Last month, for one fun week, FAB L’Style welcomed to our staff a student intern, Ms. Celine Hart. During her time with us she interviewed Vienna based designer, Karl Michael. We share it with you here:
Who is Karl Michael? Please, tell us about yourself.
I don’t know, I think Karl Michael is a vision. It’s just an illusion… just like a creation by me. Basically, it’s my first two names. There is no persona; it’s more a mind.
What did you do before you started your own design house?
Before I started my own design brand, I was actually a hairdresser and makeup artist. Then later I worked as a stylist and model agent. Then I had my shop.
What inspired you to become a fashion designer and when did you begin designing?
I would say the impulse to do fashion, comes from the fact that I had the ideas. For me, fashion is very simple. It’s very easy. It just makes sense to me. I think that’s why I do it. I mean I do a lot of arts. I’m doing paintings, music, and drawings, but fashion… it’s easy. Fashion design is like a language and I feel like I speak this language, native in a way. Actually, I started learning it by myself around 2010. But it needed, like four years, you know. I did a lot at home.
What does your brand represent? Who is it for? What does it stand for?
It’s for everyone, that’s the idea. I don’t want to be exclusive. I think fashion, in general, should be inclusive. That why I have a high-end price range and a very low price range because I want to make it affordable for everyone. I don’t care about backgrounds or gender or whatever. So if you fit it, you fit it!
We understand you are full hands on. What is your creative process?
I actually don’t know what my creative process is. Because the thing is, first, I work in different ways. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I start with the cut, sometimes I basically just rip fabrics apart and try to form them, but mostly I draw. The thing is, luckily I’m not a person who has to wait for inspiration. Sometimes it’s an impulse that I have to do something because the idea is so strong, then I draw. But as I said, designing for me is like a language. I think for me as a designer I have this dialogue with myself while designing. I think that’s the process, and if it’s like a quick dialogue, a hushed one, then it’s like super quick. Sometimes an idea needs hours to think about and develop.
Do you ever get stuck or run out of ideas?
Of course, I get stuck. Sometimes it also looks crappy, you know like I have this idea and I’m doing it and it was too impulsive. Like I started with the fabric and the end product is just bullshit. That’s why I call it a language because sometimes you talk bullshit. And then you have these sentences in between, which are very smart or iconic statements, and this is like basically the same. For design, it’s more like you speak this language and then you do it. Then you get inspired with knowledge, watch series, listen to music, watch people, whatever. You influence it in the conversation with yourself.
What is the reaction towards your brand?
I don’t know. The thing is, I like to provoke. Some people find it very entertaining, some find it a bit of a pain in the ass. I think the good thing about it, in the end, is most people that I know appreciate it. Some people appreciate the fact that they were provoked, so it’s not boring. Mostly, I have customers who come in and ask for something different. They want to change something about themselves. They want to be different, or sexy or the extreme versions of all these. Last time I had a customer that said she wants a very slutty dress. She looked for it and couldn’t find one, she didn’t know why. So, I had this dress and I made it shorter, like a bit more skin was visible. I think people come here to set a statement with what they wear.
How often do you release a collection? Do seasons matter to you?
There is no pattern. Sometimes once a year, twice, three times, seven times… it depends. For example, I had a collection from 2018/19 that I dropped, because I was just not feeling it anymore. This year has only two or three collections, it should have been four, but I don’t care about seasons. I like to be very spontaneous. I think it’s also better for the customers and for the public, you know when they only see what’s really good. So when I have the feeling to ‘drop’ it, I ‘drop’ it. That’s why sometimes I’m also not waiting for the show, for releasing. It’s like some teasers, it’s kind of sexy. Because you have this vibe then, of what comes.
What is your favorite thing about being a designer?
The fact that you can use everything, you know what I mean? Like right now I’m doing this alien collection and I’m watching these old Star Trek series while drawing. It’s basically a thing you do. You try to get in a vibe. So sometimes I am drawing in concerts, on the beach… it’s like a search. It’s never boring. You try to get inspired by everyone and everything and I like the freedom of it. It’s like a theme park. That’s what I like most about it…in every corner, there is this little inspiration or surprise or roller coaster. You just search for this sneaky little place in your mind. It’s never boring.
What are your thoughts about fashion, in general, in Austria – more precisely Vienna?
I don’t know. I don’t care actually. I mean, in a way I care because I also have a shop here, to be one of the good designers that make the city more visible in fashion. But I don’t care about the fashion “industry” in Paris either. That’s not my job, you know? This is the job of buyers, magazines, stylists but not my job as a designer. I should be very self-centered; otherwise, I’m just focusing on other brands, other designs, other labels, and then you start to be a copycat or a trend seeker. Perhaps it’s good, I don’t know. I don’t criticize other designers either, it’s not my job. Who am I to judge?
