GB Living Story - Meet, GB Native, Karelle Levy Striving to protect us all with her knit masks
Meet, GB Native, Karelle Levy
In this whole new world, she is striving to protect us all with her knit masks
Raised in Golden Beach, this renowned designer has been knocked off by the likes of Moschino, Rodarte and Vivienne Westwood. She is now using her talent on the loom to re-create the mask in an attempt to save lives whilst raising monies for organizations on the front lines.
I would like to preface this beautiful story about a beyond dear friend by sharing a little bit about our history. Aside from being a fan, model and advocate of her handmade brand, we have been close for over twenty years – and, both grew up in Golden Beach. I met Karelle early on in her career. I was sixteen, working at Chroma, a visionary shop on Lincoln Road that carried brands like Luis Morais, Mayle, Tomas Maier, Zero by Maria Cornejo and KRELwear. Her racy, colorful, ripped and one-of-a-kind bold pieces immediately sold out. I simply loved styling them on our clients. I would often see her when she would swing by the shop, but it was not until later in my life that she became a sister. I will never forget the day that I saw Karelle at Joey’s in Wynwood. At the time, Wynwood was quite scary and I have actually always been intimidated by artists and designers, but I did say hello, asking if she remembered me from Chroma. And, from that moment on, it was pure love between us. In fact, I have quite a collection of her pieces from when I modeled at the Fontainebleau in one of her shows, glow in the dark pieces and even attended the late-night dance parties she used to throw in the Standard’s hammam, alongside DJ Gabby Mejia. We have traveled together, from Morocco to New York and even Mexico, and in common, we have major joie de vivre - always living, loving and laughing together. So, with that being said, I would formally like for you to meet a woman who is making the world a better place, one very protective and stylish mask at a time.
Fashion and art came naturally to Karelle Levy, who was born and partially raised in Paris by her parents Jean Pierre and Nina. Style was naturally in her blood. In fact, her late mother Nina was an extraordinarily talented artist who constantly needlepointed while raising Karelle and her three siblings Raphael, David, and Candice. When Karelle was fifteen, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, taking her life just under two years later. In those two years, she was too sick to teach Karelle how to use the loom. However, her loom was there to serve as a sculpture with yarns for her needle points. Karelle became fascinated with it as her health deteriorated. Though Karelle has no recollection of her mother working on the loom, the loom itself served as an aspirational symbol of motivation and vision.
At a pivotal moment in Karelle’s life, she lost her inspirational mother; however, it was her mother Nina who gave her the biggest gift of all time and inevitably would transform her world. That gift was a vision to create beautiful pieces of clothing, using textiles. And, so she did. And, wow, she has evolved in that process as have her garments, individual pieces of wearable art.
From Paris to Golden Beach
Jean Pierre Levy and Nina Levy met in Paris while Nina was studying fashion design, and Jean Pierre was in medical school focusing on cardiology. They fell in love, wed and shortly thereafter, started a family. Karelle is the eldest of four siblings. Her brother Raphael lives in Miami, and her other two siblings David and Candice moved ‘the furthest away they could from Miami!’
Karelle’s mother Nina was born in Stockholm and Jean Pierre in Tunis, with a particular love for its beaches, which funnily enough was part of the reason why the Levy’s chose Golden Beach. Once receiving their residency in the USA, they moved to Surfside and on their free time would drive up and down Collins Avenue. Having passed our ocean front community of Golden Beach, they felt it was perfect, so in 1980, according to Jean Pierre, “I bought a plot of land on the ocean, and together we built, as I simply fell in love with the idea of living on the beach so when the house was completed we moved in and I am still here today!”
As a young girl living in Golden Beach, Karelle needed to learn English, so through ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), and she did. Bilingual at a young age, she reminisces about how although she spoke the languages and “we were always really tan, we had a very European mindset and would run around the beach, without bikini tops, so until I was twelve, I did not think there was anything wrong with it.”
Levy attended local public schools, like Bay Harbour Elementary followed by Highland Oaks once the Lehman Causeway was constructed. She then attended North Miami Beach Senior High School, and thereafter her dream came true. Karelle then attended RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), every designer’s dream. This education would become the foundation to the rest of her life.
She recalls how “I grew up with a mom who was creative and talented. She created large scale needlepoint works and my dad would draw them and my mom would fill them in and create. When my mom became ill, I was fifteen – she developed colon cancer. So, I became fascinated with her loom but she was too sick to teach me. At that point, I put it on myself to learn. After she passed, I began attending night classes in weaving at University of Miami.” By default, aside from these night classes, she had to become the woman of the house, “shopping, activities, I took care of a lot of things parents would.” And, angry indeed, although once an unruly skateboarder in town, she decided to focus on an art. At her UM class, she was the only one under fifty and just loved learning every step of way, and “It came easy to me, I knew that I wanted to study textiles and weave forever, so when I applied to RISD, I sent images of my work and was accepted to the textile design program.”
