Steve Karas, aka Lord Warg, is a French-born, New York-based designer vintage collector (or some might say hoarder!). Vogue magazine stated that he was “possibly the world’s most dedicated collector of Jean Paul Gaultier.” Whether that is correct or not, no one can deny that he is die-hard when it comes to his vintage archive that he has acquired over the past many years. Upon entering his cozy one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, viewers will see a stylish apartment that is extremely organized with coats, suits, shirts and trousers methodically hanging in pristine order. Karas opens a chester drawer and pulls out a vintage Vivienne Westwood t-shirt that is so meticulously folded, it would rival any Barney’s (RIP) shirt display. Karas knows his inventory and has stories behind all of the pieces he pulls, from when and where he purchased the item, to what supermodel may have worn the garment on the runway or in which magazine editorial. He even owns some of the Westwood suits that belonged to deceased singer Pete Burns from Dead or Alive fame. Karas just lives and breathes his vintage fashion, and thoroughly enjoys showing off looks that he has styled on Instagram for his many followers. We were delighted to do a Ponyboy shoot with him, featuring some of his favorite pieces. Whatever designer he dons or collects, it’s obvious to us, as well as many others, that Karas is a fashion star in the making. https://www.instagram.com/lordwarg/ https://whttps://housewnyc.com/ Photography Alexander Thompson. Stylist ssistant to Lord Warg: Ismael Andrade https://www.instagram.com/isma.andrade/
PONYBOY: You grew up in Europe. Tell us about your upbringing.
LORD WARG: I did! I grew up in a small city in the south of France called Cannes. You may know it because of its International Film Festival. It has beautiful weather, but terrible political views. I call the Riviera the “Texas of France”. My family had a less fortunate life situation than most, and there were very few opportunities around, so I knew I would have to move if I wanted to live something different. Everything can be a success depending on where you are, so I moved to Antibes and Nice, two beautiful cities. The life I wanted was a bit too strong for France, so I went from being insulted on the street of France to being photographed down the street of NYC.
PONYBOY: When did you start getting into fashion?
LORD WARG: I think “fashion” has different meanings for people. The easiest way I could express myself naturally was clothing. That’s my fashion. My mom let me choose what I wore. It wasn’t expensive but I never “didn’t look like me” – from my goth looks in metal band t-shirts and New Rocks boots, to My Queer cropped tops and platform shoes. I remember kids and teachers at school were in complete disbelief of what I looked like. There was so much negativity and I even got sent home from school for shoes I wore! I somehow do enjoy the simple fact of creating a reaction in people. Over time it has become less intentional and the whole process is really organic for today. “Fashion” is another dimension where anything can exist once I put it on.
PONYBOY: When did your interest in vintage fashion come along?
LORD WARG: I like beautiful things and the way things are made. A pretty shirt isn’t enough for me. I like to know about the details of the composition and pattern of the garment, for example. Well-made clothing demands time and nice material to give people the wish to have them for as long as possible. This reflects in the retail pricing, so the first reason I got so into vintage when I was younger was the prices. I could wear beautiful silk and cashmere made in Italy for a fraction of the price. Then I got to know details from runways and editorial back in the days. More knowledge really increased the value of the clothing for me, but not necessarily money-wise.
PONYBOY: At this point, roughly how many pieces would you say are in your archive?
LORD WARG: I have never counted it all. I often don’t see pieces as on, but more as sets when they come from the same collection or print. The 1000 figure I reached fluctuates over time. That said, I would always recommend quality first, quantity comes over time. I never thought I would have the collection I have today when I started.
PONYBOY: Who would you say are your favorite designers? And what one collection would you say has made the most impact on you?
LORD WARG: I would not say I have one favorite designer today. I have way too many facets. But, I can say Jean Paul Gaultier has been in my surroundings for as long as I can remember. His fearlessness and queer representation made me realize I was not alone. Many of his collections have impacted me, like the FW1997 about Black Culture, forcing most of his cast to be women of color, a bold move for the 1990s in France. The constant reminder in his work that we can all co-exist is what strikes me still today.
PONYBOY: In recent years, vintage has really taken off into the mainstream, which ultimately has led to it being more expensive and harder to find. Has this been a struggle for you?
LORD WARG: Vintage has for sure been trending and for good reasons. It is cheaper, more sustainable, and harder for any to copy your looks! It has increased in pricing and it was difficult to source this last year, but it also made more people willing to sell their rarer vintage pieces. Many original buyers wouldn’t want to get rid of their 90s clothing, but for a nice price, you can convince them. There is a fine line to walk constantly with vintage. It keeps surprising you.
