Corey Lynn Calter’s Designs Are Not for Wimps

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Looks from the Corey Lynn Calter pre-fall collection. Photo: Courtesy of Corey Lynn Calter

Corey Lynn Calter has Patricia Field to credit for plucking her from obscurity in the early nineties. Back then, Calter was the "guest-list girl" at the Ritz, sewing her own clothes and crafting accessories out of her kitchen. After spotting her out at various events, Field invited Calter to bring some of her designs into the store. She started selling a line of corsets, Milkmade, in 1992, which led to a three-year stint creating elaborate costumes for the San Francisco Opera. Eventually she relocated to L.A. to launch her own eponymous line, Corey Lynn Calter, in 2000.

Now Calter's work is stocked in stores across the country — including TG-170 and Barneys in New York — and has a slew of collaborations in the works: She's unveiling a limited-edition dress for Target in August, launching a bridal line at Anthropologie in January, and collaborating on another exclusive dress with Gravity and Breaking Bad star Krysten Ritter for her spring collection. We chatted with the designer about her penchant for mood-boosting prints, the power of a pretty dress, and begrudgingly relinquishing the double-C logo.

How did the collaboration with Krysten Ritter come about?
A stylist friend of hers first recommended she take a look at CLC, and I'm just a huge fan of hers. I love her face, of course, but on top of that she's super-cool: girly but a little punky; adorable and smart. We've been lucky enough to draw some of these confident, fashion-forward girls who don't feel like they always have to wear "serious" fashion.

You're also launching a bridal line at Anthropologie this winter. Is this your first foray into bridal?
I did some bridal in the past; when you design corsets, people kind of hit you up for that. A lot of my training is in making custom gowns for people, especially when I worked for the opera. Those costumes are the closest thing to couture you can do in the United States.

What's the inspiration behind your label?
It's definitely quirky and playful. People aren't coming to me for basics — they get their black pants at Theory, then they come to me for the fluff.

What kind of person wears your designs?
Someone who's a little excited to talk about what she's wearing. I have this great planet print for spring 2011, with this giant Saturn on it. You can't be a wimpy girl and wear it. You're also not going to be in a shitty mood when you wear it. There's a confidence to our girl; she's already coming to the table with quite a bit of taste.

Who are your favorite designers?
I have a real weakness for YSL and vintage. And Dries van Noten is so beautiful to look at — no one does color like that.

What's the first designer item you bought?
An oversize blue button-up silk shirt from Comme des Garçons in the late eighties. I'm sure I wore it with white Doc Martens.

Where do you shop?
For the most part, it's the Rose Bowl Flea Market and eBay mixed with Chanel. Those two Cs really screwed up my ability to use the double-C logo, by the way.

How would you describe your personal style?
My clothes are an expression of playfulness — it's dress-up. I really enjoy and love clothes. Today I'm wearing a gauze blouse, a puffy skirt, giant leopard wedge shoes, and a big bun. Yesterday it was a mini-shift with Chanel flats.

What trends are you appreciating now?
I love Victorian and anything with an heirloom detail. I like how it elevates certain things to be a little more precious and knocks down precious things to make them more grounded.

What trends are you ready to see retired?
I live in L.A.: talk about beating trends into the ground. I'm sick of tough girls — they look a little too hard. This sounds so corny, but boys love girls in pretty dresses.

What's one item you're saving to buy?
A classic Chanel caviar bag. I'm finally old enough to buy it.

What should every woman have in her closet?
A pretty, feminine dress for those occasions that really call for it. The right dress can really alter a night's events.

What's something you never leave the house without?
My sketchbook to write down ideas — even shitty ideas — because I have a horrible memory. I keep it by my bed at night. True story: A friend of mine passed away in 1992, and I had a dream about her. She said, "I've learned the secret to life, and all you need to do to be happy is this ... " I woke up and thought, Of course I'm going to remember this, and I didn't write it down. I've been trying to remember what she said ever since.