Katja Schlegel and Kai Seifried met in 1993, were best friends for more than a year, and soon after started kissing. In 2001, they got married and launched the fashion brand Starstyling. Strong, loud and colourful pieces are born when they use classic basics as white sheets of paper to work from. The final results come from their personal dreamland, that’s for sure, but they certainly make any person look like a dream – as already happened with Björk. Today, we talk with them and, between laughs, get to know the brand and creative minds behind it.
Hello Katja and Kai. First of all, who are you individually? And how and when did you two meet?
We are Katja Schlegel (design) and Kai Seifried (business), married since 2001. We now have an adult son who is working for the company as well, most times as our model. It was about 1993 when we met, I (Katja) had a studio and Kai moved to the first floor of the same building to live. I did my final university work on him – it was a rococo outfit. We were best friends for more than a year, and then, one night, we changed our clothes and started kissing.
And how did it all start with Starstyling? Seventeen years have passed since then; could you tell us as well a bit about its journey till today?
I was working as a stylist and needed some accessories for a shooting, so I made myself some wild stitched leather cuffs. Everyone on the set was hooked up. We got orders and Kai helped sewing about nine hundred pieces for our first Starstyling wholesale order ever. Then, a crazy journey followed. We sent samples of these cuffs to Colette and Dutch, and both reacted. A friend of mine had a showroom, he was our agent at the time and asked us if we could do T-shirts with prints. We did because Kai had learnt how to do screen-print before.
The next agent asked if we could do collections, so we did too, but the first patterns were awful (laughs). Then, we opened our first shop in 2003. Shop floor in the front, studio in the back, all handmade. Berlin times! Now, we are dealing with business and sometimes feel lost in professionalism. Dealing with employees, contributors, money, expectations, responsibility, etc. makes it feel more like real work and less fun and money. We still aren’t a big commercial business, we’re always a little bit on a side, which is outstanding and obstructive at the same time.
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Why Starstyling? How did you come up with the name?
We had to name the thing because of the demands from orders and showrooms. We ate pizza from Star-pizza-service, and were like: “Ok, let’s say, star – hmm – styling”. It was a total coincidence, nothing to do with celebs – or the star sign, which I personally don't like. There were times in which we didn't like the name because it sounds a bit cheesy, but in the end, it fits; it’s very ironic.
What’s the philosophy behind the clothes?
It’s a lot about classic basics: t-shirts and sweaters are for us a white sheet of paper to work from. There is not much philosophy behind, it just happens. Could sound a bit naive, but in the end, we are doing more or less what we like to do.
How would you describe your brand in a few words?
Strong, loud, subtle, colourful, ironic, triggering, timeless, sensual, artistic and handmade.
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What about the inspiration behind the geometric shapes, typography, strong colours and patterns you use?
I see the world through surfaces, colours, strokes, typo, graphics, signs, clothes. I’m always creating visual associations in my mind. I am a peeper, more reacting than creating. It’s a personal dreamland in a way, probably kind of sociopath.
I see a big graphic sense in all of your pieces and I can’t help but wear my t-shirt dress from your Allover collection to most graphic design events I go. For me, it screams graphic design.
I would do graphic design if I weren’t into fashion.
Humour and critical thinking also characterise your brand and we see that reflected in the clothes. In your pieces, we can read quotes like “Beauty comes from different directions”, “Racism is deadly” or “Love makes you highly addicted - better don't even start with it!” What reaction(s) and message(s) do you want to evoke in the public? How do you use fashion in a social and political way?
There is no specific reaction or message in my mind, it’s more a ‘poke-trigger-thing’; let’s see what’s happening. For me, fashion is one of the last ‘métiers’ to express/show/say something in a fast and direct way.
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What about your new collection, Homo Sapiens? I see that this time you’re also creating patterns with photographs and it seems to be very inspired by Egypt. What’s the concept behind it?
We both read the book A brief history of humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, which was very inspiring and revealing. We found/created pictures that symbolise different milestones of humankind combined with a journey to Morocco, where we found the backgrounds for the collages in the lookbook.
How’s the process of creating a new collection? Does it change from season to season or do you follow a strict methodology?
It’s totally different every time: sometimes the inspirations are the fabrics, then a book, a journey, a friend, a life situation, a need. I am not thinking collection-wise, often it’s just bringing things together, which happened lately. Economically, for sure, it has to be a selection of things that make sense together.
Do you have a favourite piece that you designed?
Not really, it changes all the time. Personally, I am not into black anymore. I am so bored of black, it’s so easy to wear it, while it’s difficult to wear colours without looking like a full-time freak.
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And one that screams Starstyling?
Our long-time favourite bestseller: the Bigshirt for a comfy look, for the hip-hop guy, the big girl, for the slim and tall girl – oversize works for everybody.
In Starstyling, everything is out of the ordinary. I’ve been in your store in Berlin and even the fitting room amazed me. I remember the walls were covered with metallic paper and I could hear sounds of birds singing. How do all these ideas come together? Is it spontaneous or very conceptualised?
We love building things and interiors for ourselves – we were film decorators too for many years. So let’s say it’s a homemade ‘dolby-surrounding-sense-experience’. We are ‘The Spontaneousians’.
Then, how does retail complement the vision and identity of your brand? What kind of experience do you wish people to have when entering in your store?
Retail is part of the brand. As we worked a lot for the film industry to earn money, we look at things in a general way. Entering our store is about getting lost for a while and leaving happily with a big bag of future favourite wardrobe pieces.
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Your brand screams individuality and really feels like a breath of fresh air in the saturated fashion industry. I wonder who do you design for? Is it more like a way of expressing yourselves, or do you think of someone in particular, a target audience?
It’s a mix. When designing, I think of friends, people I see on the street, or out of practical reasons. A lot of pieces I do for myself and then there are demands for it.
How would you describe the people that buy your clothes? Are they usually bold and mainly creatives? How does it feel that stars like Björk wear your pieces?
I would say they are open-minded, yes, a lot of creatives, musicians, artists and film people. There is not so much control over who is wearing your designs. Regarding Björk, we are honoured. Sometimes it’s strange but always interesting, any kind of feedback is always good. We are not into influencers.
How is someone supposed to feel when wearing your pieces?
Happy, confident, ready to be addressed, proud.
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If you could, what would you change in the industry?
The industry is a big money machine, that’s what it is. I would rather change the consumers. As long as they buy big or/and cheap brands, nothing will change. If the consumer realises that s/he has the power to change something, then something will change.
What’s your biggest goal for Starstyling? Any exciting future plans?
Doing more collaborations with people from different crafts, like glass blowing, goldsmith or ceramics. We already did some interior objects. Also, we will open a pop-up shop in Brussels this September, time for spreading out more.
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