Four days in LA with Karen Walker

Karen Walker at LA’s Beachwood Cafe.

Karen Walker at LA’s Beachwood Cafe.


There’s never a dull moment in the life of New Zealand fashion powerhouse, Karen Walker.

We take a peek at her diary to find out how much she can fit into one whirlwind, Los Angeles, work trip.

Wednesday July 20, 2016

1.30pm: I land at LAX to perfect blue sky, a temperature of 30°C and not a hint of smog – heaven after two months of what feels like a particularly nasty Auckland winter.
3pm: Arrive at Sunset Tower Hotel – one of my top three in LA (alongside Chateau Marmont and Mondrian). When the Sunset Tower Hotel was an apartment block, it was home to everyone from Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, to Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. That old-school Hollywood glamour is hard to beat. First up is a cup of tea with a friend in The Tower Bar, which I love for its pure Hollywood vibe – no cameras allowed.
5pm: Massage time. The spa at the hotel (which used to be John Wayne’s apartment, FYI) is sensational. The masseur treats me to a heavenly massage cocktail he’s invented – part-shiatsu, part-Swedish, part-physiotherapy. I’m dazed and confused at the end of it but would go back for more in a heartbeat.

Advanced Style icon Phyllis Sues on set at the Karen Walker Jewellery shoot.

Advanced Style icon Phyllis Sues on set at the Karen Walker Jewellery shoot.


6pm: My husband, Mikhail, arrives from Auckland and we have a snack in The Tower Bar. I just can’t get enough of that LA view, stretching out forever.
7pm: The temperature has dropped to 25°C, making it safe to head out for an evening walk. We cross Sunset Boulevard, head up past the Chateau, and into the twisting little lanes that snake up the Hollywood Hills. The traffic noise immediately disappears, the air cools slightly, hummingbirds appear, and we enjoy wandering up the steep slopes looking at the real estate and views across town.
8.30pm: Bed and a book (a Hemingway I’ve not read before) in preparation for tomorrow’s 5am wake-up call.

 filming for Karen Walker Jewellery

Filming for Karen Walker Jewellery

Thursday July 21, 2016

5am: It’s midnight at home but there’s no denying the alarm. A quick swim is followed by a room service smoothie and grapefruit.
6am: We leave for the shoot, which is at our makeup artist’s home in Beachwood Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. The Hollywood sign is just around the corner and the private cul-de-sac is green, lush and has no traffic sounds – just the plinkity-plonk of the fountains, which every home here seems to have.
7.30am: Shooting begins. It’s an eyewear campaign for some small, collaborative ranges we’re about to release, and as we work in the garden, the morning sun bounces off the frames. Perfection.
11.45am: It’s a wrap! I check the neighbourhood book swap on the way to lunch around the corner. There are lots of self-help books (of course!), but I’m drawn to two P. G. Wodehouses I haven’t read.
12pm: Lunch with our creative director and makeup artist (aka my husband and brother-in-law), at the sensational Beachwood Cafe. It’s that perfect mix of old-Hollywood diner and new-Hollywood hipster – kale and mushroom burgers anyone?

Karen at her favourite book shop,

Karen at her favourite book shop.


3pm: On location again. Our home base for this shoot is one of my favourite LA cafes – Paramount Coffee Project. Good coffee, an interesting mix of teas (like ginger and cotton candy) and a playlist aimed right at my heart (there can never be too much Morrissey). We’re shooting a video for Karen Walker Jewellery with an amazing 14 year-old Los Angeles model, Katherine. She and our director and camera operator shoot on an unmistakable LA street corner. The rest of us, including Katherine’s mum and dad, stay in the air-conditioned Paramount or watch from a little way up the street. After each take we crowd around the monitor and make our adjustments, but it’s pretty perfect each time and we’re wrapped within an hour. I pop into one of my favourite LA vintage stores, Catwalk, which happens to be on the same block, before heading back to the hotel in an Uber.
6pm: Dinner with friends at Chateau Marmont – my favourite lunch or dinner spot in LA. It’s quiet and dreamlike, and has perfect lighting and no music. They also never allow a crowd, so it’s always intimate and chic. The food’s pretty sensational too, but, to be honest, they could be serving the worst supermarket heat-and-eat pizza and I’d still go for the look and feel of the place.
9pm: Time for bed and a book (Hemingway’s characters are drinking their way through the hippest bars in Paris).

room service at the Sunset Tower

Room service at the Sunset Tower.

Friday July 22, 2016

7am: Up and swimming in the hotel pool, then breakfast on the hotel terrace – ginger tea and half a grapefruit.
9am: Call time for our Karen Walker Jewellery shoot with the wonderful Ari Seth Cohen. It’s our second campaign with this incredible man. This time we’re working with two of his West Coast Advanced Style ladies, Phyllis Sues and Roberta Haze. Phyllis has very kindly allowed us to shoot in her home – a beautiful 1930s bungalow in the Hollywood Hills, just up from Sunset. It’s the dreamiest spot – an elegant yet lived-in home, with a slightly overgrown garden and the prettiest pool. I want to move in! We enjoy a full day of shooting jewellery with the women, who have stories and characters that anyone would envy. The day ends with Phyllis playing us some tunes on her Steinway, and telling us about dancing with the Ballets Russes. I’m honoured to have worked with these two ladies and delighted with the finished images.

The Getty’s Cactus Garden.

The Getty’s Cactus Garden.


6.45pm: After cooling off in the pool back at the hotel, I wander up the road to Book Soup, one of my favourite book shops in the world. I always stop by when I’m in this neighbourhood, and never leave empty-handed. Afterwards, I mosey back towards the hotel, stopping in at the Mondrian for a quick drink with Ari to review the day.
9pm: Dinner with Mikhail’s brother and his fiancée at, you guessed it, The Tower Bar. But it’s their regular Friday night hangout and I never get sick of seeing that full moon rising behind the skyscrapers of Downtown.
10.30pm: Bed and a book (they’re still drinking in Paris).

Designer Karen Walker in the Sunset Tower Hotel pool.

The designer in the Sunset Tower Hotel pool.

Saturday July 23, 2016

9am: Another gorgeous day for a morning swim.
10am: Brunch at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Polo Lounge is always so nice but I actually prefer the wee diner in the basement, Fountain Coffee Room. Counter service, old-fashioned pancakes, and that peculiarly Los Angeles experience of fruit salad with cottage cheese. It wouldn’t work anywhere else, but here, it’s just right.
11.30am: A drive up the Pacific Coast Highway is always a joy. I’m not into Venice or Santa Monica beaches, but once you head north there are plenty of secluded bays that are very nice. Paradise Cove is one of my favourites – we spend a few hours here enjoying the sea.
5pm: Head on over to The Getty. There’s a fabulous Mapplethorpe show on while we are there, but the whole museum’s worth a visit. Lovely views over LA, beautiful gardens and a good selection of many of my favourite artists. It’s a lovely way to finish the trip before we head home.


@karen_walker |

Photos: Supplied