PONYBOY: Wearing vintage is basically recycling. Does that part of it interest you?
LORD WARG: Wearing vintage is eco-conscious and it is the main reason why I have dramatically reduced purchasing recent production. I want to link my passion with clothing and activism for the climate. I am trying to counterbalance a system that is unfair to the planet. I know about climate change. I refuse to close my eyes on it while shopping, traveling or eating. It makes me enjoy what I do more and reduces my climate guilt. I am not trying to be perfect, but consciously trying to make an effort. “Qui m’aime me suivent”.
PONYBOY: This might be a difficult question for you to answer. What one piece in your collection is your pride and joy more than any other?
LORD WARG: The hardest question would be to name one ultimate piece I own! Oh, la, la! Where could I even start? Maybe my love for a piece is connected with its timeline. This year I got an amazing piece of jewelry from 1994 Jean Paul Gaultier. It is 4 rings attached to a bracelet with chains. It came from a seller in the middle of the USA! I was surprised by the location. The woman I was chatting with explained to me that she lived in NYC back in the 90s and she was a client of the iconic shop Untitled on 8th street. She remembered the address 27 years later! Being able to retrace the full history is what I live for, and I recently added a page to the piece by using it in an editorial for a Japanese magazine.
PONYBOY: Vogue.com recently featured you and said that you were “possibly the world’s most dedicated collector of Jean Paul Gaultier”. Tell our readers more about this.
LORD WARG: Oh! I was so proud this day. I remember doing the interview over the phone with a big smile on my face. We spoke for a long time. She understood how much clothing meant to me and how it helped me create the path that is my life. I have taken trains, cabs, busses and walked miles in order to pick up something I really loved, from a blouse in Carcassonne, to a suit in Germany! I will also modify anything I love in order to be able to wear it. I make it my own. Everyone has priorities. I don’t take cabs. I don’t drink. I travel cheap. I don’t care for restaurants. But I love being able to grow my collection as I see fit, day in and day out. The dream is to have a museum/gallery one day, because I really wish to share as much as I can and online platforms are limiting.
PONYBOY: We read that when you first moved to New York, your career was as a hairstylist. However, more recently it seems that you have been branching into styling video/magazine shoots using your archive. Did styling yourself bring about an interest in styling others in your clothing?
LORD WARG: Yes, I did hair in salons for 15 plus years. I still do hair for private clients and shoots. Styling started when people appreciated the different styles I created for myself and asked if I would work on a project for them. And now I am asked to work on my own terms! I also have really rare pieces and I was able to participate in special projects this way. Being able to create images with my own archive has really been such a pleasure. It is an interest that grew over time and like hair, I will always learn more while doing it. I am looking forward to more styling projects for magazines and videos. The sky’s the limit!
PONYBOY: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start buying and reselling vintage clothing?
LORD WARG: Based on my personal experience, anyone can buy and sell clothing. I found that it was super important to focus on one specific thing I knew about. I specialized in a few vintage brands only, and selective years that I follow on different selling platforms. I also buy what I personally like, it makes it more exciting for me and my clients to see how much I appreciate what I show. I try to focus on the quality of the selection and only think one day at a time. Patience is key for this.
PONYBOY: Do you aspire to design/collaborate with a designer? Which would be your ultimate fashion house to collaborate with?
LORD WARG: I really would love to collaborate with a big designer. My top 3 would be Jean-Paul Gaultier, Walter Van Beirendonck and Vivienne Westwood. I have been swimming in those universes for as long as I played with fashion, and they actually know of my existence. JPG and WVB reposted me on social media more than once, and I was on the Vivienne Westwood mood board for a while. Even though I have made it my own style, I understand their aesthetic well enough to be able to do something that would be fun! Styling campaigns and shows would be a major experience, as well as collaborating with museum exhibitions by lending clothing and helping with the knowledge I have on the history of the clothing. Stay tuned, one of them may call me after reading this interview!
PONYBOY: What do you hope to accomplish in the future with regards to your archives and yourself personally?
LORD WARG: Since the start of this year I have been creating more editorials with photographers and magazines all over the world. As the web connects more and more people to House W NYC, I really would love to create exhibitions or books in the long term. I also think it would be interesting to have a class in a fashion school and talk about my perspective on designs and having a small business. I am excited to see what the future will bring!