From styling stars like Justin Bieber and Tracee Ellis Ross to creating her own clothing line, Karla Welch has spent almost 20 years honing her creative process while pushing the boundaries of fashion. Now she’s teaching you how to let your individuality shine through your wardrobe.
Karla spends her childhood in Powell River, a small town on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada. By age seven, she’s working at her father’s menswear store, Ken’s Clothes Closet.
As a teen and 20-something on the west coast of Canada, close to Vancouver and Seattle, Karla absorbs the fashion sensibilities of the grunge, punk, and skater scenes. She’s also drawn to the glamorous gowns presented on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fashion File, hosted by New Zealand-born fashion journalist Tim Blanks.
After dropping out of college, Karla works as a sommelier (another role that involves professional advice giving) at an Indian restaurant in Vancouver. It’s there that she meets—and hits it off with—American photographer Matthew Welch, who’s in town for a shoot. She moves to Los Angeles to be with him, and Karla assists on Matthew’s shoots for magazines like GQ and Rolling Stone.
Realizing that styling could be her calling, Karla calls up Dreamworks and persuades them to let her style an upcoming tour shoot with their rock band, Lifehouse. In one of her first big shoots, she poses the band on the flatbed of an old truck in vintage T-shirts, jeans, and Converse sneakers.
Matthew Welch shoots colorful (and now iconic) advertisements for the Apple iPod; Karla is recruited to dress the models. She focuses on details that bring personality to their moving silhouettes as they boogie in front of brightly colored backgrounds. The ad campaign is credited with launching the iPod into the mainstream.
When Karla is shopping for Canadian singer-songwriter Feist at the high-end department store Barneys in Los Angeles, she’s spotted by Brooke Wall, founder of the New York–based talent agency Wall Group, which represents stylists, makeup artists, and production designers. The two immediately click and Karla joins the agency; she’s been represented by the Wall Group ever since.
Karla becomes the secret force behind Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber’s seemingly improvised, street-friendly outfits.
Karla ranks No. 1 on a list of the most powerful stylists by American magazine The Hollywood Reporter, which praises her looks and “dynamic and varied” range. She also collaborates with American clothing brand Hanes to bring Justin Bieber’s extra-long T-shirts to the masses. The roomy shirts quickly become a beloved standard for many teens.
At the Academy Awards, Karla styles eight clients in black dresses to support Time’s Up, an advocacy nonprofit working to confront and lessen systemic sexual harassment in the workplace, born out of the #MeToo movement. The same year, she envelops American actor Tracee Ellis Ross in billowing, bright-pink Valentino couture for the Emmy Awards show; the look is an instant sensation and reverberates through the fashion world.
Karla creates the Period Company, which focuses on providing absorbent, inexpensive, and reusable underwear for people who menstruate. The underwear can last upward of five to 10 years, offering a significantly cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to pads and tampons.
To encourage more people to shop used and vintage clothing—and provide a compelling alternative to fast fashion—Karla partners with ThredUP, an online consignment shop, to curate a range of edgy, pre-loved music festival outfits.
The Science Behind What You Wear
In a study from Northwestern University, participants were asked to wear a white coat, which they were told belonged to a doctor; those test subjects found themselves able to pay closer attention to the world around them. In another survey, half of the participants were asked to hold a heavy clipboard while others held a lighter one. Those holding the heavier object reported being able to think more elaborately and more abstractly than their survey counterparts.
More recently, a study from the Academy of Management Discoveries, an international academic association, found that workers wearing head-to-toe home attire during video conference calls had increased feelings of “authenticity and engagement.” Meanwhile, those wearing a mix of home and work attire—like the “Zoom mullet,” an outfit consisting of a businesswear top and cozy pajama bottoms—did not. Scientists have even coined a specific term (“enclothed cognition”) to describe how clothes affect cognitive processes.
All of which to say: Pay attention to how clothes make you feel. And whether you’re considering a garment that’s outside your comfort zone—or simply one that represents a departure from your usual uniform—take a chance and find out if wearing it unlocks new revelations.
Colors can profoundly influence the meanings you assign to objects. One study found that the color red was perceived as a stimulant across cultures, and blue was perceived as a depressant; another found that hockey and football players wearing black uniforms received more penalties. In a third, researches found that people who briefly perceived the color red prior to taking an exam were more likely to test poorly.
When it comes to fashion, it can also be helpful to think about colors in terms of temperature: Warm colors like red and orange are associated with energy and action, whereas cooler colors like blue and green are associated with calm and serenity.
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