German Bands & Cat Designs: An Interview with Katie Gallagher

In the fashion world, she’s the striking, blonde NYC designer who has mastered four highly acclaimed dark and daring successful shows already by the age of 23. Critics have deemed Katie Gallagher’s work as haunting, futuristic, and Burton-esque. In a few short years, she’s already made quite a name for herself, and now all eyes are watching to see what her next move is.

For Gallagher, music plays a large role in her work, particularly during the bi-annual shows she presents. She’s taking turns DJing most recently, but has done even more daring moves like working with a German power-electronics group to create a unique soundtrack for her spring show in 2010.

Taking time out of her busy schedule, PopMatters spoke with the ambitious designer about fashion and music, how the two relate to each other, and how she once even used her cats for inspiration for her designs …

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For people who don’t know fashion that well, what would you say is your style of design?

I haven’t really thought it through — it’s my own style, really. It’s more like being the frontwoman of a band than like running a fashion label. Many labels make something like chillout Ibiza trance, non-narrative, non-specific, fleeting — I’m trying to make something a little more violent.

In your words, what does it mean to you to have “good style”?

If people can describe their personality, mood, ideals and attitude through the way they dress themselves, then I think they’re good to go. Of course, it’s important to have all those things in the first place!

You graduated from RISD and have executed four shows since, right?

Currently working on the fifth! 

Isn’t that kind of uncommon for recent college graduates?

It seems that way.

What was it like to put yourself out there for the first time? 

The opportunity was there and I didn’t really have anything to lose. I like working, and I like to create things and worlds — what else is there to do?

You like cats a lot. Cats were even an inspiration behind one of your lines, correct?

I love cats! I have never done a collection solely inspired by them though. It’s usually just me and my Maine Coon Sveater in here alone together all day so I’m sure bits of the collections and the things I make are unconsciously inspired by him.

What is your favorite kind of cat?

The Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest cat. I also like British Blues.

How do you complete entire outfits for shows? What is the process like? Do you see an outfit as a whole before you create it, or do you envision it in separate pieces?

I draw everything first. After this, I try to recreate the drawing three-dimensionally. A big focus of mine is in the patternmaking of each piece. I think that it is one of the important aspects of crafting a pure form, as opposed to camouflaging it with prints and appliques.

Now that you have completed four shows and you’ve lived in New York City for a while, is life as you thought it would have been? Are you surprised by anything in your professional and/or social life?

I would have never imagined my life to be the way it is right now. You don’t really know this kind of lifestyle would exist unless you are exposed to it. It’s pretty unconventional in terms of the “normal” standards of existing. Being from a small town in rural PA, this life definitely was completely foreign to me — for better and for worse.

Do you like NYC? Do you plan to stay there?  

I love NYC, but  I don’t really have a choice! I pretty much have to be here to continue the work that I do at this point. I miss silence, and open air. Good things come out of the woods.

What is a normal day for you like?

I wake up around 8 AM (some times earlier-mornings are my favorite times of day — the earlier I’m up, the happier I am) and go run, then go to the gym, eat breakfast then I work on the collection (drawing, patternmaking, cutting, sewing, production work, going to midtown to buy fabrics etc.).

In the music world, there’s a lot of PR and networking that has to happen so musicians can maintain their careers. Is this the case with fashion in NY?

I try not to participate too much. I’ve put my work and myself out there, and it usually speaks clearly enough that everyone I’ve met through my work seems to already know what to expect.

NYC is a great place for live music. Do you go to concerts? If so, what are some recent shows you’ve enjoyed?

I love going to shows. The last show I saw was Lustmord and Void ov Voices. It was amazing!

Do you have any kind of pre-show soundtrack that you put on backstage?

My boyfriend, Nikolay Saveliev, created a mostly black metal mix for FW11’s backstage at MILK this past season. Lots of Akitsa, Burzum, Drudkh, Emperor, Darkthrone. I like to think that it gets the right mood across to all the teams we work with. Everywhere else you go during fashion week, you’ll just hear dancepop blasting; I’d like to think that our soundtracks narrate our teams’ hands a bit before the show.

What music do you play during your shows and how do you choose it?

Every season is different; the music corresponds with the theme of the collection. Nikolay and I put the soundtracks together; FW11 was a lot more organic, a mix of Ben Frost, and a lot of organic World Serpent-era neofolk tracks — it closed with Strawberry Switchblade. SS11 was a bit more sporty — electronic and industrial, with Clark, Front 242, Tangerine Dream, etc. For my launch season, SS10, we collaborated with a German power-electronics band called Haus Arafna to create special music just for my show. They are set to release it soon — I love working on things like that, and want to do a lot more of them!

Would you say your taste in music is consistent with your taste in fashion?

It all has to relate! All work executed effectively can narrate an idea…I try to stay pretty consistent.

I saw that you started DJing recently. Is this a new thing, and is it something you’re planning on continuing?

I don’t really know how to DJ proper! I’ve played music for people before, but no, I don’t “DJ” exactly. I like that everyone has to listen to what I want them to hear!

What are you currently working on? Do you have plans for your next show?

Of course! I’ve been working on SS12 since before I even showed FW11! Completely focused on that season right now.

And I saw that you did something with Nike recently. Could you tell me about it or will it be out soon?

I did a little shoot for Nike recently. They styled me in Nike running clothes (keeping with in my personal running style) and photographed me in the apartment and outside running around. It was fun! I love doing that kind of stuff. Gives me a break from my average workday.

Any other new projects you’re excited about?

Fully focused on Spring/Summer 12. I am planning to do a little something with GWAR which should be both fun and funny … and a vacation! Can’t wait to get out of the city for a bit! I haven’t had a vacation in about two years or something.