Karla Welch on the Similarities Between Styling Celebrities and Working in Restaurants

Fashion

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a black and white headshot of karla welch with her name and date above and the office hours logo below

Matthew Welch

In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke to Karla Welch, the celebrity stylist behind some of Hollywood’s buzziest looks, from Justin Bieber’s oversized Balenciaga suit at the 2022 Grammys to Tracee Ellis Ross’ voluminous Valentino Haute Couture gown at the 2018 Emmys. Over the years, so much of Welch’s work has focused on shifting narratives—about which celebs are dressed by designers or which looks are appropriate to don on a red carpet. And most recently, she’s brought that same approach to The Period Company, the period underwear brand she co-founded in 2020 with the goal of offering affordable, sustainable period products for all. “I want to make periods mainstream,” she says. “It is a superpower; it’s how you’re connected to the entire planet.” Ahead, Welch traces the threads of her own career, including the life she almost had as a restaurant owner and the styling moment that changed everything.

My first job

I had a paper route. That was my first autonomous job, and I was literally 11 years old. I delivered papers twice a week, and then every month, you had to go collect the money from people. I kind of laugh when I think about it now, because it was at least three miles, and you would fold your papers, and then you’d have them in your little sack. It was full-on. It must’ve taken me at least a good hour. Then, at the end, you maybe made $20 a month or something.

a q and a with karla welch that reads the best career advice good clothes open doors the worst career advice don’t be vocal my dream job i haven’t done yet i want to be a panda cuddler my go to email sign off it says sent from space my typical lunch lately, it’s been a sweetgreen salad it’s the crispy chicken rice but with no chicken and no warm rice and i don’t do the cashew dressing, i do lemon and olive oil

Matthew Welch

On falling in love with fashion as a kid

There was a show called Fashion File with Tim Blanks, and that really lit the fashion flame in me. You saw Marc Jacobs and Perry Ellis and Versace and runway shows, and that’s when I really became obsessed with high fashion and thinking about how I could ever be a part of that world. I was like, oh my God, I just love everything about this. I don’t know that I realized how inaccessible [the industry] really was at that time. I was just enthralled by it.

How I entered—and left—the restaurant business

Talk about being visually influenced. I watched Tequila Sunrise with Michelle Pfeiffer, and she was running the restaurant, and I was like, that’s exactly what I want to do. So I went to cooking school and cooked at this private fishing lodge way up in north Canada. Later, I started working at this really famous restaurant in Vancouver. While I was there, I was the maître d’, and I became the general manager, and then I was like, oh, I’ll go learn about wine, because we had an impeccable wine list. I loved the restaurant business, then a really cute boy—who happens to now be my husband—walked into the restaurant, and the rest is history.

What working in restaurants and styling celebrities have in common

The really late hours, the intense grind of it, the performance of it, giving yourself to the people you’re serving. That is celebrity styling in a nutshell—you give yourself to it. So I always want to impart on people: Nothing’s wasted. No time is wasted, because it’s all part of the thread. I’ve always known, from a very young age, this experience leads to another experience. It’s interesting, because I could have seen owning my own restaurant, but there was something nagging; I think it was a little bit of the fashion in my brain. I ended up moving to Los Angeles, and I slowly started assisting. Then I just started doing any sort of [styling] job that came my way—200 extras at a soccer field, that kind of thing. I needed to make money, and I needed to learn how to do it. I didn’t say “no” for 15 years. I just got to start saying “no,” which is great.

a q and a that reads my open tabs instagram, which is horrible my email spotify duolingo, i’m reattempting to learn french probably postmates i actually feel like i have a glitch in my emails, because when you go to my inbox, it’s like, 47,000 emails, but i don’t miss my emails, so i think it’s a lie how i refocus after a stressful day i take a 10 minute nap my power outfit i have a great black saint laurent suit i have so many jeans that i love, hundreds of pairs of vintage jeans, so i’ll go to whatever i feel the best in always a blazer and one of my tshirts i made

Matthew Welch

The turning point in my career

I was pulling [outfit options] for the singer Feist. We were doing a shoot for Rolling Stone, and I was at Barneys, walking around with these clothes. I remember exactly what I was wearing: high-waisted Levi’s, this little A.P.C. striped shirt, Converse, red lipstick. And I could feel this woman following me. I looked at her, and I was like, “I don’t work here.” And she said, “Are you a stylist? I like everything about you.” She signed me on the spot. That was Brooke Wall, who happened to be the biggest agent in the business. It’s 95 percent hard work, five percent luck. And I had an unbelievable amount of luck that day.

Styling moments that make me proud

What I’m super proud of—and it seems like nothing now, because this is at least 13 years ago—is that designers only dressed one type of gal out here in Hollywood. It was the Oscar winners or the movie stars or a certain age group. And I worked with some women who weren’t sample size and who weren’t the ingénue. I really pushed hard; I had a lot of designers shift their thinking for me. To be able to actually shift the narrative of non-sample size, the value of older women, shifting what pregnancy looked like with Olivia [Wilde] and shifting what volume looked like, that’s probably what I’m most proud of.

Why I started The Period Company

At the time, my son hadn’t transitioned, and being a mom and taking care of a young person getting a period—I just wanted to make it easier. Most moms on this planet want to make things better for our kids. Then it was also my own period. I was thinking, there’s so much waste that I’m producing. I wasn’t a person who ever hated my period, but I didn’t love my period either. It’s such a bummer, because you’re going to have it once a month for 30 years, and we’ve been told to not have any sort of relationship with this thing that lives with us. So it started as this necessity for my kid and for all kids and finding a better way for everybody that’s less wasteful. Then my co-founder, Sasha Markov, was like, “We have to completely rebrand the period. We are period’s publicist.” It is a superpower; it’s how you’re connected to the entire planet. It’s been pretty incredible, I have a completely different relationship to my period now. [The work] is so rewarding, and we have a huge mission program. We’ve given over one million pairs away, and we’re literally just getting started.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Madison is the digital deputy editor at ELLE, where she also covers news, politics, and culture. If she’s not online, she’s probably napping or trying not to fall while rock climbing.

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