Beate Karlsson’s main ethos as a designer is to always attain a level of surprise. To achieve as such, her limey, pastel-hued garments take shape in a myriad of ways, be it a hand-shaped shoe, boob-shaped bag or clothing that sends you right back to your baby days dressed in cute, puffy, long-sleeved jumpers. It’s probably likely that you’ve seen one of her designs before, and maybe it was the infamous claw shoe that caught your attention as it continues to do the rounds on Instagram. Whatever it is that she makes, we can all agree that it’s not your usual ready-to-wear piece of clothing.
The designer grew up in Stockholm and is the youngest of three sisters. Her childhood years were filled with art, during which she’d work with her hands to create a medley of objects. At the age of 16, this interest evolved and she started turning her objects into wearables. Later, she ended up moving to New York to study fashion, focusing traditional clothing at the time. “But I quickly got bored of it and slowly grew into a sort of hybrid of art and fashion,” she tells It’s Nice That.
While finding her feet as a designer, it was this very combination of art and fashion that drove the direction of her work – and everything else that arrived in the years proceeding. “As a designer, I’m trying to elevate my knowledge of shapes,” she says, working heavily with different objects, angles and compositions as a result. “So my work has become very silhouette driven.” A further passion of Beate’s is to work with clay, chosen for its ability to mould into just about anything, and thus making it the ideal accompaniment to her garment construction. “It opens up the borders for realising new structures,” she adds on the matter, detailing how this only alleviated her ability to work with different proportions and oversized concepts. The application of clay, in this sense, allows her to reach a level of “strangeness” in her figures. This was before she started introducing silicone as her next material of choice, an even better suited medium for her work due to the flexible nature of it as a fabric. “I am, however, starting to replace it with latex since it’s a more sustainable option.”
Having dabbled in a more traditional form of fashion design, Beate has experienced the industry from all angles. And now, she’s gravitating towards the more extreme side of things, creating works of art that double down as clothing. This is why her process involves plenty of experimentation, or as she says, “trying to liberate myself from the recognised to hopefully end up in a hyperbolic form of truth.” Working intuitively and changing her goals and wishes with each and every project, she does, however, adhere towards a semi-regular structure. This tends to begin with a vision for a piece that she feels is worth going into further, before moving onto sketching or creating a clay prototype, and then finally the execution. “I don’t have the best patience and I also feel like you can often loose the magic on an idea if takes too long to bring it to fruition. So, I try to find the most effective medium to work in to make the process as smooth as possible.”
A recently completed piece of Beate’s is called The Bloody Feet. It’s not your typical boot, though, as the pair resembles long and flesh-coloured fingers – a spooky take on typical footwear. The project arose as an extension of The Claws, a show created a few years ago that sees an enlarged version of a hand brought to life at the other (and wrong) end of the body. Turning back to her latest footwear offering, she notes: “Disfiguring shapes – in this case, the shape of a hand – to disrupt our associations of the original source inspires me.” Influenced by the idea of turning a hand shape into the platform of a shoe, the concept expanded from the notion of “walking with your ‘hands’”.
At first bewildering, the level of surprise might be continued as you find out that all of her pieces are made to be worn. The Claw, for instance, can be walked in, even if it looks like you might face plant the floor if you do. The Bloody Feet, on the other hand, is also made to wear, but perhaps not your go-to choice for your daily walk in the park or journey to pick up your groceries. “As a designer, I’d be honoured to see anyone wearing my pieces, because you’d know it would require some guts,” adds Beate on the topic of who she envisions wearing her designs. “With this said, I’m honoured that so many vibrant people want to wear them, because they usually style my pieces in such an interesting way.” So, there we have it – would you have the guts?
Beate Karlsson: Babies will be babes (Copyright © Beate Karlsson, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.