Furthermore, “I realized at 16 that I would not end up becoming a dancer. After taking classes at Peaches School of Dance, I forfeited that life with a focus on weaving larger scale pieces, like my mom.” And, she was off to the races at the country’s top school for textile studies. “When I was on the verge of graduating RISD, I had to do my thesis. It was about knitted costumes. Prior to this year my focus was on weaving where I wove a plastic, elastic and metal to make a bustier. I took a course on machine knitting my junior year and got hooked. Though I switched my focus from weaving to knitting, my woven metal plastic elastic costume ended up on Nicki Minaj fifteen years later in the music video Fly.” Subsequently, she ended up gracing the cover of her alma matter’s magazine.
A Pioneer of Wynwood
The one regret Levy has is having not purchased land in a few areas of Miami upon her move back to South Florida after receiving her degree. A visionary in her world of art and style – she also had a clear eye for what would become some of the top neighborhoods in Miami. At first she settled in Buena Vista, pre-gentrification, as “being an artist, it was common for us to live in inexpensive and conveniently located as neighborhoods for me,” and then in 2002 she took up a space to open her first studio/shop in Wynwood, where she laughs ‘again I should have bought. At the time, there was no art walk - it was an art drive. It was too dangerous to walk, and there were some galleries. Once, I did a fashion show near the former Rubell Collection where 300 showed up and as people waited around the block to get in, they would say ‘I cannot believe I waited here in this dangerous neighborhood.’” But for those who know Karelle, she is worth it.
After Wynwood, where she had to close up shop due to unsustainable rents once it became remotely habitable, there was the 2008 recession and it became unsustainable. Not viable for the small business, she feels “I mean the fact that I have my business now is unreal. In times like we are living today, I know I will get through this because I am self-sustainable. I have enough materials and do not need to purchase anything any time soon. That was my first rodeo of a recession. And, in life you learn, so I did.” Post ’08 recession, she took a sabbatical and then later she moved her art studio to the Art Center at Lincoln Road where she decided to focus on retail, not wholesale, and when it sold four years ago, she took up a retail space in the Ironside community.
Enter her studio and you see hundreds of spools of thread on the wall. Then, lots of racks of colorful garments, and a huge machine, which “two years ago, I purchased an industrial knitting machine. Before, my work was all hand loom and I would produce/outsource in other facilities in California, Miami and Peru. Truth is that I love making clothes and selling to people who want it. Small amounts of it, so when I made the hefty investment to acquire Maggie (she named her machine, Maggie after Margaret Thatcher aka the iron lady) – now 100 percent of my production is done in house.” Able to customize “as I wish, I purchased the machine the same week my grandma passed away. She was a WWII survivor, and simply amazing and what an inspiration of life, she had chutzpah, just doing it and being who she was. She was never afraid of that.” That is my machine, too.
The beautiful part about shopping Levy’s studio is that people can come in and customize whatever garment you need, buy a conservative caftan or snatch a commercial look. You can get an insanely chic scarf made, a dress, a beanie hat, a onesie, burning man clothing, it is limitless. She shares “I used to be wild, very edgy. My designs have all grown up, just like me, and now is more refined.”
As per her usual - Karelle was ahead of the curve and had dreamt up this style fifteen years back. And, now, in the climate we are living, she had been trying to create a product for the nurses but “I do not have the specific fabric needed.” So, she created for “us common folk who now will need to be wearing masks. It is a new world. In my way, since I do not have a specific fabric for medical quality, I wanted to do something that I have done for many years that would cover your face partially. A tubular version of my scarf, I actually did my first prototype in 2005 and it was a good way of doing it again, with a purpose.”
They cover your nose, mouth and ears, and are easy to breathe through. “Washable, too, they are durable fabric, like my fashion pieces. And, I designed to have stretch in the yarn, fabric, and to fit over you. It is easily covering the neck, and when this passes, I encourage you to use it as a headband. It will shield everyone else from your germs.”
Please follow @krelwear on Instagram and for only $20 ($10 per unit will be donated), you will receive a mask of your choice in white/gold, purple/black, red/black, beige, green, blue, black or you can customize.
EVERY WEEK THE PROCEEDS OF SALES WILL BE DONATED TO A DIFFERENT ORGANIZATION ON THE FRONT LINES.
Venmo @krelwear. Please provide your address and choice of color; or, email Sales@krelwear.com