Nestled in a plush corner of Saks Fifth Avenue’s selling floor, Karolina Zmarlak‘s collection of finely tailored separates and dresses in muted colors hang on a rack. Each piece has a distinct detail; a curved zipper on the front of a creme and taupe dress, a crepe jumpsuit that nips in at just the right spots, and a bomber jacket accented with panels of python. These wares toe the line between ready-to-wear ease and made-to-order quality. Last night, Zmarlak introduced her Fall collection to the shop, along with an accompanying film. Over a glass of champagne, Zmarlak old us more about her label, which just hit the five-year mark…
What is your relationship with Saks like?
We’ve been carried at Saks for about a year now. We started off in the Designer Atrium floor, but now we’ve evolved into this great room we’re in now. Tonight is sort of a celebration of our partnership with Saks and how amazing that has been and how they’ve helped us grow the brand. We’re launching our Fall 2014 film, and also our Fall collection, which literally just arrived here.
You’re celebrating five years of your eponymous label. What has been the biggest moment for you?
About two years ago we realized that we had to change our focus, especially on the product and who our woman was. At the time, I was traveling for trunk shows and meeting our customer personally. I was able to learn about who they are and truly what they wanted. Once I realized that I was a modernist designer who really focused on tailoring, a sleek silhouette, the materials and the craftsmanship, an evolution took place. We got picked up by Saks and Neiman Marcus and we really gained traction from that.
Who’s your Karolina Zmarlak customer?
She’s definitely a woman and I say that not based on age, but on a mental state. She’s definitely sophisticated and refined, especially when it comes to her own taste. She likes things that are very personal to her.
What do you mean by personal?
More and more, women are realizing that they want to be a part of the design process. Especially considering how fashion has become so fast, women want that collaboration and partnership with the designer. Just like in the ‘50s, when you had women traveling to Paris, when they were collaborating with Cristóbal Balenciaga or Hubert de Givenchy, I feel like women are yearning for that again.
Do you offer up any made-to-measure designs for customers who ask?
Every once in a while I’ll do a gown or a dress. For Obama’s second inauguration, I did a custom gown for Amy Rule, the first lady of Chicago. I love projects like that which are superbly awesome, although they leave for no prep time. But if it means I have to alter a piece a little bit or a regular client asks for something special, I’ll do it. I think it’s such an important part of the process.
Do you have a lot of expertise in the made-to-measure field?
Before we started ready-to-wear five years ago, I did only custom pieces out of my small apartment in Nolita for two years. It was the first time I really worked directly with women, working with their measurements and picking the fabrics with them. To translate that into ready-to-wear was really important for me. The first ten pieces in my first collection, back in 2009, were all convertible or reversible. It was to embody that idea of personalization and allowing our customer to identify with each piece her own way.