BY MICHELLE PAYER | PHOTO: CARLOS HIDALGO
As Miami’s artistic footprint grows, so does its bevy of designers. Here are three who are making a fashionable mark on the Magic City with their easy-to-wear collections ideal for travel and our tropical climate.
Growing up in central Brazil, in the cradle of the country’s farming community, Kariza Fernandes was surrounded by waterfalls, lakes, fields, nature and abundant light. This idyllic landscape became a source of inspiration for the girl who would travel with her mother to local fabric stores, touch and feel each fabric, wrap herself in her favorites, then have her mother design new frocks for every occasion. The experience was enough to inadvertently catapult Fernandes into the design world after she moved to Miami as a young adult in search of a new life.
After attending college for fashion design, “I decided to start my own brand because everything I wore, random people stopped me on the streets to ask where my outfit was from,” she says. Those pieces were handmade tie-dye cotton pants and dresses in bright colors, usually from India, but it sparked an idea. “What if I took these skirts and deconstructed them?” she asked herself. She opened the side seams, and the Kariza Wrap Skirt became the first piece in a collection launched in 2005 that is beloved for the more than 100 ways it can be wrapped around the body to create new silhouettes.
Still her most popular item, “It is entirely versatile and ideal for the traveling, independent, bohemian-chic woman,” says the designer. Now, Fernandes has more than 100 pieces in her collection, including halter and multi-wear dresses, the Infinity dress, multi-strap sandals, hair wraps that can be worn as a belt or a necklace, and a swimwear collection.
Dresses are largely made from silk satin and textured polyester in subtle patterns. Fernandes has solid-color dresses made of Spandex and 100 percent cotton that are manufactured in Miami and also makes custom pieces there for clients requesting more formal looks for weddings and galas. This writer discovered the Kariza line in 2008 and has garnered compliments from New Orleans to Munich on the halter dress, which after nine years still holds its shape and is always travel-ready. “The Kariza line can be found in more than 30 countries and is featured in over 5,000 shops worldwide for the last 12 years” says the designer. “There are several Miami boutiques that carry some items, but no one has everything or the newest designs,” she says, “Those can be found on Kariza.com.”
While Fernandes says her inspiration comes from the ocean and the iconic Miami colors surrounding her, the designer is emerging from a break she took after battling domestic violence. Late last year, she reached the end of her tether and jumped out of a moving car to escape the abuse. She endured months of healing and dental surgery to replace the teeth that were knocked out by the blow. Now, in addition to “designer,” Fernandes holds the title of “advocate” to help other abuse victims, volunteers with women at Safe Space battered women’s shelter in Miami and gives motivational speeches. With a new lease on life and a new collection in the process of being designed, her goal is to take a portion of sales and donate it to Safe Space. She created a GoFundMe account, Healing Hearts, to help her launch the second phase of a career she loves, creating her eponymous collections, one piece at a time.
To enter Karelle Levy’s atelier inside Miami Ironside, the hip Little River Industrial District, is to walk into an artist’s atelier, complete with vivid spools of thread and yarn that spread out along a wall and look more like an art installation than a creative way to organize the plant-based fibers that make up KRELware, Levy’s ingenious collection of tropical knitwear. Using cotton, bamboo and Tencel (one of the most eco-friendly fibers), and often adding metallic rayon filaments and embroidery to create flash of razzle-dazzle, the designer has established light, wearable, sometimes cheeky knits as a South Florida staple for fashion-forward women.
Levy’s skill and passion is a testament to the nature-versus-nurture argument. Was designing in her genes, or is it that she was influenced by her mother’s large-scale needlepoint weaving room in the Parisian basement she had since childhood? “I was born in Paris with yarn in my veins,” says Levy. “You know that feeling? It was easy and fun for me and I thought I was going to be a weaver for life,” she says, flashing back to the time she learned needlepoint at age 6, progressing to knitting by age 11.
