. The woman who made the T shirt that costs $12 cost her the opportunity to afford to educate her children. Don’t buy fast fashion!
What gets you through the day?
Cuddling my pussycats.
Are you a tea or coffee person?
Both - decaffeinated black coffee and fresh ginger tea.
What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
For the ladies - the suffragette movement, feminism, women’s rights - what ever you want to call equality for women. Imagine literally being owned by your husband (any property of yours legally became his on marriage), let alone not being eligible to vote!
What is something you can’t live without?
My friends. A thing? Shoes!
What is your favourite brand at the moment?
What is your favourite place to eat?
Nonna Betta, Rome.
What product excited you the most recently?
A new season Martin Margiela coat I saw three weeks ago in Paris.
What’s your favourite colour at the moment?
What is the greatest thing you’ve learnt through your career?
Never settle for second best, i.e. persevere with a design until it is resolved.
What is the achievement you’re most proud of?
My body of work, 1984-’92 (Sirens), Project (with Shelley Lasica) 1998- ’08 and 2008-’16 (Kara Baker). See www.karabaker.com
What methodologies, systems or routines do you have in place to make sure you are productive everyday?
Self-discipline is a necessity when working for one’s self. The pressure to pay the mortgage usually does it (!) and client deadlines. I am very organised, you must be when running a business solo, as there is so much to manage. I have one day for working ON my business, the rest of my week is creative, working IN my business.
If you could give one piece of advice to young female designers, what would it be?
Only surround yourself with positive, supportive people. The others aren’t worthy of your time and energy.