When Karen Anthony arrived in New York City almost nine years ago, she came with what many new Big Apple transplants have: Hope. Born and raised in Melbourne Australia, Anthony didn’t have true friendships, really any relationships for that matter–just a dream that her experience as a makeup artist and fashion buyer in the land down under could segue into a career in the industry stateside.
Anthony always dreamed of what life could be like in the world’s most famous city. “New York embodied a lot of what I was interested in as far as art, culture, fashion, and style. The child of an Italian printer dad who played Red Hot Chili Peppers and a Puerto Rican art teacher mom who spun Jose Feliciano, her eyes and ears were nurtured with art as varied as the city she’d eventually moved to.
As you’ll soon see, Kaz (as friends call her) eventually did land her dream gig, which after several years and promotions capped off with an awesome run as Senior Director Global Merchandising at fashion titan, Calvin Klein. But her route to becoming a “success” story was neither smooth nor direct.
When we connected with Karen for a Zoom chat from her Brooklyn apartment, she was weeks removed from leaving her post at CK and–as we’d find out later–enjoying her last days as a New Yorker. She’s headed here in sunny Los Angeles to begin a new venture with rising luxury clothing brand, Fear of God. There she’ll join founder and lead designer Jerry Lorenzo in building a powerhouse that, Lord willing, will stand as tall as the Calvins and Ralph Laurens of the game.
Through our conversation, tools and wisdom about how to “make it” when you’re an outsider revealed themselves. Here, not only do we introduce you to Kaz Anthony, but provide some free advice on how to win it in America and beyond.
The Best Parts of Your Past Can Be Your Future
Karen’s dad moonlit as a photographer. “He would always want to take photos of me and my little brother,” she recalls. “It instilled a lot of creativity. And a sense of adventure. It was important to explore and travel.”
“I also grew up around sports,” she adds. Karen was a swimmer and played tennis. During downtime, she watched her idol Andre Agassi (“I had his poster on my wall”) play and caught some basketball games as well. “It all shaped me,” she says. Which makes perfect sense. Her Instagram followers will vouch for her photographer’s eye and her knack for posting hardly seen images of hoop icons and intimate photos of her day-to-life.
Take Time to Find Yourself, Then Find Your Way
Most people have a general idea of what the fashion industry is. Someone designs clothes. Then people and machines mass-produce them. But how do you become a part of that system? It’s a question that Kaz couldn’t answer coming out of high school. She knew she wanted to be in the industry, though not where to start.
I wanted to do fashion out of high school,” she says. “I didn’t know how to, though. I was a little lost. So I took time off after high school. I started to tap into more creative outlets. I trained as a makeup artist and became certified. I did that for 10 years. I started my own business. I’d work backstage at fashion shows. I worked with MAC Cosmetics and private clients.”
“That set me off on an unexpected path. I loved doing it, but it wasn’t my intended goal. It taught me that everyone has their own journey and path in life. You can’t program what you’re going to do. I just followed my creative intuition. From there I went back to college at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology to study fashion.
Then I got a foot in the door working in retail fashion at Witchery and worked my way into the fashion industry. They did contemporary women’s fashion. I was the store manager and eventually met with their Senior Buyer. She let me be her intern. That turned into an Assistant Buyer role. Buying is a great mix of creativity but also strategy.
Follow Your Gut
Anthony’s buyer role at Witchery afforded her the chance to travel to Los Angeles and New York. With each Manhattan trip, the dream of potentially moving there strengthened.
“I’m naturally a pretty private person when it comes to making decisions and moves,” she says. “The idea and decision to move to New York was kept pretty private. I’m actually a dual citizen. I wanted to make the most of that blessing, especially in New York. I kept it on the down-low.” She guarded her goal, only telling those close to her once she was certain.
“I told my parents late. Most Aussies don’t ever leave. The decision didn’t come lightly. My friends cheered me on.”
“New York really tests and pushes you beyond your means. It’s a very tough city. Within the first six months, I did consider leaving.”
