12 Days of Feminists: Karla Welch

This year, we're recognizing the women who showed up, raised their voices and fought for change. Here, Tara MacInnis celebrates stylist to the stars, Karla Welch

(Photo: Getty Images)

An outfit can set the tone for my entire day. When I’m lazy and toss on whatever’s clean, I turn into a much crankier version of myself by lunchtime. But when I put on something I love and feel great in—like my favourite, Canadian-made flight suit—I feel like I can handle whatever crap my day (or the news cycle) throws at me—and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Fashion is often dismissed as frivolous, but after the year we’ve had I’ve never been more convinced about the power of clothing to make you feel, well, powerful. That—helping people feel like the best version of themselves—is the business of stylists, and no one did it better in 2018 than Karla Welch.

I first heard about Canadian-born Welch when I was an editorial assistant here at FLARE. Back then she was styling the magazine’s cover shoots. And now, just a few short years later, she’s dressing everyone from Hollywood heavyweights like Sarah Paulson and Tracee Ellis Ross, to pop stars like Lorde and Justin Bieber. Yes, you can thank her for that endless parade of normcore Hawaiian shirts and four-figure sneakers that the new hubby has been sporting this year—love it or hate it, you can’t deny Welch’s versatility. She’s the woman behind Paulson’s acid-green Prada dress from the London premiere of Ocean’s 8, and the impossible-to-forget voluminous fuchsia Michael Kors gown Ross wore to the Met Gala this year. Welch knows how to take a risky look and make it *werk* and, because of that, she was named the most powerful stylist by The Hollywood Reporter.

But what I love most about the formidable fashion powerhouse is how she uses her craft and her ever-growing platform to raise awareness for important issues. After the 2016 presidential election, awards show red carpets became a place for celebrities to show their politics, and Welch has been a forerunner in the growing trend of weaving feminism into fashion. She loves a good power suit (see here on Natalie Portman, here on Olivia Wilde and Karen Gillan, here on Amber Heard and here on Amandla Stenberg) and is consistently dressing her female clients in bright colours, notice-me embellishments and room-dominating proportions that make them stand-out and, I’d argue, give them the confidence to stand-up.

Welch also practices her feminism by making it her mission to use socially conscious, often female designers, and chooses clothing with political elements. When Tracee Ellis Ross hosted the American Music Awards in October, they worked together to make sure each of her 11 outfit changes included pieces from Black designers. Another one of Welch’s high-profile clients is The Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss, and for the show’s press tour in April 2017 Welch said, “We’re using a lot of Rosetta Getty, a lot of Prada and Miu Miu and Prabal Gurung, so it’s not limited to female designers but we are definitely focusing on designers that have a political point of view within looking good.” That included a Rochas sweater with an R for “resistance” and a Claire Vivier Suffragette T-shirt.

But Welch doesn’t just let the clothes do the talking. She’s also super outspoken about human rights on her Instagram. Along with beautiful photos of her clients, she peppers in calls to action for her 185k Instagram followers, and makes her thoughts on Trump’s policies known.

“I want my followers to know what I believe in,” Welch told Coveteur in May. “And if I can educate or shed some light on things that are important to me, than that’s a good reason I would use my forum. I think what’s going on in the world is crazy and wrong, and if we don’t use our voices, we’re screwed.”

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Let’s get this done, People! Flood the Lines!

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Welch stands for something. But beyond that, she truly puts her money where her mouth is: Part of the proceeds from her recent collaboration with Levi’s went to the Everytown for Gun Safety fund, and at the Golden Globes, where several of her clients wore black to support Time’s Up, she donated her day rate to the fund.

The checklist for a successful celebrity stylist, in my opinion, used to be how well they shaped their client’s aesthetic, if they helped their clients pull off risky-but-amazing looks and whether they could wrangle coveted designer outfits that no one else could get their hands on. But, thanks to Welch, that list has expanded. I now want to see stylists, especially ones with as much clout as her, using their platforms to remind people that they should care about injustice, and that what they wear can actually make a difference. I applaud Welch not only for letting her politics shine through her work, but also for her insistence that lifting women up and fighting for what you believe in is something everyone should be doing no matter their profession. Because, in her words, “You’re damn straight I’m going to say what I believe in. If that has consequences, I think the consequences of being quiet are way bigger.”

More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:

Day 1: Chrystia Freeland
Day 2: Constance Wu
Day 3: Tracee Ellis Ross
Day 4: Vivek Shraya
Day 5: Amber Tamblyn
Day 6: Lizzo

Day 7: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
Day 8: Meghan Markle
Day 9: Serena Williams
Day 10: Ariana Grande
Day 11: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez