Christian Joy for Karen O Oscar’s Gown Illustrations.
Karen O and Ezra Koenig performing The Moon Song at the 86th Academy Awards
Karen O in Christian Joy!
All photos by Nick Zinner for Repellent Zine
I can remember exactly where I was standing when I first thought about becoming a designer. I had just moved to New York City and I was waiting for the traffic light on the median in the middle of Houston just off First Avenue. I was telling my friend about an idea I had for a dress and she said “Christiane you should really become a fashion designer.” At first, I felt unsure; maybe I should try something else like being a stylist or writing about fashion. In my mind I was thinking about designers like John Galliano. That sort of success seemed completely unattainable.
Not too soon after I began working for a store called Antique Boutique in Soho. The designers they carried were all young and experimental. I remember standing with my friend and laughing at a new shipment of tops we had received. “Ha I could make that!” we boasted. Eventually, my friend and I had a t-shirt making contest. I took an old black shirt, cut the sleeves off and stenciled the word “warm” across the front with white acrylic paint. Another friend saw the tee and asked me to make one for her, she wore it and her friend saw it and asked for some for her store. The shop was called TimToum and it was on Orchard between Houston and Stanton. The few I made sold out almost immediately, so I began making more. I was encouraged by the owner, Erika Lively to expand so I began deconstructing old clothes that I had purchased at the Salvation Army near my house. Everything was chopped up, decorated with paint and hand sewn together. My favorite thing to make was prom dresses! I glittered them with ex boyfriend’s names, soaked them in thick red paint and gave them names like The Teenage Car Crash Dress and The Carrie Dress after the horror movie Carrie.
Around this time I met Karen O who asked for a prom dress for her upcoming show at The Cooler, a club in the meatpacking district. The dress was fairly hideous, a royal blue, one shouldered number shredded and adorned with plastic flower vines and stenciled yeahs. This was also my first time seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I remember being so stunned. Since I was a kid I knew I was going to be part of something really exciting and here I was witnessing it. The feeling was overwhelming. I saw images of Karen in my head on the covers of magazines and on TV. I knew instantly that the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s were going to be big.
Not long after the performance I had my very first fashion show. It was called No Joy. I styled each of the models as though they were in a girl gang. They wore deconstructed jackets, button downs and skirts, newsboy caps, Converse and ankle socks and they all had black eyes and fat lips. They were total bruisers. The symbol for No Joy was a circular denim patch with a white X and everyone had one. It was also around this time that I received my first piece of press. It was for Dutch Magazine, written by Johanna Lenander. I remember picking up a copy at St. Mark’s Bookstore and taking it back to the shop where I worked. I was so excited when I opened the magazine and found a full page dedicated to my dress. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Of course this was all at the same moment the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were becoming very popular. I became Karen O’s costume designer almost by default. The press was coming in non-stop and she needed new looks for each photo shoot. It was because of this that I began a crash course in fashion design. I started using home patterns, deconstructing them to create new looks. I bought books on sewing and patternmaking and began studying fashion history. It was overwhelming and I learned to solve problems very quickly. Often I would have only one night to make a new piece and some like The Money and Hated Dresses were held together with packing tape and staples. Karen was quickly becoming known for her “art project” ensembles. With the rise of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs I also began receiving my own press. I would come home to voice mail messages from Women’s Wear Daily and Rolling Stone. It all seemed so hilarious. We felt like we were just having fun and never thought anyone would ever take us seriously.