Clothing and accessory images via Off-Duty.net.
Globetrotting in the name of fashion isn’t an easy job, but somebody has got to do it. Our own Ivan Bekichev has traveled around the world and back in the name of luxury, making high-styling friends along the way. On a recent trip to Bali, he caught up with his good friend, VIP fashion designer and founder of Off Duty, Katariina Valo.
The Finland-born designer parlayed her experience as a former stylist to the Queen of Qatar and to Russian Oligarchy to her own easy-to-wear luxury brand, Off Duty. She offers an approachable take on luxury, as each piece is made by hand by independent artists and artisans. It’s the ultimate custom clothing experience without the haute expense or the très longue wait.
Just before Katariina headed to Paris Fashion Week, Ivan caught up with her at a private villa in Seminyak, Bali. In his own words, here is Ivan’s personal interview with Katariina Valo, founder and Creative Director of Off Duty.
I first met Katariina Valo at the fashion week in New York about six years ago when she worked as a stylist for a prominent Russian oligarch’s wife, and later the queen of Qatar. I remember the first time I saw her, I thought, “What great style this girl has.” I have seen a lot of fashion in my life and one thing is for sure; fashion is ever-changing. Many trends come and go, with people falling victim to those very trends that are relevant for only a short time. It is truly amazing to be able to find a person who is able to create their own personal and recognizable style.
We have remained friends ever since. It was a total surprise when I found out she ended up in Bali and started her own brand, Off Duty. It was great to reconnect with her and see what she has created, and be able to interview her.
What is your definition of style?
For me style is about form and color. Form as in your body shape and the lines that flatter you or give a beautiful or interesting silhouette. As for color, what suits the wearer and the relations between all the colours in an outfit. But this is always all in the eye of the beholder and I don’t think there are any absolute truths about style today. Other factors that come to play are time and place or occasion, texture and material and the personality of the wearer. Personally for me, less is often more, as I like the focus to be on the woman, not the clothes. If you keep liking what you liked before, it becomes you. If you change with every season and trend, that spells sartorial insecurity – a follower.
What events in your life have influenced and evolved your personal sense of style?
Travel, definitely. I remember some trips to Italy with my family in my pre- teens and looking around shops at wonderful clothes we did not have in Finland. When I was 15 I bought a sewing machine and started making a lot of my own clothes. I have always loved creating, dreaming something up and working until I could see it and touch it and use it. It’s like magic, and an addiction. Other influences for sure have been being born in a Scandinavian country and our minimalistic and nature-centric aesthetic, and afterwards all the many fabulous, stylish women I have known and worked with. My body influences me.
What inspired you to start your own brand?
I have always been super independent. I come from a broken home and I’m not too good with authority. And all through my life, I have been wheeling and dealing in something or other, importing small runs of fashion, interior decor, managing my shoe label for a couple of years, and running my export management company which I started while studying at an Italian fine art academy. I always always wanted to design clothes. As soon as I thought I had saved enough to do it on my own, I went for it.
How did you come up with the name, “Off Duty”?
It’s because doing this feels “off duty” to me. I know it’s work but most of the time it doesn’t feel like it. After ten years of almost constant work for other people, this is my attempt to do my own thing. Also I make relaxed, easy-to-wear styles that fabulous women can wear when they are off duty.
Many of the pieces in your current collection can be easily implemented into any occasion, whether it be day or night, making it perfect for a jet-setter. To me that is one of the best features of your collection. Would you consider your clothing versatile?
Yes, I love spontaneous days when you meet new or old friends and you find yourself somewhere unplanned. Wouldn’t it be awful to have to say no because your outfit doesn’t permit you to go?
What are the three must-have items from your collection for this season?
I am a big consumer of the Off Duty lace tee shirt and jog pant ensembles and I have them in a variety of colours. It’s a great example of an outfit that can graciously take you from day to night and a must for anyone venturing to hot climates this season. I love our unique clutch bags almost to death! They are all one-off pieces, and it’s hard to part with them as I will never make another one the same. Our perforated suede scarves are a must-have travel companion, I die every time I fondle one; they melt in your hand, they are so soft.
You have used beautiful and locally made fabrics, exotic skins, and I can even see the cultures influence on the color choices you have employed. Would you agree that Bali has influenced your creations?
Ninety percent of our fabrics come from Paris. All the leathers we source locally, and I love to hunt for antique and tribal hand loomed fabrics. The local talent does influence me. I have some amazing artist and artisans with skills that are very rare in the west these days and we can get amazing hand carved clutches and details made from wood and bone.
You are very particular about quality, and you mentioned that it takes an immense amount of time to find local people who were able to produce the quality you want. You describe your brand as “Demi Couture.” Can you please explain?
Yes it took a while to find the right people to sew leather and others to sew fabric, make shoes, clutches etc. We use couture techniques so most of the time there is no visible stitching on the outside of the garment. I really love knowing that what I wear is unique and my customers love that too. These days it’s difficult to get an exclusive outfit even from the big couture names, who will guarantee exclusive per continent or even a city. Having been a stylist and a couture buyer I realize there is a gap in the market for readily available outfits, especially day wear, that is wearable and totally exclusive, one off. Demi couture means half couture, most of the time applying the same techniques but offering ready made pieces in standard sizes, most of the time without any fittings. With us we concentrate on well made day wear in high quality and rare materials and we really just make one of a kind pieces.
You have been experimenting with accessories, and even jewelry. How is that going for you?
I love change and new challenges. All the jewelry is totally unique pieces as well. We make jewelry from pearls, semi-precious stones, silver and bone and I have an interest in restoring and altering antique tribal jewelry as well. I like to make light hearted, playful little jewels to go with the outfits.
You have recently launched your online store. Congratulations! If any of our readers are interested in ordering your pieces, which countries are you able to ship to? And are custom made orders a possibility?
Thank you! It was a massive effort to get the shop live. We have free shipping and we ship anywhere DHL will go to. We do a lot of custom orders, mostly people want something in a different colour or material. We love working on custom orders as we know the client is getting exactly what she wants and needs.
I know that you have not been to San Francisco. I would love for you to come and allow me to host a trunk show for you. Does that sound like a good idea?
I would absolutely love to! I’m going to Paris Couture week in July and a little holiday after so I would love to do that in the autumn with the new collection! And it was such a pleasure to have you here in Bali, you should come back soon! Maybe I will steal you away when I come to San Francisco ☺