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Karen Walker has a thing for the esoteric. Last season she was inspired by obscure British sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel, and this season it was a remote town in Russia that provided her jumping-off point—and the only link between the two is that you’ve probably never heard of either.
Backstage before her show, Walker explained her inspiration: “We came across these photos, taken in the ’80s, of this unmarked town just north of Moscow called Star City, that was a secret military training base for the Soviet Union’s space program. And there were all these photos of these funny, folksy, chintzy Russian sitting rooms but with space suits and space gloves.” Walker, always a fan of intriguing juxtapositions, said she wanted to contrast the “folksy, domestic, and ordinary with high-tech, cutting-edge utility.” And, she continued, “a shot of glam. Because it was quite an elite, glamorous city.” It was difficult to make heads or tails of the idea.
But then the show started. If Walker is a little bonkers for using such bizarre, obscure reference points, there is certainly a method to her madness: She was able to suffuse elements of her inspiration into an utterly wearable collection. A small detail like an extended exposed zipper on high-waisted pants recalled the training jumpsuits astronauts might wear, without hitting the viewer over the head with the revelation. You wouldn’t think that space suits and peasant blouses go together, but Walker somehow made it work: Supple gold leather pieces (a nod to the Mercury space suit) were styled with Edwardian blouses and ribbed sweaters (and sometimes topped with a jaunty necktie).
There was an ’80s vibe to the whole collection, which exerted itself most boldly in the acid-washed denim pieces. Walker also ingeniously added a horizontal zipper to two floaty white dresses, allowing the wearer to zip off the bottom and create a shorter dress or top. It proved that utility needn’t be slick or complicated to be effective.