Each month, The Fine Line features women who inspire us in some unique way. This month’s guest is designer Daryl Kerrigan, who has worked in fashion since the 1990s, dressing everyone from rockstars to board chairs. Here she shares her secrets to dressing well at any age.
Every woman dreams of the perfect pant. The pant that works with everything and always makes her legs and butt look good. Really good. Some of us swear by a slimming straight-leg trouser. Others won’t leave the house in anything other than an ankle-length skinny style. Fashion designer Daryl Kerrigan suggests an unexpected solution to the perfect-pant conundrum: a stretch-leather legging.
When the Irish-born Kerrigan opened her store in New York City’s East Village in 1991, the designer’s wares quickly became synonymous with downtown cool. Influenced by Manhattan’s stylish streets, as well as five years working on movie sets as a costume designer, Kerrigan, now 53, pioneered a rocker chic look that’s still in vogue, with sophisticated but relaxed separates like fluid tops and T-shirts, body-conscious bias dresses, and ultra-slick leggings.
Her fashion shows lured editors, artists, and other tastemakers to unconventional locations all over the city, from a Chelsea parking garage to a bank building in Chinatown. Her store was the personification of her own effortlessly chic sensibility. When it closed in 2012, it felt like the end of an era to many. Kerrigan moved on though, continuing to design and sell her own pieces, collaborating with brands like Calvin Klein and Madewell, and always drawing on her own experience to create clothes that women truly want to wear.
When we spoke with Kerrigan in December, she had just returned from Politico’s fifth annual Women Rule Summit, in Washington D.C., where she participated in a trunk show with her designs. This was Kerrigan’s second time at the event, which brought together female leaders from the public and private sectors for discussions about how women are shaping the future.
“I’ve always been someone who thinks about politics and current events, but at this point in my life I’m not hesitant to talk about it anymore,” Kerrigan says. Speakers at this year’s summit ranged from presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway to Democratic senator and voice of the current crusade against sexual harassment in Washington Kirsten Gillibrand. “This year was a lot about the Me Too movement,” Kerrigan says, “and it was very much a bonding thing, all these women together.”
What was Kerrigan’s most popular design among these powerful and influential shoppers? “They have discovered my leather leggings,” the designer says with a laugh. So many women are fans.
So many women over 45 are the primary breadwinners for their families; they are mothers and wives and they want to look good and feel good when they leave the house.
Kerrigan mentions a scientist who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The designer loves the idea that this powerful woman wears her lab coat, a symbol of achievement and intellect, over a flirty blouse and sexy leather leggings while she’s working on curing infectious diseases. Another fan of the leggings is a high court judge who bought a pair in burgundy. “She’s in her early 60s, slim, energetic, and she’s edged the tips of her hair in burgundy, the same color as her leggings. She told me that when the court takes a break, the conversation is not about the case at all, but about her leather leggings!”
These days, Kerrigan is busy at her Brooklyn studio, Salon 32. She opens her space on weekends to good friends, long-time clients, and new acquaintances who come to shop her clothes. Sometimes her husband, Paul, “an excellent cook,” will whip something up for visitors. Other times there’s simply chatting and tea, but there is always an element of socializing. “It’s a little community, an antidote to the Internet, which is completely impersonal,” Kerrigan says. “We need to talk to each other, we need to be close to each other to bond.” Kerrigan says she needs to connect with her clients. “For me, it’s always been about reality. Regular women are my style icons.”
But back to those leggings.
Despite their young, edgy look, Kerrigan says her leggings can be worn at any age. (Though not on any budget: They are a spendy $895.) She says she’s always trying to convince older women who want to wear her clothes and capture that chic, pulled-together look to try them as a new wardrobe staple. “An older woman (who happens to work in the White House) tried on the leggings and went in for every color. I thought she was totally conservative; now I see her and her whole style has changed. Having just this one pair of pants that works so well for her has revolutionized her wardrobe.”
It’s clear that Kerrigan loves working with other women and giving them options in their wardrobe. “When I’m speaking with someone about what they do and what their needs are, I find that we’re all facing the same kind of things. So many women over 45 are the primary breadwinners for their families; they are mothers and wives and they want to look good and feel good when they leave the house.” Pieces that serve those women are the kind Kerrigan is most interested in now. They take awhile to develop, but when perfected they become her core styles.
She’s currently working on a suit, done in stretch leather and wool. “Especially for more mature women, even if they are feeling out of shape, when they try this jacket on, I see a transformation and an instant boost in their confidence.”
With regard to her own approach to aging and maintaining a chic, confident style, the designer says, “I create clothes that I want to wear. At this stage in my life, I’m dressing for myself. When I was younger, I would experiment with a million different looks, but as I’ve gotten older, I don’t experiment anymore.” She ticks off the perfect wardrobe for a more mature woman: a fluid silk shirt, well-cut pants, sleek leather leggings, a tailored wool jacket, a luxurious shearling vest. “These are the pieces that I always make and what I wear myself every day.”
Get your hands on Daryl K leggings and more at darylk.com.