If I’m completely honest (which is the key at PYT), I had no idea about the Zoe Karssen brand and was completely sold on attending the event based on the prospect of meeting Laura Bailey. And of course, creating another piece of interview literature for you guys.
But so quickly did the tables turn, when I found myself completely engrossed in everything Zoe had to say. Because she sounded like me, like us! Her speech wasn’t polished, her passion was so raw and best of all, the thing that gave me the most happiness, was her ability to keep dreaming whilst living the dream. I’ve spoken A LOT about having a dream over the passed couple months and it just so happens that wherever I go, I’m always reminded of how important it is to have one – a big one!
Dreams aren’t birthed from a place of ‘comfort’, the idea of having it all together before you begin is exactly that – an idea. In reality, life works in quite the opposite way. But a true dreamer is someone who plans ahead and works to make it happen, which is what you’ll hear from Zoe’s interview. She sets her sights and used all her tools to build, whether that be sending a DM on Instagram and hoping for the best or plotting big power moves even when the immediate answer is ‘NO WAY’.
Zoe Karssen is a true Zoe Karssen girl.
LB: My best friends have developed a tradition of buying me Zoe Karssen on my birthday, especially the t-shirts with inappropriate slogans.
But that’s my history with your brand. Let’s start at your beginning.
ZK: The brand begun with a very funny story and it was a complete and utter accident. I moved to Amsterdam from London when I married my Dutch husband. I started working at a small fashion brand called Blue Blood, as a graphic designer. One night I scribbled a slogan on a t-shirt, wore it to work the next day and it just so happens that the Fashion Editor of Glamour in Holland came to our office.
She asked if she could take the t-shirt on a shoot in Peru the very next day. I said “Yeah, of course” and took my top off for her ha! I didn’t give it much thought after that. 3 weeks later she called me back with good news that I wasn’t expecting. The t-shirt had made it into the magazine, which meant she needed to credit it. I told her to just put my name and telephone number and from that moment my phone started ringing…
For a while, myself and my husband hand drawing the t-shirts, but after a while my husband rightly decided that it was madness to be drawing all night – we needed to start printing them. We printed them locally, 50 turned to 100 and so on. After some time we had to stop and decide on what else we could do with the brand.
It was all a complete and utter accident, but fate was pointed in my direction.
LB: What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in the last 6 years of ‘Zoe Karssen’
ZK: Definitely that I must always, always trust my gut feelings. If your guts telling you it’s good, then it’s good. Also to stay true to myself, be honest, open and nice. Don’t be an asshole.
LB: Why is it so important to keep everything in-house?
ZK: I started doing all the photography myself purely because we had no money to pay anyone. That awakened a passion which started by accident and season on season, I had an image of how I want everything to look so I create it. At this point i thought, I could try and brief a photographer, but then I thought actually I just need to surround myself around the right people and learn more.
At some point, I’ll probably have to let it go but I’m not ready.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE ZOE KARSSEN GIRL
LB: I understand. How would you describe the Zoe Karssen girl?
ZK: She’s rock and roll, care-free and a bit mysterious! She’s the kind of girl that’d walk passed you in the street and leave you wondering about her. She never wears anything too outspoken and she radiates confidence.
LB: So who is your ultimate muse? We see a lot of celebrities and fashion names wearing your collection but who is the dream?
ZK: My ultimate Zoe Karssen girl is Alison Mosshart from ‘The Hills’. Through the wonderful world of social media we became instagram friends and I just direct messaged her, not expecting anything from it. “Hey Alison, I know you’ve worn Zoe Karssen a few times, we’d love to meet you blah blah” and we met backstage at her tour a few weeks ago.
I can’t believe she’s the girl we had on our press releases for 6 years and there she was right in from of me, and we were talking about cats.
LB: That’s the power of social media, you can just ‘Do It Yourself’
THE COLLECTIONS AND PROCESS
ZK: The design process is something me and my husband do together. In the beginning we were doing everything ourselves, but we’re not trained designers. In the second year of the business, we hIt our limits and built a design team.
