Canadian-born Kalaurie Karl-Crooks travelled to Australia by boat in late 1998. She grew up on the mid-north coast of NSW before moving to Melbourne in 2010 to study costume design at Swinburne University in Prahran.
“Halfway through the course I realised I ultimately wasn’t interested in working in the film or television industry and wanted to make clothing that was more wearable in everyday life,” she says. “So I then moved into fashion.”
Karl-Crooks studied a Bachelor of Fashion at RMIT. Her graduate project – called Widows Weeds (a Victorian-era term for mourning attire) – explored the theme of grief; her grandmother had passed away suddenly while she was designing the collection. She slowly began to share her work with the world as part of, what she refers to as, a “pretend brand” Instagram account, which soon morphed into a genuine platform where people placed orders for her big ruffled statement white shirts, black dresses and separates in monochromatic colours. “I decided, ‘What the heck, strike while the iron’s hot’.” And Karl-Crooks launched the self-titled label, Kalaurie, at the start of 2017. “Four months later and I was invited to show at Melbourne Fashion Week. It all happened very fast.”
The recently released Signature Shirting collection – essentially the label’s basics line, which costs between $279 and $479 – is her top performer. And the whole range, including the buttons, is made entirely from dead-stock fabric. There’s the Juliet shirt ($349), which has short, voluminous sleeves and comes in a relaxed fit with a two-piece collar. It’s made from white 100 per cent cotton Oxford shirting. And the popular Widow Ruffle shirt ($479), with show-stopping, romantic bishop sleeves; generous cuffs; and dramatic ruffles across the front. It’s finished off with a sharp collar.
“Some brands have slip dresses and T-shirts. For me it’s about a range of timeless, collectable statement shirting,” says Karl-Crooks. “A really great shirt – either white or black – has always, in my eyes, been one of the most timeless, elegant and versatile items of clothing.
“Waste is a very big issue at the moment in the fashion industry,” she says. “I take a lot of pride in being able to use fabric deemed undesirable by another business and giving it new beauty and life.”
While elements of costume design do seep through into her designs, Karl-Crooks is inspired by storytelling. “My design process always starts with whatever narrative I’m looking to tell, whatever story is playing itself out in my personal life or showing itself to me,” she says. From there she looks to film, music, classical art, literature, nature and fashion history. The latest collections – Sick Sad World and Rest in Sin – take inspiration from life, death, human emotion and her personal experiences as a woman.
Kalaurie has a mostly monochrome colour palette and focuses on biodegradable fibres including cotton, linen, silk or wool.
All pieces are made to order in-house at the label’s Melbourne studio. Once an order is placed, each piece is carefully cut, sewn, pressed and packed, then delivered within seven to 21 days. “It’s always made sense to me to slow things right down and nurture a made-to-order manufacturing model – only making what is needed, with every garment having an end destination and purpose.”
Kalaurie’s Sick Sad World collection, which was released in April, recently featured on the Sustainability Runway at Melbourne Fashion Week at RMIT alongside labels Lois Hazel, Dress Up, Kuwaii and more. This two-tone panelled dress ($379), with a V-neckline, back ties and fitted waist pleats, was a runway standout.
Karl-Crooks is also currently working on a limited-edition capsule of shirting, re-casting some of the Signature Shirting designs in fresher colours for spring/summer. “I have a large archive of dead-stock Swiss, Italian and English shirting cottons and I’m ready to share them,” she says. “I’ll only be able to make four to six pieces from each fabric.”