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Karen Elson For Nine West Vintage America Collection — A Victorian-Flavored, Free-Spirited, Circus-Tinged Take On Americana


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Judging by the success of the Jessica Stam x Rachel Roy collection unveiled last September and the Argyness Deyn for Barneys Japan collaboration, we should expect to see a major influx of catwalk queens turned fashion designers. One of the most recent examples of this budding phenomenon: the Karen Elson for Nine West Vintage America collection, which fuses the slightly rugged, Western-inspired, Americana-imbued vibe of the Nine West Vintage America collection with the famed British model and musician’s own personal style, which fuses together a love of vintage fashion, a Bohemian wanderlust, a passion for rock-n-roll (she was, after all, married to Jack White for six years), and a near-mystical quality reminiscent of Stevie Nicks‘ own aesthetic.

Though it’s already available for pre-order, all the items in the collection ship on September 6th, just days before New York Fashion Week kicks off (talk about perfect timing!). As for the collection’s feel, let’s start with the circus-like, carnival-inspired, magical elements. First, imagine the delightfully quixotic, surreal carnival scenes in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (particularly the scene in which Edward Bloom, played by Ewan McGregor, walks across the center of a circus tent, navigating through clusters of clowns, elephant trainers, acrobats, and magicians, as his gaze is transfixed on the beautiful woman standing on the other side of the tent), then marry these visuals with the classic scene in 1988’s Big where young Josh visits the slightly spooky, antique-looking Zoltar fortune telling machine in a deserted corner of the boardwalk next to the local amusement park and wishes to grow up (which leads to him waking up in Tom Hanks’ body). Now, toss in some of the visual references you would associate with vintage carnivals and circus shows: the tarot card decks; the slot machines with wooden, marionette-style “wizards” bearing feathered turbans; the wine-colored, velvet curtains used by psychics and “freak show” participants; the illustrated, Western-style posters announcing the arrival of a new set of traveling gypsies; and even the single-handle suitcases carrying the performers’ belongings.

Next, allow yourself to travel to a different kind of magical realm, one where free-spirited forest nymphs in ethereal, flowing gowns, tiered lace an gauze skirts, lace-up boots, cheeky berets,winged blouses, and Riding Hood-esque capes commune with nature, sauntering along the line between the ordinary and the supernatural, and exuding a cosmic charm. Imagine Stevie Nicks in one of her batwing-style blouses, add a dollop of Florence Welch in Florence + The Machine’s “Cosmic Love” video, and sprinkle these with a dash of glitter from a classic Ziggy Stardust ensemble.

Now that you’ve got a handle on the magical qualities of the collection, note the antique influences: the use of damask-inspired tapestry prints, the incorporation of oversize brass keys (like the type that would open the gated entrance to a mansion), and the frame-like construction and kiss-lock closures of the purses in the collection.

These vintage, Bohemian and magical overtones are then fine-tuned to fit the Nine West Vintage America collection through a focus on rugged leather and suede fabrics, oxidized brass, cowboy-like boot silhouettes, and modernized granny boot styles.

For me, the pieces that most accurately capture the overall feel of the Karen Elson for Nine West Vintage America collection are the Midnight Boot ($189 at NineWest.com) pictured at top, a granny style made of black synthetic leather with silver sparkle and incorporating a side zipper and 2″ wooden heel, and the MidnightSun Boot ($269 at NineWest.com), a knee-high, black leather, sparkle-free version of the Midnight style with lacing detail along the front and a 2 1/2″ heel.  Both of these boots nod to Stevie Nicks’ signature footwear choice, but they transform a footwear style with Victorian root into a saloon-ready number with just the right amount of fantastical charm.

For more of a Florence Welch vibe, I’d suggest trying out the TheGhost Wedge ($149 at NineWest.com), pictured above in its three colorways: black, blue and a cardinal red/wine combination. These T-strap sandals feature a cheeky sliver peep toe, a buckle closure at the ankle, a 5 1/2″ wedge and a 1 3/4″ platform.

In terms of the handbag offerings, I’m swooning over the HundredYrs Satchel ($99 at NineWest.com), a roomy frame purse measuring 13.5″ in length, 12″ in height, and 7.5″ in depth. Though tapestry patterns can make handbags look like they were constructed from dusty upholstered armchairs neglected in grandma’s attic, these vintage-inspired handbags make granny’s décor choicses seem modern and chic thanks to the integration of leather panels along the sides, rounded double shoulder straps, playful chain strands dangling along the front of the purse, and an antique-looking brass key charm. If there’s one item I’ll be taking to the checkout line, its the HundredYrs Satchel in the ruby hue.

Aside from a handful of footwear and handbag options, the collection also incorporates some rocker-flavored jewelry pieces — among them the Guitar Pendant Necklace ($36 at NineWest.com), a 16″-long, oxidized brass chain necklace with a key lock plate charm featuring rounded edges that mimic the shape of a guitar and a garnet-colored key charm dangling beneath it. The oxidized brass Key Charm Bangle ($32 at NineWest.com), meanwhile, boasts a hammered texture and features a slithery chain along the back with a lobster claw closure, as well as a garnet-colored key charm dangling from one of the bracelet’s sides.

From “Season of the Witch” to “The Truth Is In The Dirt” and “The Ghost Who Walks,” these designs capture the preternatural, eerie, transcendental themes of Elson’s music and their accompanying mystical visuals — all as enchanting, bewitching, and simply irresistible.

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