The moment that designer Christiane Joy Hultquist (a/k/a Christian Joy) opens the door of the Williamsburg vintage store Amarcord, we know why she calls it one of her favorite shops around. Not just because the clothes are beautiful, but because—as if on cue—the opening riff of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Date With the Night” has begun to play and the voice of her famous muse, the band’s singer, Karen O, pours into the store. “Well, that’s pretty funny,” she says, laughing at the coincidence. Seconds later, her phone rings and she cracks up again: “Speak of the devil—it’s Karen!”
It’d only be natural if Hultquist and Karen had some kind of psychic connection. Since they met about a decade ago, at the Daryl K store where Hultquist once worked, Hultquist has been the sole designer of Karen’s fantastical stage wardrobe, elevating the charismatic singer from downtown hipster to punk-rock fashion icon. Just about whatever Hultquist dreams up in her Greenpoint studio, Karen wears—from a fearsome skeleton costume with 20 feet of detachable “intestines” to a dazzling Native American–inspired headdress of multicolored hands.
But it’s not just Karen who gets noticed for her fashion. Hultquist herself was recently named one of the most stylish New Yorkers by Time Out New York. She wears her hair boyishly short and mixes punk, vintage, and her own DIY creations (such as jewelry made out of paper clips and contact paper) for an edgy modern look. The self-taught seamstress, who is currently designing costumes for two short films, also has her own avant-garde line, Christian Joy, as well as a line of simpler pieces with graphics that she does with her husband, artist Jason Grisell, called When I Want You in the Night; both are sold online at Etsy. In the spring, she’ll launch a new collection, Christian Void, in Japan, where she has a cult following for her handmade prints.
With her eye on what to wear this fall, the 36-year-old trendsetter took us on a tour of her most cherished shops in Williamsburg. Amarcord (223 Bedford Avenue, 718-963-4001) is her go-to place for colorful prints. We ask if she has tips on how to layer prints so they don’t clash. Without having to think, she pulls out two purple cotton floral pieces that match up perfectly. “I think you can get a vibe,” she says. “I look for similar colors and fabrics and eras, like, maybe I’d do ’70s with ’70s.”
Certain we’ll never have her innate vibe, we move on to something easier to grasp: shoes. Hultquist is a fan of Shoe Market (160 North 6th Street, 718-388-8495) for its affordable, trendy labels such as Jeffrey Campbell and Seychelles. Inside the store, she heads straight for the oxfords, which were big on the runway for fall. “An oxford is always cute because it’s a little more masculine,” she says, rubbing a soft gray shoe by Sam Edelman ($140). “And, God knows, in New York it’s impossible to wear a heel.”
Hultquist has been obsessed with oxfords since high school, when her biggest fashion inspiration was the boys who imitated the oversize cardigans and buttoned-down look of the Smiths. “I have a trillion pairs of oxfords. A lot of them are from Trash & Vaudeville (4 St. Mark’s Place, Manhattan, 212-982-3590). They also have these really awesome little boots in tons of colors. Everyone I know has had a pair for years. They point out and have a nice heel, but they’re comfortable because the heel is rubber, so it’s not hard on your feet.”
Not one to think only of herself while shopping, she takes us to her favorite spot for gifts, About Glamour (107-A North 3rd Street, 718-599-3044), a 2,400-square-foot vintage emporium full of Japanese clothes and trinkets and a remarkable amount of old Vivienne Westwood. “There’s such a weird mix,” Hultquist says, holding up a pair of funky black harem pants. “I love having to sift through all this stuff myself. It’s like being a clothing archaeologist—it’s nice to see the history. It makes it more fun when you have to think about everything a little more.”
Browsing a wall of tights, she pulls down a pumpkin-orange pair. “I like lots of color,” she says. “Orange is so good because you can wear them on your legs and not feel like you’re wearing an entire orange outfit. It’s more about punches of color here and there. It makes your outfit look more exciting, and it makes you feel better, too.”
Another way she has fun with color is with makeup, so we move on to Miomia Apothecary (318 Bedford Avenue, 718-490-5599). Here, Karen again makes an appearance—this time on an advertisement for KnockOut, a line of matte nail polish by her makeup artist, Mike Potter. The polish ($19) comes in colors from aqua blue (“Pool”) to a vibrant red (named, of course, “Karen”). “I never wore nail polish until I started wearing matte polish,” Hultquist says, wiggling her toes painted “Liberty” sea-green. “It has more of an edge to it. It’s not too girlie.”
Hultquist spends very little money on her own wardrobe because she’s willing to put in hours hunting down treasures at thrift stores, flea markets, and dollar stores (she frequents the row on Manhattan Avenue between Nassau and Greenpoint avenues in Brooklyn). In fact, the cream open-toe oxfords she’s wearing cost $7 at a sidewalk sale (“They were originally $220 at Anthropologie”) and her white silk dress was $10 at the vintage warehouse Vice Versa (241 Bedford Avenue, 718-782-3882), the last stop on our tour.
At the back of Vice Versa, she lingers over the military jumpsuits for $20, but none of them have enough zippers for her taste (her fall When I Want You in the Night line will be heavy on pea-green military-style shirts and jackets). Continuing through the racks, she cringes a little every time her hand touches polyester. “The world’s worst fabric,” she says.
Finally, she finds something exciting: a gaudy black silk gown covered in fuchsia and green sequins. “It’s like some grandmother’s dress that she wore to Vegas,” Hultquist says—and, apparently, this is a good thing, because she ponders buying it for $20. But the clothing archaeologist, in a rare moment of practicality, puts it back with a sigh: “I always end up with stuff like that, and I never, ever wear it.”