The salty sensation after a swim in the ocean, the comforting allure of packed bags, and an ethos surrounding a well-traveled life; are all customary notions to the ladies of KALITA, who have given luxury resort wear a spirituality grounded in versatility. We sit down with Rae and Kally of Kalita who are soon launching their first full resort collection; and talk travel, Bali, freedom, and sustainability.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your background?
Kally: While I’m a Londoner through and through, my heritage is Texan-Iraqi, which is quite a cracker of a background, I know. I’ve always pursued creative paths and have travelled a lot with my family. I’m fortunate enough to have seen quite a lot of the world, which I think really comes through in my work now. I started making hand embroidered silk chiffon knickers quite a few years ago, and at the time it really just took on a life of its own. I wasn’t quite ready to take it to that next level of turning it into a fully fledged lingerie label though. So its something I kept doing for friends occasionally, but put it on the back burner while I pursued other things; knowing that one day I’d come back to it, when I was ready to look at creating a label.
Rae: I’m Australian though I haven’t lived there for over five years, so the whole Antipodean experience seems very far away. Now home is on the island of Bali in Indonesia. It’s a very special place, energetically and creatively. My home there is the quintessential island haven: white painted wood, palm trees, open air kitchen [which is sort of like camping, but inside!] a tumble of young green coconuts in the corner of the kitchen waiting to be cracked. I’ve spent the past few years working in Southeast Asia –travelling to far flung outposts of the Indonesian archipelago to document the regional food culture, consulting on culinary content for celebrity chefs, doing interior and food styling in some pretty amazing locations. My professional background is in media strategy and brand development though; and I think that easily translates across quite a few platforms in today’s creative arena – where craftsmanship needs to meet commerce in order to flourish in such a competitive environment.
How did Kalita come to be?
Kally: Rae and I met in London through friends a few years ago. I was finally ready to start a label, so the timing was quite serendipitous.
Rae: I remember meeting Kalita and having her pour out all of her ideas to me and just immediately clicking with her. I’d thought about doing a resortwear brand for a long time, but had also put it off – pretty much indefinitely – until that elusive day came where it just felt right. So Kalita’s vision for creating a brand was actually quite a good fit for the two of us, even though I don’t think I realized what a force she can be when she has her heart set on something.
Kally: Rae basically said to me “Well, if you want to work together and really do this, you’ll have to come to Bali to get started.” I don’t think she thought I’d really show up. But fast-forward a few weeks later, and then there I was! It’s really grown organically from there, and after so many trips to Bali now, and having her spend more time here in the city too, it’s really lovely for the two of us to have the ability to produce the brand together in such a creative environment there on the island, whilst also being able to launch and run it from London.
What is your design philosophy, can you tell us a little bit about your process?
Kally: We are all about creating pieces that women feel amazing in, no matter what their mood, or where their confidence is at. You put one of our dresses on and just exhale, because you feel beautiful in it. They’re not difficult or tricky pieces to wear – you don’t have to be having a ‘super skinny’ day or be feeling particularly confident to pull them off. A lot of the dresses are cut on the bias, so they are super flattering no matter what your body type. It’s important to us that women with different body shapes can wear KALITA, so we’ve put a lot of work into how the pieces are cut, how they fit, how you move in them. Cutting on the bias creates movement and is very forgiving. The silks all breathe and are super comfortable to wear. And of course, it’s resort wear – clothes to take away with you on holidays, for special weekends away or trips to amazing locations, which is when you want to look your best – switching on that effortlessly relaxed goddess mode. You want to feel beautiful even if you’re barefoot, still salty from the sea.
Rae: We hand-dye all of our fabrics to create custom colours. It’s quite labor intensive, and as they’re all done in small batches it can mean that consistency can be quite tricky, but the end result is a palette of hues which has a richness and multi-faceted depth of colour which is impossible to mimic through a more commercial process.
Describe the ideal Kalita Muse
Kally: Oh, that’s easy. It’s that girl who you can’t stop looking at across the room because she’s in this amazing dress and you just wish you were the one wearing it. You know that feeling. “I want what she’s wearing”. You can’t take your eyes off her, because she’s having so much fun it, and her whole look just feels effortless and easy, whilst still having that covetable wow factor. She’s the girl who looks incredible but in the most effortless way. The first one to take her shoes off, or to jump off the side of a boat. To roll down a grassy hill at a summer garden party because it looks like fun. She’s not afraid to get the bottom of her dress a little wet and messy because she wanted to wade into the sea under the stars after dinner. We want women to really live and have fun in our clothes. They are meant for real life – travelling, being packed and unpacked for new adventures, your favourite pieces for when you are going somewhere that requires something that’s a little more sophisticated than beach wear, but not as structured as what you might wear for special occasions in the city.