You have taken part in Vienna Fashion Week a few times. As a creative, is it something extremely rewarding for you?
Yeah, it’s a good platform for young artists. This year I won’t do the fashion week in September because I already did it five times and I need refreshment in some way. The fact that you have it in the city, where you can start as a young designer there, you have this space, this place, this crowd of people who don’t know you. It’s like basically, you’re a young band performing at a festival. So that’s why I think it’s very important. I just think that at one point, about all the fashion weeks on earth, you should start your own kind of aesthetic. And not the fashion week aesthetic. Try to get your own signature. Even though it’s weird because I know the fashion week shows are bigger than what I can now do alone, but I like it as the first steps, because you rise very quickly and very high in the industry. You just have to show up. It’s sometimes fun. You have this crowd, you have these people, you don’t have to care about it so much because the fashion week does a lot of the work.
Do you believe in sustainable fashion?
Yes! I mean everything that’s sustainable has a future. We have a planet, we have a climate, and we should think about that.
I mean it depends on how you do it. I’m getting a bit bored when it comes to sustainable fashion and these designers with constant ideas of recycling, reproducing or whatever.. and I’m just like; use something else.
For example, I don’t have very big stocks, so the customers basically have to wait for the fabrics and for the piece of fashion, so that’s also sustainable. I think it’s important as a company in the 21st century to think about the planet and what you do. Overproducing is never a good idea. Child labor is also not a good idea. Producing in countries where you can’t control it is never a good idea. I think the best thing is to work locally. I also think that the customers like it. I think it’s the most sustainable thing you can do. If you produce in the back room of your shop or in your neighborhood, in a way, it’s kind of this local sexiness. You have this feeling everything is here and you know where it comes from. It’s kind of hot when you know you like it. It’s kind of fresh. At this point, when you buy a piece, you have the feeling that you are the only one who has it and that also gives people the flow. It’s better when it’s not this mass produced stuff which also infects the customers.
What are your future plans? Do you plan on expanding to other countries outside of Austria?
Of course, I want to expand. I think everyone wants to expand. I just think I never live in the past so I try to live in the present, future, like what comes next.
I also think it’s not very smart, as a creative mind, to make very big plans for the future. Sometimes you forget that you have a present, so like you forget that you have to sell stuff, that you have to produce stuff, that you have to have a collection while designing a collection. I am a fan of risk, but I’m not a fan of stupid ideas. That’s the thing in the 21st century, people make those start-up ideas, and they make three or four shops and you fail so hard that you can’t even show your face anymore. Because it was not only one shop that failed but it was the four shops with a lot of people who worked there. The best thing about a company, in general, about a brand, about a fashion label is to build a strong foundation. So my company is now opened between four to five years. I think it should come that I expand, but I don’t stress myself. I think it’s not good for anyone, even for customers. If I risk too much, my designs are not available anymore. I have to think about the sustainable way to expand a company, but I want to have a second shop. And I want to expand to the Asian market, especially online, because they have different shops and systems.
Could you imagine a life without involving yourself in the fashion industry?
I don’t really care about “the industry.” But no one can live without fashion. It’s the same as asking if you can live without music. Even if you are not a musician, it’s not possible. I don’t even know if we could survive that. Fashion at the end of the day is one of our signatures, as individuals; we try to define ourselves, we try to find a way. I’m very good in the way of what I’m doing, giving people the possibility of extreme individuality. So why should I stop it? Even if I would be a musician, I would still do fashion. I think as a human being we have the responsibility to give what we can. And what I can do is make people feel individual.
Do you have any advice for aspiring designers out there?
You have to feel the flow of doing it. The one moment you don’t feel it anymore… it should hurt. If it hurts a bit if you have the feeling that there is no progress, that there is nothing happening and your work is worthless and it’s useless what you do, then it’s really good. Because then you criticize yourself and then you see that you are not successful enough. I think the biggest problem, what I would never do in the first year, is rest, or think, “I’m so good, I’m so special.” I think it’s a good thing if you still do it and you want to do it even though it’s very hard. Even though the work is a pain in the ass, you cannot stop it.
So I think as a fashion student or designer, the most important thing is to reflect on yourself. Ask if you really want to do it, because this job takes a lot from you. Basically, it takes months of inspiration out of your head and it’s super intimate. You just put it on a catwalk and people see stuff, but this stuff is sometimes your most secret ideas or fetishes…you know it’s just super intimate. I would give no tip because there is no tip, everyone does it differently. I just think if it doesn’t hurt or if you don’t have the feeling that it is growing fast enough, then you are doing something wrong. If you have the feeling you are good already, then that’s a bit stupid. Just fight for it and stay with it. Because it’s always getting better. It’s knowledge…it’s a language that you learn.