Corey Lynn Calter developed her unique aesthetic while involved in subcultures as divergent as the New York punk scene to the San Francisco opera. Her eponymous label, which launched in 2000, features original prints, flattering cuts and brilliant twists on classic silhouettes.

Inheriting a sewing machine from her grandfather, a tailor from Italy, and a sense of color from her mother, an interior designer, Corey started making her own clothes while still a teen in Philadelphia. Majoring in fine art at a high school for performing arts refined her sense of color and texture—things she is now known for—and trained her in labor intensive processes of color washing and under-painting. The experience left her with both a sharp eye and aptitude for meticulous work, which brings a visual intelligence to her work today.

“Fashion was what brought me to the punk scene,” says Corey, who spent high school years hanging out in Philly’s legendary South Street enclave. “The Victorian influence has always appealed to me, too. In vintage stores I discovered granny boots and corsets.”

Corey attended FIT, the New York City alma mater of Ralph Rucci and Michael Kors, and graduated with an award for Best Women’s Sportswear. Turning down offers for modeling work-“It wasn’t punk rock to say you’re pretty”-she chose instead to earn her living working in nightclubs. Patricia Field, the “Sex And The City” stylist with a trendsetting shop in the East Village, spotted Corey in a self-made outfit and asked her to design for the boutique. So in 1989—at the tender age of 19—Corey launched her first line that eventually led to stints at Norma Kamali, the Joffrey Ballet, Broadway shows such as Guys and Dolls and the San Francisco Opera. “I learned how to fit people’s bodies from a big opera diva to a skinny ballet dancer,” says Corey, who built what amounts to couture costumes for performers such as Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming and Kathleen Battle.

In 1995, Corey moved to Los Angeles to get serious about her own fashion label. While continuing her custom line of corsets, she experimented on ready-to-wear garments using unexpected fabrics such as Indian saris and fringed Chinese shawls. “I’m motivated by prints and color,” she says. Soon after launching the Corey Lynn Calter label at the millennium, she quickly gained a reputation for beautiful, edgy dresses and separates in colorful prints, stripes and polka dots. The fashion bible Women’s Wear Daily has featured her designs on seven different covers. Corey has shown her collection on fashion runway shows and in a unique, three-screen film event.

Today, more than 200 stores carry the Corey Lynn Calter line, from department stores such as Barney New York,
Macys and Nordstrom to national specialty chains, including Anthropologie, to progressive boutiques like TG-170 on the Lower East Side. Designing 80 garments per collection, 10 times a year, has honed Corey’s design perspective to a unique look that store buyers bank on and celebrities fall for (Jessica Alba, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Hendricks, Sophia Bush, Dita Von Teese, Michelle Trachtenberg and Kate Hudson, among others). Corey has branched out into home decor products for Anthropologie as well.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Glenn Kaino, an artist whose work has been featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. From the finger-painting by her two young daughters to the large-scale sculptures by her husband—including a commission by the city of Pittsburgh—creativity is the fuel that drives Corey’s world. “Narrative is important for my design,” she says. “I might do a scribble that looks like rope, and it becomes part of a nautical-themed collection. Once I have that narrative idea,” she laughs, “I just have to get to a piece of paper.”

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