what i can't live without

What Designer Karen Walker Can’t Live Without

Photo: courtesy the retailers

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked New Zealand fashion and accessories designer Karen Walker — who is known for her statement sunglasses and is launching her first line of optical frames for fall 2019 — about the pen, chocolate bars, and paper parasol she can’t live without.

I’ve been using Osmosis skin-care products for probably 10 or 15 years. It’s a whole complex system — like six bottles lined up in my bathroom — but it’s worth it. They’re beautiful and they do the job, the sunblock especially. You know the expression, the best-looking thing on 50-year-old skin is 20-year-old skin with sunblock? That’s very true. I’m 49, so the sunblock is essential, especially where I live, where the sun’s very harsh. I use Osmosis everything, but their sunblock is the one thing that’s always in my bag.

Again, I’m super aware of the sun because I live in New Zealand where there’s basically no ozone layer. I have some great sun hats, but with a sun hat, you gotta keep your head held in a certain way to protect your face, chest, and neck. So about five years ago I started buying paper parasols at the beginning of each summer. I get them in white paper so the light still gets through, but it stops the UV hitting you. Whenever I’m in a sunny spot, I have a parasol with me. It’s great for dog-walking, the beach, or just walking around the city. In the summer in New Zealand when you listen to the weather report on the radio, they’ll also give the burn time, and the middle of our summer, January and February, burn time might be just four minutes. I love that feeling that you get from the sun, that dreamy Vitamin D pumping through your veins, but I know 40-year-olds who’ve died from Melanoma. So I have to really think about protection.

When I travel, this eye mask is always in my bag. It’s from Slip and it’s 100 percent silk crepe de Chine. If you use a cotton one, you wake up feeling quite dry and puffy around the eyes and you will get lines. The silk one is just amazing. I’ve had it for years. Bought it in Hong Kong actually, it’s great.

I love to read and I tend to mix it up with classics, something brand-new, or a memoir. One of our stores in Auckland even has a pop-up bookstore in it at all times. I’d say in the last six months the two best books I’ve read were Milkman by Anna Burns, an absolutely stunning, grueling first-person story inside the troubles in Ireland in the ’70s. And the other was To Obama, With Love, Joy, Fear, and Hope, which was written by Jeanne Marie Laskas. President Obama got something like 10,000 letters a day. So he set up an office of over 100 staff members tasked with reading every single letter or email that came to him. At the end of each day, his staff presented him with ten letters they felt he should read. Some he would respond to with a written note and some he’d say, “I want to have lunch with that person.” That’s how he kept in touch with his community. It’s such a brilliant, single-minded idea both as a thing to do as a president, but also as a book, such a succinct thought. It’s a beautiful book.

I’m not a big fan of ripped denim, overly washed denim, or novelty denim in any way. I just like a 501 in dark Indigo without any tears or special washes. They’ll last me ten years. So, every six months, I buy a pair of sneakers, but every ten years, I buy a pair of 501s. We do our own denim as well, but I still love a 501.

I have a beautiful bamboo tea strainer at home, but we were at the Neue Galerie New York the other day and I got a new one which is cast in sterling silver. Oh my God, it’s so gorgeous! I drink so much tea, and I love having a dedicated strainer. It’s from Bellocq. So beautiful.

[Editor’s Note: The above tea strainer Walker purchased is a Neue Galerie exclusive by Bellocq. But these tea strainers, also from Bellocq, in solid brass or silver plate are a great alternative.]

There’s this great hand-knit brand in Auckland where I’m from called The Knitter. The designer does these big, oversized, chunky knits. Most of them are made in Peru using alpaca or mohair. My favorite is a classic style she’s got called Bubblegum, which she’s been doing for a number of years. I’ve got it in navy, because, to me, navy is the color of the gods. Hand-knits can be tricky but she manages to get it just right, kind of soft and effortless and cozy.

I’m a big fan of handwriting. I have a Montblanc fountain pen my husband gave me for my birthday about ten years ago — I keep it on my desk at home at all times. I probably use it every day. I think if you’re going to take the time to slow down and write by hand rather than sending a text or an email, it might as well look beautiful and be a pleasant experience.

There always has to be some chocolate in my fridge at home. But 90 percent of the chocolate out there is horrible, and only a small amount is great. My favorite chocolate is a brand called Whittaker’s, which is a New Zealand brand. They’ve got the classics but they also make a wide range of more gourmet chocolates using local ingredients. My husband, my daughter, and I are addicted to this one called Marlborough with sea salt and caramel. I went to the shop before we came to New York on this trip and bought ten blocks of it. I said to my husband and daughter, “here’s two for each of you and two for me, the rest we’ll gift.” Then I said, “If you want to just pig out on yours all at once, that’s fine, but I’m not sharing any of mine with you.”

I came into the sunglass business as a reaction to not being able to find a pair that I liked. For the most part, the sunglasses out in the marketplace were all a bit generic or a bit timid. We wanted to make sunglasses that were really unique and made you feel something. I’m lucky that I have a wardrobe of sunglasses to choose from and I am always wearing a new pair. I rotate them around a lot. I tend to have a pair on my desk, a pair in my handbag, and a pair in the car. I think all my sunglasses are statement pairs.

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What Designer Karen Walker Can’t Live Without