We have a wall in the office that represents the ultimate ZK girl, Alyson Mosshart is on there, you’re on there Laura. So, along with the design team, we create looks for ‘that girl’ and try not to be influenced by trends or other designers. We just have this girl in our head and that’s our focus.
LB: Is there a close knit community of designers and creators in Amsterdam?
ZK: There are quite a few denim brands in Amsterdam and of course you have people like Victor and Rolf, then there’s the emerging brands. Over the last few years people have come together to try and form communities and that is happening more and more in Amsterdam.
It’s such a small place though, so I try not to be at all the parties because you can get bored of it always being the same people.
LB: Tell us more about the Zoe Karssen brand and your famous collaborations
ZK: One of my big dreams was to work with Daphne Groeneveld and my friend happened to be her agent but I was far off for being allowed that privilege. Overtime, as we were shooting the campaigns I would ask if I could use Daphne and she would literally laugh down the phone at me like “No, no, no, no”
I always invited her to the office for cups of tea and we mutually agreed that there would be a ‘right moment’ and finally it happened.
And with Anissa, I just went for the bold approach, found her details online and just called her to ask. We ended up working on the earring collaboration and it went great.
LB: Any upcoming collaborations you can talk about?
ZK: I have a big wish with one of my ultimate muses but I’m working on it.
LB: What are you most proud of in general?
ZK: Because of the nature of the fashion industry and how much brands come and go, I’m most proud of where we are after 6 years. We’re still stable and strong. And proud that there are people out there that like my stuff.
LB: And when it’s all you, how do you relax?
ZK: I’m a nightmare. I don’t relax, I can not relax and it drives my husband nuts. I try to go to the gym, try! I’ve tried yoga, it didn’t work. I tried breathing therapy, it didn’t work. It comes down to being a control freak.
My cats actually, I have 4 cats and they keep me calm. I love to come home to them and watch Netflix. I hate to say it but I watch ‘Made in Chelsea’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ – it’s just easy switch off stuff.
THE MAGAZINE ‘ZOE’
LB: On the workaholic front, you’ve just launched your first magazine, ZOE. Why print and why now?
ZK: For a year or so now, I tried to think about how I could reach more people. We release campaigns 4 times a year but I’m so image driven that I have so much more to give and so many more images to create. I wanted to show the brand in different forms and different ways.
It was also about communicating the different ways the brand can be worn, in a tom boy way but also by sexy Rihanna. We tied the magazine back to the latest collection, which is themed around ‘Bikers’ so we loosely themed the debut issue around that too.
LB: How have you managed the edit for the magazine, in terms of contributors and so on?
ZK: Most of the photographers are Dutch because that’s my closest network but the cover of Zoe was shot by Philippe Vogelenzang, who is represented by a big agency named Jed Root. It’s very important to be connected with people who have big networks so that more people start to become familiar with the work you’re doing.
It’s about starting somewhere, trying to build your network and being nice to people.
LB: Who would be your dream contributor to the magazine, on either side of the camera?
ZK: I would like Emma Tempest to shoot and I’d like to have you (Laura) as a writer.
ZK: I’d like to have you?
LB: It’s an on-going awkward conversation.
ZK: It’s always good to dream big and I’ll see where I get but I’d also maybe like Cass Bird, but Laura Tempest for sure.
LB: Out of all your slogans, which is the most emotional, most dramatic, most evocative for you?
ZK: There were two that really made me smile which were ‘Creme De La Creme’ because Beyonce wore it. At that moment the emails were going off “Can I get the Beyonce t-shirt!”. And the one that me and my husband live by is ‘Live fast because it won’t last’. It’s a reminder that you don’t know what will happen tomorrow so just go for it.
LB: My friends bought me the ‘New York is killing me’ t-shirt when I was really missing the city. Thank you so much Zoe for personally influencing my style and for this conversation today.
(Side note: Don’t you just love her?!)