Harnessing inspiration from music in her creations, Corey Lynn Calter mixes business with pleasure.
Fashion designers often cite music as a source of inspiration. It's a maxim that holds true for Philadelphia native Corey Lynn Calter. "Being interested in music, growing up in the city, and wanting to express myself was why I really got into making clothes," says the now LA-based designer. "I've always had that desire to be different and creative."
This comes as little surprise, given her pedigree. The daughter of notable Philadelphia interior designer Susan Calter, she grew up in the '80s surrounded by luscious fabrics. Calter attended the Performing Arts High School, spending her free time bouncing between the city's punk-rock clubs and South Street's antique shops, and then moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Once there she spent her days checking seams in the workroom and her nights checking names at the famed Ritz nightclub. "I started doing a small collection of clubby clothes—a little glam rock meets Motörhead—and I'd wear it to the Ritz; people would ask where I got the clothes, and I would tell them that I made it," recalls Calter. One hazy Ritz night, famed designer and eventual Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field spotted Calter's garb and sent her off to meet the buyers at her East Village boutique, who picked up some of her designs.
Jennifer Lopez and Kate Mara in Corey Lynn Calter
But the road to success is rarely a straight line. Calter worked as a costumer for the Joffrey Ballet and a few Broadway productions before the death of a dear friend sent her fleeing from NYC to find solace. "She and I always had talked about moving to LA—which made no sense since this was back in the '90s, when the idea of LA was big hair," she laughs.
After stints at the San Francisco and Los Angeles Opera Houses, also as a costumer, Calter launched her own fashion line in 2000. Deftly combining '50s ladylike modesty with a '60s nod to mod and a touch of '70s funk, Calter's designs were all about feminine appeal. She has shed the clubby vibe, but her lifelong appreciation for vintage is evident in every tie-front silk blouse, palazzo pant, and sheath dress she designs. It's clothing for women who want to dress prettily while maintaining a modern and forward-thinking edge. "My clothes are bold and colorful, feminine and whimsical," says the mother of two. "But I still think there's a sense of humor to the designs."
And 12 years after launching, her distinctive line is a marked success. Carried in more than 200 stores around the country, her designs are a favorite of A-list fashionistas such as Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, and Zooey Deschanel. Despite commercial and critical success, however, it is hard to claim your true place in the pantheon of world-class designers without showing at New York's famed Fashion Week, a high-style spectacle that Calter had managed to steer clear of—that is, until recently.
"It's ridiculous to me that we hadn't shown yet, but it just seemed like there was something not organic about it," she explains. "But one day, I was sitting there with my team and something just felt right. I said, ‘It's time. Let's do it.'" The Fall/Winter 2012 line Calter she showed in February is a fun, vintage-inspired collection; it exalts bookish sexiness with Pucci-esque printed shift dresses, boldly colored wide-legged trousers, and chic capes paired with tights in every color of the rainbow. It's a collection as individual as its designer. Reflecting on her big NYC debut, Calter still shows glimpses of that sassy South Street girl who hates to play by the rules. "It didn't feel like a runway show to me; it felt like a presentation," she says. "I wanted the collection presented in a more modern and fresh way. We don't have to do what the big companies do; we can do whatever we want. The possibilities are endless."