Where do you usually get inspiration for your collections?
Kally: It’s always about travel. Because Kalita and I really are sort of global gypsies – always packing and unpacking, planning our next trip, working out what kind of clothes we want to be wearing when we’re there. So it’s very organic in that way – we create clothes that we want to wear. We’re bowerbirds – we collect things we love, refer back to shapes that made us feel amazing, look at the vibe of locations we’re planning on going to next.
Rae: Colour is definitely a signature for KALITA so we often start by creating swatches of new colours, to see how they come to life. This new season – which is our first full resort collection – we referenced quite strong colours, some of which feel quite Cuban and Brazilian - washed sky blues, deep green, caramel and bronze tones, a shark grey-blue that feels very now.We did a rich olive green with a bronze undertone in silk habotai that worked beautifully. There’s a tomato red which is very matte and almost sun-faded in its finish, to get a more lived-in tone.We did a tee for the first time – I Left My Heart in St Barths – which is the kind of t-shirt that you’d buy in a tourist shop on a whim because it’s a bit of a tongue in cheek momento. We imagined wearing it with a huge silk maxi skirt and your favourite sandals, knowing it would feel just right on a beach holiday.
Why did you decide to design and produce your collection in Bali?
Rae: Being based there, it was a natural choice. Bali is also an incredible little island, in the sense that it is filled with artisans and makers. They have time-honoured traditions of craftsmanship – from hand-loomed double ikat fabrics that are found in only a couple of tiny villages, to hand-dying masters that mix colours straight into the ground. We’ve often wondered how these big swathes of silk in ethereal colours just materialize from such rustic workshops, but they are just magicians. It’s also a very inspiring environment – a little hotspot of global creatives from all ends of the earth who have all settled there and live alongside the Balinese people, who are deeply spiritual and who value art, creativity and beauty. We’ve also had the opportunity to be very hands-on there – meeting everyone who makes our clothes, being involved in the creative development process on a day to day level, which in this era of mass-produced manufacturing in huge, faceless factories, is something that has been important to us.
Why do you think travel is such a big part of the Kalita Universe?
Kally: It’s actually how we live. We both have quite interesting family backgrounds, so from early days we’ve each had roots in more than one place, which makes travel a natural part of the fabric of our lives. We’re global citizens – or gypsies, depending on how you look at it! Rae and I are always packing and unpacking, and the clothes we bring really do have to be versatile and practical for a lot of different situations. Evening dresses that are slightly wrinkled from a long flight when they come out of a suitcase need to steam easily in a hot shower. Silk pieces that are slightly crumpled from long transit times still need to look elegant when you have to go straight to dinner. Many of our styles can be easily layered – with a leather jacket for rooftop drinks in a city, or with flats for lunch by the sea. The slip dresses look great with a simple white tee underneath if you don’t feel like showing skin or if the temperature is a little cooler than you anticipated. So our ethos is very much grounded in not just the resort aesthetic, but also in practicality and versatility – it’s meant to be that definitive travel wardrobe.
What are each of your favourite pieces in the collection and why?
Kally: In the current Summer 2016 collection, my hands-down favourite is the Audrey evening dress in poppy red. I’ve already worn it to death and I think I’ll wear it for years to come, truth be told. For Resort 2017, it would be the Fonteyn and the Slipper Apron Dress in white poplin.
Rae: The Piaf Maxi skirt in oyster pink was the piece I’ve worn the most from our debut Summer 2016 collection. You think that wearing a long pink skirt would take a certain occasion, but it’s actually a very neutral, wearable oyster-hue that goes with almost everything. One of my new favourites for Resort 2017 is the Uschi and the Wild Sky dress – it’s made of about ten metres of white silk-cotton and the ladder stitch panel work in it means that each dress takes about 18 hours to make. It was inspired by a trip to India a decade ago, because it just has this kind of luxe vagabond-gypsy feel.
Anything exciting planned for 2017? Special Projects? Collaborations?
Kally: As quite a few of our pieces are meant to be worn over statement swimwear, we’re floating the idea of teaming up with a swim label that shares a similar aesthetic and design ethos to us. Not surprisingly, we’ve got quite a bit of travel planned between the two us, and some of these trips are about working with new artisans in places that are known for beautiful hand-made pieces.
We’ve both just come back from India, and watching the attention to detail there with their embroidery and finishing techniques was something else.
Rae: Travel is really the heartbeat of the brand so it’s definitely going to be about what unfolds as we continue to trip around the planet. Next up is a whole lot more South America – Brazil and Buenos Aires - so you’ll definitely see a lot of exaggerated silhouettes and bright, saturated colours. It’s sexy, not overtly or in an obvious way – but women dressing for women – which is what really interests us.
Words by Hannah Tan