From “baggy on baggy” to “boy-girl” fashion. How the super stylist is helping the NorCal brand stay on trend
Words by ELIZABETH VARNELL
Karla Welch knows enough about shape shifting to stay one step ahead of fashion. The stylist has made a name for herself piecing together game-changing red carpet looks for Sarah Paulson and Elizabeth Moss, not to mention that extra-long T-shirt on Justin Bieber. Now she’s applying her fearless, sartorial prowess to the classic American wardrobe with her second Dockers x Karla collaboration. Her minimalist, utilitarian second season drop is comprised of six gender-neutral designs with exaggerated volumes that are tailor-made for the great outdoors this summer.
The bold new Dockers additions, also at her own site xkarla, include a cotton brushed twill upsized anorak with an elastic hem and a subtly crinkled button-up shirt in Japanese nylon — pieces that nod to Welch’s British Columbia upbringing and her practical approach to fashion. Oversized cotton twill pleated-and-cuffed shorts, wide-legged pleated trousers, a slim-waisted midi skirt and a contrasting yak-blend shrunken cardigan — based on one of Welch’s childhood favorites — round out the limited-edition offering.
“Karla has a vision of both inclusivity and modernity,” says Janine Chilton-Faust, Global VP of Men’s Design, Levi Strauss & Co., adding that at Welch’s suggestion, the company is making a donation to The Trevor Project a suicide prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth. Indeed, the San Francisco-based denim brand that includes the Dockers label has a history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights and was the first Fortune 500 company to provide health benefits to domestic partners. Now Levi’s is back on the front lines joining the #StopHateForProfit campaign taking a stand against hate speech by boycotting Facebook and Instagram and also committing to supporting garment workers through #PayUp, created to mitigate the crisis of lost jobs and wages due to pandemic-related canceled orders.
“Karla has a vision of both inclusivity and modernity”
Welch’s initial collaboration with Dockers, also benefiting The Trevor Project, included an immediately sold-out trench and bucket hat, all in Boy Scout-adjacent hues. For Season 2, she builds on Dockers’ tried-and-true harvest gold tone, but this time she’s also employing an eye-catching counterpoint: sea pink. Chilton-Faust credits the fabrics Welch selects with giving shape to her oversized silhouettes. “The high density of the 100-percent cotton twill, an authentic fabrication, makes for excellent structure in the shorts, skirt and pants, and helps to create the shapes that are so unique to this collection,” she says.
To devise new American classics with modern shapes, Welch took inspiration from attire worn by artist Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Ansel Adams in the wilds and vistas that appear so prominently in their art. Welch’s modern versions of practical-chic shirts, jackets and skirts designed for durability and movement further her ongoing mission to create a closet of elevated basics. Here, we talk to Welch about styling oversized looks, monochromatic dressing, and how to put together the sort of uniform appropriate for these unpredictable times.
“Simple is hard, but that’s what makes it perfect”
Karla Welch is a force to be reckoned with. The veteran stylist is the mastermind behind looks for Tracee Ellis Ross, Megan Rapinoe, Anita Hill, and Justin Bieber and responsible for both outstanding red carpet moments as well as elevating the scumbro aesthetic. Her latest collaboration with Dockers, her second outing with the label, is one that is close to her heart—which is how she seemingly approaches everything.
Welch first lent her Midas touch to the old-school khakis label in 2019 (it was sold exclusively at Dover Street Market and xkarla.com), but this time around, the price point is much more accessible, and that much cooler featuring utilitarian silhouettes that are nipped and tucked and enhanced with a dash of millennial pink. "It’s always about what I want in my closet and then making it perfect and simple," she told ELLE.com of the six-piece collection.
Everything about is personal: The shrunken cardigan is inspired by Welch's favorite childhood sweater and she recalls her first memories of khakis are being directly linked to her father. Even the campaign, which was birthed through necessity in the time of COVID, stars her own family including her kid Clem. It was ashot in isolation by her husband and photographer Matthew Welch. The end result is a wearable, genderless collection meant to last a lifetime, and affect a life too—in honor of the Dockers® x karla collaboration, the workwear brand is making a donation to The Trevor Project.