You Might Think About It, But Do NOT Quit on Yourself
Once Karen landed in New York in November 2013, she was full of wonder and hope. “I was excited and inspired to move and experience something else,” she says. “I had clear objectives in mind.”
At first, she had to learn the basics. “I didn’t know what it would truly look like once I got to there, the ins and outs of how you get set up in a new city, how to get around.” Then there was a bit of a rude awakening. “I didn’t fully digest what the move to New York was going to be like,” she says. “Not knowing anyone or having industry connects.”
“I didn’t have an idea. It wasn’t until I got there that I found out how extreme New York is. It really tests and pushes you beyond your means. It’s a very tough city. Within the first six months, I did consider leaving a number of times. I didn’t have a job lined up. I wasn’t making the contacts I thought I would make. I kept consistently putting myself out there for six months and that spring I eventually landed something. That was the turning point.”
Kaz made a friend who was a photog for the Head of Global Merchandising at Calvin Klein’s underwear division. “She told me they were making new hires and promised to share my information with her. Then she actually did.”
Calvin Klein was their building Global Merchandising Division at the time and Karen met with the Head of Merchandising. The chance meeting turned into a temp job offer as they fleshed out the team. That became a full-time role as a Freelance Merchandiser.
The resume and experience Karen had from her work in Australia clearly positioned her to get more of a higher ranking role at whatever her United States job would be. At least that’s what she thought.
“My background was buying and merchandising,” Anthony explains. “I was pretty senior at the time. I had eight years of experience in Australia. So my foot-in-the-door job at Calvin almost felt like a step backward. It was humbling. I had to sacrifice to get to the next step. I was unpacking samples, filling out the closet. Grunt work I hadn’t done in years. It felt like a step in the wrong direction. But I was so grateful for the chance. It set me off on an eight-year journey of amazing opportunities with the brand.”
“It ended up progressing into new opportunities. More growth. I climbed the ladder with hard work and dedication. I grew into new positions. And got the Senior Director Global Merchandising.”
In that role, she was at the forefront of the decision-making process. She had a great influence on products that landed on pop star Justin Bieber and Colombian singer Maluma, led on partnerships with Nike, Kith, and Heron Preston–not to mention striking imagery that’s been featured on billboards and in ads all over the world.
Do You (In Style, Wherever You Are)
“My style is very relaxed. I shop now for shapes and proportions, what feels good on my body. I’m a little bit more sporty. Some of those old gender references like ‘Tomboy’ have thankfully gone away. I would’ve used that as a reference in the past. But now it’s more about how I want to feel. Now that’s comfortable and authentic to who I am. More relaxed. Arts, music, and sports are my passions.”
“My style reflects what’s needed in New York. You want to be comfortable. It’s an on-the-go city. Wearing heels is not for me. Unless maybe I’m getting into an Uber and going to a meeting. Most of the time I’m in sneakers. I’m running around the city, being an adventurer, exploring the city, and taking pictures.”
Last fall Anthony resigned from her job at Calvin Klein. “I wanted to take some time out for me,” she reveals. “ I wanted to rest and recharge. I achieved everything I wanted to at Calvin Klein and there was this new chapter of life upon me. It was an intuitive decision for me to better myself for a bit.”
Make the Next Move the Best Move
Similar to how she fell in love with New York in the past, Los Angeles steadily became a contender for Kaz’s future. As she pondered her next move from her couch in Brooklyn, Anthony decided that it was time for her story to take a dynamic turn.
“I believe we live different chapters in life, Karen says. “They shouldn’t be lived in one place. LA for me is appealing for a different lifestyle. The weather and relaxed vibes are aligned with what I grew up within Australia. I love the art and sports scene as well. There’s a lot that appeals to me there, too.” Just days after we spoke for this interview, she announced that she’d accepted a role at Fear of God, an LA-based brand that, aesthetically, is an obvious match for her elegance-meets-the-streets aesthetic.
Creative Direction & Writing by Brad Weté
Video by Serrandon
All Images c/o Karen Anthony