Stylist Karla Welch remembers exactly why she first got into reworking classic men’s Hanes white tees: Her client Justin Bieber “wanted them tomorrow.” And what Justin Bieber wants, Justin Bieber gets. “He was so fearless. [He said], ‘I want T-shirts that are long,’ and they literally didn’t exist in the marketplace. It was a bit of a nightmare.” Like any stylist worth her salt, Welch rolled up her sleeves, went to the local Kmart, and stocked up on mountains of triple-XL tees before taking them apart and remaking them using a pattern she had created. The results, which Bieber went on to wear for his Purpose tour, ignited the x Karla collection, a series of seven white T-shirt styles—all reimagined by Welch using Hanes components—retailing for $30 and available starting tomorrow exclusively on xKarla.com (and in Los Angeles at a Maxfield pop-up starting on August 6th: “I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to take $30 T-shirts and sell them there?”). Bieber agreed. „Karla and I have always pushed boundaries together and this collaboration is a continuation of that,“ he says.
The T-shirts have become “my uniform,” says Welch, who flits between sleeveless and classic versions worn with high-waisted trousers. “Everybody needs it. Every culture and subculture has used the white T-shirt. That’s where the genius is.” In developing the collection, Welch sought to recapture the effortless elegance of classic Hollywood cinema icons like James Dean. The fit is “slightly refined and slimmer,” she says, noting that the pieces could be dubbed “future vintage:” The owner will need to wear, wash, and repeat the process a few times before achieving the desired comfy factor. “You have to commit to this T-shirt.” Welch notes that each detail was finely tuned, from keeping the ringer neck tight to taking silhouette cues from athletic pinnies for that perfect balance between fitted and fluid.
But the best part of the process for Welch was the dream cast of Bieber, Kaia Gerber, and Joan Smalls shot by her husband, photographer Matthew Welch, in the ’90s-inspired campaign. l “I want[ed] it to be iconic yet accessible,” says Welch, who with her husband looked at Robert Mapplethorpe and Robert Longo images for inspiration. “I just wanted it to feel really clean.” And while “the million-dollar boy” was a shoo-in to model, Smalls and Gerber surprised Welch with their enthusiasm for her and the line. “I’ve worked with Cindy on ad work, and she’s so beautiful,” Welch says. “Kaia was perfect for this, especially for the age. [She said], ‘I’m totally in,’ she didn’t even ask me what it was. It was so awesome.” As for Smalls, “Joan’s such a woman,” Welch says. “I was excited and thrilled to have her be a part of it.”
And while Welch was coy about upcoming products from the x Karla collection, she did divulge that a second drop is coming in October. As for that campaign, Welch’s roster of red carpet clients is already on board to support: “Ruth [Negga] really wants to be a part of it,” says Welch. No doubt she has something very interesting up her sleeve.