Via email, Welch shared details of her soon-to-be sold out collaboration, how quarantine has affected her style, and her thoughts on social media activism.
What’s your first memory tied to a pair of Dockers?
I think it’s more the idea of classic khakis that I’ve been obsessed with. My dad sold them in his store and I’d get the smallest men’s pair and paper bag belt them.
The wide-legged pants in particular are amazing. What is the best way to style them?
However you want!! With sneakers, with heels with a sweatshirt or with a tank too, and a blazer endless!
With quarantine, creatives have had to, well, get creative. You’ve shown that yourself with your at-home photoshoot for this campaign. How else have you been spending your time in isolation?
I’m catching up on twenty years of not enough sleep! Also really enjoying the time with Clem!
How has quarantine changed your relationship to fashion and style?
It’s made me love comfy! Also, right now I’m craving all the beautiful! But it’s also making me question what do I really need? The truth is, not much. That’s always been my ethos—buy what you will still have and wear 20 years from now. I believe it’s true with this collab! I want my clothes to become your vintage.
As someone who has always used her platform to speak on politics and social causes, how has that changed and developed over the past few months?
I am who I am. It’s my responsibility to use my platform and privilege.
What are your thoughts on how fashion brands are responding to BLM, both positively and negatively?
I think companies who have always walked the talk are continuing to do so and that those are the companies I will support. Truth is truth. You can’t fake it.
Dockers has released its newest collection with stylist Karla Welch. Building off of last year’s collection, this year sees an all-new lineup of gender-neutral khakis, shorts, and tops—all of which feature an exaggerated take on the classic American wardrobe.
With a color scheme that includes harvest gold khaki or sea pink, each piece in the collection mixes a utilitarian aesthetic with a modern approach to shape. There is the long trouser, a wide leg cotton twill chino with a pleated front, slant pockets, and a fit that’s slim through the waist, opening up at the thigh, and finishing with an ultra-wide leg at the bottom. Then there’s the anorak, an oversized brushed cotton twill anorak hoodie with Japanese nylon lining, elasticized cuffs, a kangaroo pocket, and neck zip. Also, with an oversized fit is the button-up shirt, a work shirt in Japanese nylon fabric with a subtle crinkle effect for texture, and two utilitarian chest pockets.
For a breezier warm-weather look, there’s the pleated cotton twill khaki short with slant pockets, a hidden fly, and minimal stitching detail. There’s also a midi length, cotton twill skirt with forwarded side seams, in-seam pockets, and an invisible zipper, that’s narrow at the waist and wide at the bottom. And wrapping up the collection is a soft, yak-blend knit cardigan based off of a favorite sweater from Karla’s childhood. It features multi-varied cable and stitch construction with a CF zipper and a shrunken fit for a snug, slim appearance.
When designing this collection, Welch drew inspiration from photographs of Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams, and how they dressed while navigating the great outdoors. To capture the versatility and universality of these pieces, Karla and her husband, photographer Matthew Welch, captured images of their family, out in nature and in the studio alike.
“I just see this as a continuation of pieces that are really wearable and really affordable,” said Welch. “In a way, it feels like a uniform, a little bit utilitarian, but with a fashion element too. All of my collaborations are built on this idea of the American classics. Of working on the perfect closet that I need and that everyone else needs. It’s my idea of your uniform for living life, and you just add your special pieces in there. Dockers has an authenticity rooted in craftsmanship and classic, versatile style. There’s nothing more special than a tee you love or a pair of khakis you love.”
“One of the reasons Karla connects with the Dockers brand is her ability to be authentic, effortless, and cool, and all without trying too hard. Everything she does comes out in an interesting way,” added Janine Chilton-Faust, global vice president of men’s design at Levi Strauss & Co. “And it’s exciting to create a more gender-neutral collection, and continuing on a path that’s more fluid. Some pieces might appeal to women more, some might appeal to men more, but it’s really a fluid collection with pieces for everyone.”
In honor of the collaboration, Dockers is making a donation to The Trevor Project. The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people, The Trevor Project works to save young lives by providing support through free and confidential crisis counseling via phone, chat, and text. The Trevor Project also runs TrevorSpace, the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth, and operates innovative education, research, and advocacy programs.