Sitting down to speak with Kara Saun, a designer most recently noted for her participation on Bravo’s “Project Runway,” was like catching up with an old friend. Maybe it was because prior to our interview she was a part of my Wednesday nights as I cheered her on in the design competitions on the show. I spoke with Kara two weeks after the final show, and although the outcome wasn’t what most fans expected, the impression left by Kara made you eager to find out more. I wanted to know more about Kara the designer, not just the Kara we saw on “Project Runway.”
She has so far had a very extensive and impressive career and I’m sure after her exposure on the show, more doors have been opened. Kara grew up in a very supportive military family. She was actually born in Germany while her father was stationed there serving as an officer in the Air Force. Kara credits a lot of her influence to the different countries she lived in as a child. She says her family has always been behind her when it came to her passion.
Her first try sewing was in kindergarten. It was a pair of shorts for her grandmother, but she sewed the legs up. Since then, Kara’s sewing skills have of course improved, and hand stitching is one of her trademark details. In Junior High, her parents purchased a sewing machine, and the designs haven’t stopped since. She said she would try to dress everyone in her household, virtually making her bedroom a mini studio. She payed her brothers loose change to collect the pins out of the rug. Her brother would wear shirts that she designed, recalling an episode of “The Cosby Show” when Denise made a shirt for Theo. Kara assured me the sleeves were the same length, unlike Denise’s. She always says her sister wore a few of her originals.
One of her first noted projects was re-designing her high school’s jerseys. Kara designed and wore most of her clothes throughout high school and college. She graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey, but had no formal design or sewing training.
When Kara moved to New York, she lived with little money, no furniture and a big idea. That big idea ended with her receiving recognition at Fashion Week 1998. Kara gathered some friends and contacts specializing in hair and make-up styling, found some models and rented two limos. They crashed fashion week at Bryant Park, setting up in front of that season’s Calvin Klein show. When his show ended, her show began, even being noted in the New York Post.
Kara says when she met Tim Gunn from Project Runway he recalled her show that fateful day so many years ago.
Shortly after, Kara relocated to Los Angeles, where she got a break with comedian Eddie Griffin. It started with costume designing on his show Malcolm & Eddie in 1996; later she became his personal stylist, including work on his HBO special, CD covers and other special events. Kara also worked for entertainer Queen Latifah; starting as the costume director for her Fox talk show in 1999. Kara was chosen to design both of Queen Latifah’s Academy Awards gowns in 2000. Kara says she wanted Latifah to feel comfortable and sexy with her then new figure. Kara found more success working with Melvin and Mario Van Peebles in the 2003 film “Baadasss!” Kara said it was most exciting, especially being a period piece, doing the research creating the vision. So excited with the opportunity to work with the legend and now legendry son, she arrived at her interview dressed as Foxy Brown.
In 2003, her worked showed up in motion pictures “Gangs of Roses”, and “Biker Boyz”. She also landed a costume director position on the first session of the UPN show “Eve.” Kara says that when it comes to movies and television, she likes to take the extra steps in detailing what the extras wear. The extras are part of the scene and although they may not have a speaking part, or may just be walking by, an observant viewer notices and will spot a fashion flaw.
When speaking of her “Project Runway” experience, her main focus was getting to the final three, and then winning. Her attention was centered on her job and the show’s creative challenges. Kara’s spirit, talent and ability to remain calm under pressure earned her the nickname “the Professional”; and this showed not only in her presentation, but also in her interaction with other members of the show.
Even down to the last challenge, her thought processes was: Is this something I would make? Would Tim Gunn say it was “stunning?” Would Heidi wear it? Would Michael Kors say it’s sexy?? And would Nina Garcia put it in Elle Magazine? Her Collection for the 2005 Fall Fashion Week Final Competition was titled “Fantasy Fly-Girl’ which was aviator inspired. The combination of intricately cut leather pieces, fur jackets and shrugs and exquisite gowns stole the show. Kara says her greatest weakness as a designer is sometimes being too compulsive, and wanting to detail too much. One of the biggest mistakes she made at the beginning of her career was jumping into a partnership.
She gives the advice “You can’t say yes to everything, you have to think, How can this help my career? Make sure people can back up what they say, people make a living out of running a good game.” She says her goal when it comes to fashion design is for people “to know me for what I do, really be appreciated for my talent, and be known by my work.” Kara has been most noted for her use of leather and lace, and says she loves how leather forms, and revels in the fact she is known for good leather pieces. She says when it comes to designing and wearing clothes, the fit is very important; it’s all in the cut. Kara understands a woman’s body, and sometimes it seems as though this very important feature is lost among a lot of designers. She states that she hates when people try to conform to trends.
“I hate when people attempt to jump on a trend regardless of whether it fits them or not,” she said. So what’s next for Kara Saun? Needless to say, she has found success off of “Project Runway.” She has received a handful of job offers and TV show work.
“[I] couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she said. Kara has worked for charities (specifically with under privileged kids.) She recently set up a career day at local LA high schools. She got 30 people in the industry together, and set up the events as if it were a talk show.
“Not everyone wants or has an opportunity to go to school, and there are ways to achieve your goals and dreams without going,” Kara said.
One of her dreams is to work with Oprah Winfrey.
“She is one person in the entertainment industry that I truly respect, not because of her wealth, but because of all the amazing ways she touches other’s lives.”
Well said.For more on Kara Saun click here