The verdict for fall 2013 is in: cool girls love witches. Whether diaphanous or tailored, Glenda or goose-nosed, there is a witch for every woman. There is something uptown-witch about Stella McCartney’s off-kilter suiting, its hems kicked to the side for a quick broomstick ride; for the freelancing Boris Karloffs of Nolita, there is Gareth Pugh’s lurching shoulders and Ann Demeulemeester’s willowing broomstick skirts.
And for those who are casting spells at galleries and hovering over lit mag launch parties, there is KAELEN’s Fall 2013 collection, the sixth from New York-based label by Canadian designer Kaelen Haworth. A group of inky, moody separates, its thinky, growling attitude is like a college seminar paper on the influence of the supernatural on grunge fashion.
Wonderfully enough for us witches, KAELEN points to The Craft as the collection’s primary inspiration. “I just wanted it to feel like a more sophisticated grunge. I didn’t want to go grunge in the true sense,” the designer told me in her studio earlier this month, as her gargoyle of a French bulldog wheezed on a dog chaise nearby. “I wanted to sweeten it up a bit. It’s The Craft meets The Virgin Suicides.”
The sense of candied brooding is redolent in a violet, x-ray-like peony print found on skirts and shirts throughout the collection. “We made [the print] in photoshop, and then recolored it into these hyper-violet tones to make it feel a little bit weird,” Haworth explains. The effect is something like the texture the sky turns after a spell is cast, and is most engaging in an organza babydoll dress that stands staunchly away from the body. “When people think of silk, they think drapey,” Haworth says. But the organza dress looks like it’s demonstrating the antithesis of static cling.
Prints drive another stand-out piece from the collection: a leather pencil skirt whose serpentine laser-cut lattice pattern is derived from a snake painting by Haworth’s stylist, which was then photoshopped into a coven-like Rorschach. The effect is a subtle serpentine texture that is slinky on a baggy, raglan sleeve dress, and capital-c Cool on a pair of sulky silk pants.
As a whole, the collection manages to hit all the right fall trends but pushes just a bit to make it a little spookier, a little smarter: the sweatshirt is there, but in that maddening organza peony print and stuffed puffy with fill (you could seriously wear this everyday, with everything, and answer a hundred envious questions about where you got it). The pastel arrives in a lilac leather moto-vest with cozy shearling on the back that suggests you’ve just started morphing into a werewolf. The spaghetti strap dress, the most significant grunge silhouette, comes in that snake print. Witches and grunge are two major touchstones for a number of designers, but they appear here with a discerning, architectural originality.
After a long discussion about a model who looks like Gary Oldman, because duh, we moved onto the kind of woman the designer imagines when she designs. “In our very first market, one of the stores said, ‘I think these are just too intelligent for our customer,’” Haworth told me with a sly smile. “And I thought, ‘That’s actually great.’ Because there’s something about it that’s more sophisticated than it might seem at first. She’s cool and she likes things that are clean and modern and interesting. But it’s polished. It’s a polished cool.”
I mulled that over as I left her studio, and recalled my favorite moment from The Craft: as the four girls descend from a city bus, the driver tells them, “You girls watch out for those weirdos!” Nancy replies, “We are the weirdos, mister.”