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August 15, 2018


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Karla Welch has been styling Justin Bieber for the past four years and calls him a skater boy at heart who has a penchant for Saint Laurent and band tees. The stylist speaks on the Nirvana shirt backlash and the art of the comeback.

HB: Was there any kind of conversation about a specific stylistic direction for Purpose’s promo tour?

Karla Welch: I think he was just into a cleaner look, a little more modern, kind of an extension of what we had been doing before-like the longer t-shirts. But just a little more natural, earthier direction.

HB: Do both of you have any reference points or inspirations that you look to?

KW: Not really, we just kind of go for what we like. Texture is super important for us, and a little bit about the fit, but we don’t have any specific point of reference. When we were doingÊ the video, I was kind of feeling a little River Phoenix vibe. So I think for “Where Are ÌÄÒ Now” that was kind of the feeling. He’s really a skater boy, that’s really what he looks like. So I guess with that we were more referencing ’70s and ’80s skater culture.


HB: Is that where the long tees come from? They’re becoming a signature.

KW: Well you know he’s actually been wearing them since the last tour-around, all on stage, he wore a ton of long t-shirts, and I think this kind of permeated and everyone’s really noticing them now.

HB: And there have been a couple of band tees, like the Metallica shirt recently and the Nirvana tee he wore yesterday for the AMA red carpet. Where did those come from?

KW: Actually, it’s not the first time he’s worn a Nirvana tee. We just have a nice collection of vintage tees, and then the tee he wore yesterday was actually Jerry Lorenzo’s from Fear of God. Jerry takes vintage tees and re-cuts them. But yeah, of course he’s a fan of Nirvana. I think it’s so funny that all these people are up in arms. I’m sure Kurt Cobain would be like-I mean I can’t speak for him obviously-but I don’t think he was so snotty or that he would diss anyone who appreciated his music. I think he understood that that is like the antithesis of music appreciation. It’s so funny. But you know, fans are fans!

HB: You also style actresses like Hailee Steinfeld, is it different dressing men?

KW: Oh yeah, it’s totally different. And musicians are so different than actors, you know? Musicians have more creative space, especially someone like Justin. He kind of does whatever he wants, which I love. There’s a freedom. I like the sense of not really worrying about it and just being content. He’s on the top of the world, so he does not care if someone is upset that he wore a Nirvana t-shirt. He loved it, and he loves Jerry, so it was about support. Jerry sent over the shirt like, “Yeah let’s wear the shirt” and we knew it was the 20th anniversary of the Nirvana AMA’s, when they won. He’s a Nirvana fan. I’m a huge Nirvana fan. Like, “Let’s wear the Nirvana t-shirt!”

HB: How do you approach Bieber’s daywear for talk shows versus true stage gear?

KW: True stage gear has to have so much more functionality to it. We knew that yesterday for the performance at the AMA’s, we didn’t want to just do an obvious t-shirt. I’m like, “Let’s put layers on and make it seem like you got caught out in the rain.” You know? So that’s why he wore the off-white. But if it’s on stage, everything’s built to last more, because there’ll be changes throughout the show and then it’s all duped out [meaning there’s more than one of each piece]. So day-to-day is just a rack and Justin picks what he wants to wear. And then when we do the tour, we’re going to be collaborating with a bunch of designers and just kind of making it a little more visual for stage.

HB: How collaborative is it with him?

KW: One hundred percent. He likes people to bring inspiration to him, but he’s super hands-on with the fashion. He loves it. And he knows what he wants to wear, so we have a minimal dialogue from working together, where you kind of have an unspoken, “Oh I know he’s going to like this because of this fabric.” Or he’ll be like, “I hate that fabric.” So, you know, it’s kind of short-hand.

HB: Is there anything that he’s really said, “I would never wear that” to?

KW: No, he’ll ‘Never Say Never.’ [laughs] He won’t. And that’s why he’s got more of that spirit of musicians, you know, whatever you want to say about being pop, but I don’t think Kurt Cobain gave two f*cks, and I don’t think Justin Bieber does either. You know what I mean? So there’s that freedom where he might try it, you never know.

HB: Who are some of the go-to designers, just generally, that you both gravitate towards?

KW: Right now, we love Amiri, we love all these L.A. guys who are doing super cool things. So Mike Amiri, we love Fear of God. He always loves Saint Laurent. We source a lot of vintage for two amazing stores, they’re actually stylist-run stores in Los Angeles. One’s called Virgil Normal, and it’s run by Shirley Kurata, who dresses Pharell and does a lot with the Rodarte girls, and she has an amazing eye. And then the other place is called Billy, and it’s run by this girl Holly Jovenall. Last night he wore this ’88 t-shirt, from her place-she has perfectly picked over, worn-in pieces. We’re keeping it local.

HB: What’s the most fun part about styling Justin Bieber?

KW: Well, I love a comeback. Justin, I love his music, and he’s just a real pleasure to work with. So I think when you see someone who has worked really hard and maybe has come back from some stuff and is doing great, that is great pleasure, you know? A little more on the sentimental side of things.