Christina Kolbe Is Over Label Whores, the Biker-Chic Trend

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Christina Kolbe at Mafalda. Photo: Melissa Hom

Despite a daunting introduction to the industry, boutique owner Christina Kolbe has made a name for herself throughout the fashion realm. She was discovered at 13 and modeled as a teen. "I didn’t like the modeling world — I feel for the girls who are thrust into that," she says. "I always wanted to be the one art directing or styling the shoot rather than the little thing on the chair being told what to do." After taking a break from modeling, she became the buyer for Steven Alan. "It was an amazing time in the fashion industry then, before Zara and Forever 21," she says. "It was really about discovering new talent rather than replicating established brands."

She left Steven Alan to handle sales for a multi-line showroom, working with designers like Catherine Holstein, Kimberly Ovitz, and Raf Simons. There, the vintage collection she’d been amassing since high school served her well: She was known for lending out rare pieces to designers for inspiration. Earlier this year she launched Mafalda, a Brooklyn vintage boutique, and now she's readying her latest reincarnation — designer. Her debut collection is scheduled to land in stores next spring. We talked to Kolbe about the sixties resurgence, fast fashion, and the problem with label whores.

What prompted the launch of Mafalda?
I had become bored with what was going on in the industry, especially the whole biker-chic, rock-and-roll trend. Everything has been so redundant for the last couple years. I had always planned on opening a store at some point, and the sixties and seventies influence was what was really exciting to me.

What sets it apart from the slew of other vintage stores?
I talk to so many vintage collectors, and a lot of them are die-hard label whores. For me, it’s not about that; it’s about the piece. Vintage used to be perceived as more kitschy and costume-y; my idea of vintage is mixing it in with current pieces and making it feel relevant.

How has the fashion industry changed since your days at Steven Alan?
After Steven Alan, I traveled and went away to England for a while. When I came back, H&M was exploding. It used to be this club, where you really had to search people out and read the European magazines like Face and i-D to discover new designers. Now anybody can get in on it — fashion isn’t so exclusive anymore.

What’s your upcoming line like?
I wouldn’t call it trendy. I love classic, limitless pieces that you can wear every day, any season.

Who are your favorite designers?
Dries Van Noten, Phoebe Philo, Acne, Rachel Comey, Peter Pilotto, Tomas Maier.

What’s the first designer item you bought?
I grew up in Brooklyn near Century 21, which at that time stocked a lot of Margiela and Helmut Lang. I got the Margiela Tabi boots for my twentieth birthday.

Where do you like to shop?
IF is an institution. I also love 45RPM and Bird for the contemporary designers, and I make it to the shoe department at Barneys once a season to round it all out.

How would you describe your personal style?
I’m a Gemini, and my style has different personalities. It would be so simple to be one of those people who wear the same uniform every day, but if that were the case then I don’t think I should be working in the fashion industry. I’m inspired every day to come up with something new.

What trends are you appreciating now?
Sixties and seventies styles mixed with nineties minimalism, like a bias-cut dress paired with a sixties jacket and big platform shoes.

What should every woman have in her closet?
Originality and the confidence to wear whatever they want. Women need to dress for themselves, not whatever's dictated by the blogs or magazines.

What’s something you never leave the house without?
A simple, white-gold-and-diamond cross necklace my sister gave me for my nineteenth birthday.