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The Way it Goes: An Interview with Designer Daryl K

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The first time I met Daryl Kerrigan was on my critique panel last semester. She was wearing blue tinted aviator glasses and ripped Levi’s with offset leopard print patch pockets. Her style is a direct reflection of her effortlessly cool and free-spirited personality. Daryl is an enigma, but with a swift Google search, her professional resume unfolds in impressive layers.

Kerrigan opened shop in the East Village in 1991, a twenty-something with little knowledge or experience in the fashion industry. “I was not one of those designers with a plan; I just had a passion, but the store was enough, so I opened the store and once you are connected to everyone it just happens.”  New York was a liberating world according to Daryl. Her shop was made to look like a small pink, plastic submarine with portholes for windows. At night she’d stayed working and observing the people passing by, eventually joining the party scene herself. She designed for musicians, fellow artists, performers and drag queens. Involving herself in a constant cycle of creativity, she was surrounded by people that actively inspired her work.

Before this endeavor, she had five full years of costume design experience, working closely with another designer, as well as executing a few films of her own. “I’d travel around the country. I’d live in Montana for six weeks, Kansas and Pennsylvania — wherever the movie was being shot.” The last film she worked on was “My Cousin Vinny,” and as rewarding as the experience was, it did not satisfy her creativity. One movie she worked on as lead designer, “The Kill Off,” was a murder mystery that excited her with ostentatious characters. “There was a hooker and a stripper. I went to town on the costumes and the director was like, ‘No, no, no.’ She wanted them to fade into the woodwork.” The realization then occurred to Kerrigan that she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her own vision to please the entirety of an ensemble.

The basis for opening Daryl K in the first place lies in the disatisfaction of her prior experience. “I thought if I don’t do this, I’ll be a bitter old woman.” As her brand’s popularity rose, another Daryl K store emerged on Bond Street in Soho. She received serious recognition from stylists and fashion editors, and her low-rise, hip-hugging leather pants became a staple for her customers. She even formed a strong friendship with Sonic Youth frontwoman Kim Gordon. Joey Ramone also attended one of her infamously grungy runway shows to hear his music play. She designed for her own creative community and enjoyed the traction, never putting too much pressure on her financial success.

In the prime of Daryl’s hip-hugger boot leg jeans, she was featured in “Women’s Wear Daily” as an upcoming designer, bound to be as big of a name as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Investors approached her and her brand, having discovered her in the news. “‘Well, what do you want to be: an $100 million business or a $500 million business,’ and I was like ‘What? What does that mean?’” Daryl didn’t want to undergo the transformation if it meant losing herself in the process. “Does that mean I have to sit in a board room more instead of being in the studio making clothes?”

She was eventually forced to sell her stores. The buyers dissolved the brick and mortar locations as gentrification ran rampant through the city in the 2000s, and currently, the designer’s focus has shifted to building and marketing the Daryl K brand online. She recently collaborated with Madewell, having Kim Gordon and her daughter Coco model for the campaign, as well as Steven Alan. Her choice to teach at Pratt was brought upon by fellow professor and designer, Susan Cianciolo, and she now offers her rich experiences to students as they develop their own design aesthetic. Professional momentum aside, it was important for Daryl to focus on her teenage children and be a present mother.

To this day, she has no regrets about any decisions made throughout her career. “I always acted like an artist, and I think if I was more of a business person I could have had that huge business, but maybe I wouldn’t be a very happy person.”  At the true heart of creation for designers and artists alike is the desire to fulfill a craving within. By never repressing that hunger, Daryl was led down a path solely rooted in the pursuit of art, not profit.

“I think the way it goes is the way it is supposed to go.”

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Illustration by Jooyoung Park

written by
Morgan Howell
November 30, 2017