We’ve always marveled at Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her pipes are admirable, but it’s her on-stage style— a fusion of Liberace’s flashiness and Elvis’s theatrics by way of the BQE—that has us rallying for an encore.

See what we mean? Behind every whooshing cape, metallic shortsuit, and studded jacket lies the visionary handiwork of costume designer Christian Joy.


Photo courtesy of Darnell Scott for The Garden Party

Joy’s been designing for Karen O for years, and she let us in on some of her personal style tips and tricks of the trade. We came just short of asking her to design us an official Warby Parker cape…

For those of us who love a good lamé pantsuit, your designs are delightful but not always office-appropriate. What’s a good way to bring some of that glitz to the workplace without being carted off to HR?

For me it’s all about accessories—a great pair of glasses, an interesting belt, or an awesome shoe and sock combo. I like what I wear to say something about me even if I have to pare it down. One of my favorite accessories right now is a pair of gold slightly cat-eye sunglasses. Even if you can’t wear them indoors, you can always look forward to lunch and wearing them on your way to work. A good accessory can add a little swagger to your look and to your day.

Living or dead: what musician would you kill to dress and why?

Karen O.  Silly, but it’s true! She’s my all time favorite rock star. But I guess if I had to choose, man, I guess I’d want to be like Nudie Cohn and dress all of them and the country western stars as well. Nudie was badass!

Biggest occupational hazard?

For years, Karen was sure I was trying to kill her with each costume I created. I think the biggest occupational hazard has actually been the full boob slip. I made a dress for her very early in both of our careers, and I didn’t really know how to sew so I was putting together really simple pieces. I made her a tube dress and the only thing holding it up was a piece of elastic around her chest. Karen came back from tour and said, dude, no more tube dresses.

Have you ever suggested anything that was deemed too “out there” or “crazy” for Karen O? 

There was one dress I called the “What’s Eating Karen O Dress” and she calls “The Pizza Dress.”  It was during the prom dress stage and Karen had given me this really ugly white confirmation/prom dress to re-do and I decided to turn it into an ode to Yayoi Kusama. It had striped phalluses hanging from around the waist and the rest of the dress was decorated with acid-colored polka dots that had been painted on using spray paint. It was awful, but she wore it anyway. I remember standing in the audience laughing all the way through the show because the dress was so absurd (and I think she was pretty drunk). After the show she came up and said, “Please don’t make me a dress like that ever again.”

Your wardrobe staples:

1. Awesome, punk-inspired shoes, like a great Winklepicker, paired with colorful or unique socks

2. A pack of white t-shirts

3. A great pair of trousers

4. A badass pair of sunglasses

The outfit/piece of clothing/trend I wouldn’t be caught dead in:

That weird 90’s mom look. That’s not cute. I noticed American Apparel is really trying to sell that look. It’s very unflattering.

Must-have style tome for our coffee table:

Liberace Extravaganza!

Thank you so much, Christian! Be sure to catch even more of her astounding designs here.

Special thanks to Kelsey Hart, Christian Joy, and The Garden Party for sharing the above photos.

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