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Our tropical climate means our sweater season is about as brief as the clothing we favor the rest of the year, so starting a fashion line specializing in knitted garments might have seemed like a pattern for failure. Yet with a flair for bold colors, an innovative knitting technique, and garments that defy whatever ideas you have about yarn, Karelle Levy has turned her line KRELwear into a sensation that has been worn by everyone from Wynwood-artist types like the TM Sisters to rap's reigning mad woman, Nicki Minaj.
"I'm probably one of the very few fashion designers here, so I've been going around the world representing Miami fashion and proving to people there's something unique coming out of Miami," Levy says. "Miami fashion isn't just hoochie clothes and bikinis."
After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, the Paris-born, Miami-raised designer spent some time creating costumes for dance and theater performances, but her passion for knitting led to the formation of KRELwear, her ever-evolving company.
Lately, Levy has been concentrating on efforts that challenge the ideas of standard fashion presentation. Her KREL 2 Go project, which she has exhibited at Scope Art Fair several times, mixes clothing with performance art. Garments are fashioned on the spot with premade fabric while onlookers watch. Meanwhile, her DisGlo collection continues to tour the world, from galleries to nightclubs, as a full-on entertainment production that is part party, part runway show, complete with UV lights to set off the high-tech threads.
"Its a reaction to what happened a few years ago. Contemporary boutiques were running short on their bills and not ordering emerging designer [clothes]," Levy says of her shows, which aim to entertain more than sell clothes. "If people aren't going to buy my production, I'm going to create whatever I want."
Though, like her performances, her garments are far from traditional. Levy manipulates knitting machines to produce what she terms "toobular" textiles, essentially fabrics that wrap around the body without seams. Using everything from leftover strands from old factories to high-tech yarns that glow in the dark or reflect light, she weaves together everything from eye-popping dresses to swimwear.
It's no surprise then that Minaj, whose personality is as colorful as KRELwear, has become a fan. The rapper's Miami-based stylist, Jessica Bosch, has decked out Minaj in KRELwear pieces for everything from fashion spreads and music videos, to her performance on Late Show With David Letterman. Alanis Morissette, Cameron Diaz, and Carmen Electra have also worn KRELwear.
All of this from a label whose clothes don't even carry an actual label.
"The brand is recognizable," Levy says. "I wouldn't need a label for people to know that it's my stuff."