Nary a review of the no-frills garage-rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appears without gushing mention of lead singer Karen O's louche wardrobe. These getups are neither the flamboyant showstoppers of Madonna nor the fetishistic confections of Britney. The O oeuvre consists of punk livery that would make Siouxsie Sioux proud: slashed prom dresses, hole-riddled T shirts, laddered fishnets, fingerless leather gloves, studded cuffs and Converse sneakers etched with a marker. It's the work of designer Christian Joy, and it's influencing fashion the way only a rock star's wardrobe can.
Joy first met Karen O (the O is for Orzolek) two years ago, when Joy, nee Hultquist, was installed at the now defunct Daryl K store. "Wild, crazy Karen used to come in all the time," says Joy, 29, a willowy brunet wearing heels that have been spray-painted green. Joy, who is now a part-time sales associate at another New York store, Martin, had been making T shirts in her spare time, but the outfit that clinched the Yeah Yeah Yeahs deal was the "car-crash dress."
"It was sleazy, vulgar and like nothing I'd ever seen before," says Orzolek, 24. Onstage she flashes her underwear, twirls around like a demented cheerleader and eviscerates plush toys. Since that first frock, there has been a series of arty, zany creations, including the "shrimp dress," a gaudy taffeta and tulle ball gown that Karen O turned into shrimp salad on stage in London this year. "That's the best thing that can happen," says Joy. "It's beyond fashion."
All this rampant style experimentation, paralleled by the rollicking sounds of the band's debut album, Fever to Tell, has given rise to a claque of Karen O wannabes. But Orzolek will never defer to the pushy stylists waiting to dress her in the latest designer offerings. "Ready-to-wear doesn't make sense to me at all," sighs Orzolek, who exclusively wears Christian Joy for performances and shoots.
What of Orzolek's and Joy's new It girl status? Says Joy: "I ring up my mum and say, 'They're calling Karen a fashion icon, and she's got a fake mink hanging around her neck with button eyes!' It's stupid stuff." --By George Epaminondas