Karen Caldwell has become recognizable to readers of San Francisco Luxury Living for never having a bad fashion moment. Whether she’s making a red carpet appearance at the San Francisco Ballet, glittering in gold at a fashion show, or just dropping by for a book party, she is always impeccable, regal, glamorous.
After having worn the world’s best designers, whether it’s Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Herve Leger, or a San Francisco favorite such as Lily Samii, Karen Caldwell has finally decided to further explore her love for fashion by launching her own line.
Karen Caldwell Design, which will be sold at better boutiques and specialty department stores, is characterized by bold colors, retro-Hollywood-influenced silhouettes, and styles that won’t be lost in a crowd. “I’m making dresses for women who have life experience, and a confidence in their strength and beauty,” says Caldwell. “A woman who is not afraid of color, and wants the room to notice when she enters.”
Making her own clothes was a hobby she started in childhood. As an adult she became an avid collector of vintage clothes from greats like Oleg Cassini, Christian Dior, and Cristobal Balenciaga. Through deconstructing vintage pieces and reworking them, Caldwell gave herself a hands-on understanding of apparel design, construction, and textiles.
Caldwell, who lives in the Napa Valley with her husband Oliver and sons, Chase and Cameron, recently unveiled some favorite looks from her collection with these photos by leading photographer Drew Altizer, shot on location at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
If her designs seem to evoke old Hollywood glamour, it may be due to Caldwell’s upbringing in Los Angeles. Her grandmother — an accomplished dancer and choreographer working for MGM and Walt Disney Studios — was friends with Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head. As a child, Caldwell would frequently visit her grandmother’s Hollywood Hills home, where she would let her imagination run wild, diving into her grandmother’s immense wardrobe.
Ever since, her perspective on the world has been tinted with nostalgia for Old Hollywood. “The Golden Age of Hollywood,” says Caldwell, “the Hollywood of Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and Mildred Pierce, was a time when women embraced glamour, and yet it didn’t compromise their strength. That’s a balance I’ve tried to achieve with my clothing designs.”
But Hollywood isn’t the only influence on Caldwell’s designs. In the 1990s she became a fine art insider when she began working in her husband Oliver’s art galleries in San Francisco and New York. It was there, absorbing the work of great artists, that she gained an appreciation for the importance of color.
“I would watch people come into the gallery and stand next to a specific painting,” says Caldwell. “I learned how colors worked on certain types of people, especially women. So perhaps the art world taught me about colors, and Old Hollywood taught me about style and shape.”