It was clothing that captured Levy’s imagination when she started collecting yarns in college. By 1996, she had begun working on Swiss-made knitting machines and still uses one today. It has no motor, but is “lady powered,” as Levy explains, sitting to demonstrate the mind-boggling calibrations and mixtures of knits that require back-straining work. One romper may take two and a half hours to make; a dress could easily take five hours. Many are one-of-a kind for South Florida devotees who want a custom item that is an amalgam of many pieces.
Known for her tubular knits that use one yarn to wind a dress around the body to hug every curve, Levy notes that her “thought process is more of an art process,” using no patterns, and thus, it isn’t surprising that she began her career making costumes for performing arts pieces. Her approach was avant-garde, and wearable art became noticed as Miami became an arts hub.
In 2009, during the throes of America’s financial meltdown, Levy created Discglo, fun, glow-in-the dark creations, “in case you’re in a dark forest and someone needs to find you,” she laughs. That invention catapulted her “on tour,” as she hopped on a plane every other week hired to do nightclub performance art, complete with blacklights and smoke machines. On the mainstream scene, some boutiques would tell her she was “too artsy” for her clients, but Levy kept pursuing what she loved and found an audience that loved her.
She believes in the power of human connection and hosts innovative Quickie Couture pop-ups around the world, to weave couture creations for men, women and children within in an hour. Closer to home, there are “Stitch and Bitch” sessions every month at Freehand Miami, complete with spiked punch by Broken Shaker. Visit krelwear.com.
MIAMI BEACH TO GO
Pedaling around the streets of Paris, Jeannick Sebag was largely unaware of how glamorous her young life was. It might not have been, had her mother remained a Catholic nun; instead, Mum left the convent, married, and became a top fashion model who jetted off to international photo shoots and had a multitude of celebrity friends, including Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. Always near that galaxy of stars, Sebag’s destiny was sealed at one of her mother’s runway shows when she met designer Vicky Tiel and began working at her Parisian store, which was financially backed by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
While on the clock, she was immersed in designing, buying and selling, styled international celebrities and watched patternmakers closely. “Everyone was there,” she says, “from Warren Beatty and Richard Burton to Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Julie Christie…they all came in.” It became normal to be in the company of the world’s top celebrities. Off the clock, Sebag would pedal to Claude’s and Maxim’s for dinner with luminary Claude Terrail, owner of the Michelin-starred “gastronomic temple” La Tour d’Argent. It was a heady time. Sebag remained in fashion and partnered with designer Kiki Féraud, daughter of legendary haute couture master Louis Féraud, to open a boutique on the famously elegant Faubourg St. Honoré.
When Sebag’s French husband acquired a luxury hotel on the Caribbean Island of Martinique, she opened two boutiques within the hotel that offered her favorite hand-picked collections; yet it wasn’t until she was invited on a private cruise that she inadvertently started her own line “because it was easier for me to create a collection than to run all over shopping,” she explains. Thus, Miami Beach to Go was formed. But it wasn’t until 2000, while living in Miami, that she began to embark on the venture full-time, then started manufacturing nine years later.
What evolved is “a concept for the woman who travels worldwide and knows how to dress elegantly, comfortably and still have sex appeal,” says the designer. “The idea is to to always be ready with chic separates and dresses to wear for every occasion from yacht to land, from St. Tropez to New York or Paris, and to cover all four seasons.” As such, the pieces can be mixed or matched for a day-to-evening look. Most are made from Lycra, including pants, dresses, tops and ponchos that are easy to pack and virtually wrinkle-free when they emerge from a suitcase. “I call it the ‘new generation,’” says Sebag, “as it’s great for traveling, sexy, elegant and ageless in every way.”
The beautiful, no-fuss fabrics are mostly from Spain and France, and everything is made in South Florida for global devotees as far-flung as Japan. The collections are limited-edition and available by appointment only, or at pop-up stores and trunk shows in Palm Beach, Paris, The Hamptons, New York and Miami. Find Miami Beach to Go on Facebook for a sense of the designs, a peek into the lifestyle, or to find out about upcoming trunk shows.