TGW Q+A: The Human Chameleon

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Kristine Walker is The Human Chameleon. She’s appeared on TGW before, slapped with an accolade mid-bike-ride, for her quirky kerbside style. We not only have dear friends in common, but we’ve fast become allies in the Fitzroy-via-Collingwood locale.

The Human Chameleon is one of those instantly recognisable people you spot in your neighbourhood – one who makes your day brighter, just for seeing her. I was invited to hang out in her creative space while she worked – we sat among pom poms, sequins, and general haberdashery fantasy, while she happily chirped responses to my questions over the sounds of Missy Elliot, dressed in pastel ghetto chic.

TGW: Do you remember the day when you decided that you were going to be a designer, and make it your career?
THC: I remember when I was at school, I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer, but it seemed like you needed better grades than to study medicine, and it was really expensive, so I did some other things for a while. I worked in radio, marketing/promotions and I dabbled in some performance stuff. One day when I was bored I decided to study costume design. I looked up courses – most of them were past enrolment cut-off. I stumbled upon a millinery course (at Melbourne Fashion Institute) that Richard Nylon was teaching. I thought it might be interesteing to find out how hats were made – I’d always worn them, and had a massive collection. I hesitated briefly over the year long commitment and expense, but one day I was out walking and saw the building – emblazoned on the side I read Melbourne Fashion Institute. I took that as a sign (literally) that I should do it. I walked in and enrolled on the spot.

TGW: What else do you do to earn a living?
THC: I work part-time for Richard Nylon. He’s not just my boss, he’s also my mentor and friend. He was the tutor at the millinery course I did in 2012.

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TGW: How did you come to work for Richard?
THC: I’d just quit my radio job that I had before the millinery course, so I had lots of time. I offered to help out whenever he needed, which turned into a 3 month internship. I started looking for work elsewhere, but because I had worked hard and proven myself, Richard offered me a job.

TGW: Do you have any formal training?
THC: Millinery from Richard Nylon – I learned more from him in three months than I did in the entire year spent studying elsewhere. My mother was a fashionista back in the day – she used to make all of her own stylish outfits! She’s made some pretty good ones for me too! When I was little, my cousin showed me how to make jewellery. I’ve always been crafty, and learned how to make things. I sold jewellery at uni as well (before it became “a thing” at markets), in exchange for meals.

TGW: When are you at your most creative?
THC: At night. I’m a night owl. From six o’clock onwards, I hit my peak. I can get stuff done. The shops are closed, and the distractions are fewer. I usually end up being productive when most people are out being social somewhere – I get less temptation. I avoid people sometimes, so I can create.

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TGW: Some people believe that being happy can stifle creativity. What’s your experience?
THC: Nup. I think if I’m having a bad day, I don’t want to do anything. I’ll go for a run or sit in front of the TV eating unhealthy food – being really, really unproductive. I get a lot of shizz done when I’m super-motivated in my studio. I’ll start the day by putting on an awesome outfit, making up my face, and with a  spring in my step, I’ll take some pics…go out for coffee with friends and get out into the world.

TGW: Have you ever made a mistake with your work and discovered a better idea in the process?
THC: All the time!

TGW: Who/what inspires you to create? 

THC: Just good days generally, the mood, music I’ve heard on the radio or whatever CD (compact disc) I’ve grabbed off the shelf (I’m old skool like that). If I have a brief of some sort, then it tends to be more structured, focussed work. I often watch Richard and think, my gosh how did you think of that? He sees things differently to most people. He will listen to my ideas and push me to try harder – test boundaries. If I need someone to sound off, it will always be him.

TGW: Name your biggest style icons?
THC: Björk, Richard Nylon, Kylie Minogue – she’s so camp – if I could dress up like a showgirl and get my ass out every day, I would! Heck… I should.

TGW: What is the one party or event you want to attend some day? 

THC: Paris Fashion Week (the September edition). I’m planning on going this year with Estelle from Micky In The Van. I love Paris, all things French. I just want to dress up, be flamboyant and maybe scare some people. Maybe? Also the Carnival in Brazil. I want to go a month before, have costumes made and then just prance around any time of day, because I can. I’d sneak in and become part of the actual parade, join a float or something. Carnival in Brazil is like an enormous version Mardi Gras in Sydney, which I also love (I blame my inner drag queen!).

TGW: When is the moment you feel at home? And where?
THC: At home in my tiny apartment, by myself, in baggy, comfy trackies (tracksuit pants), under my doona, with a cup of tea, bad TV, or a cheesy movie.
TGW: Have you ever been to Paris?
THC: I have. I’ve only been once. I met a French boy when I was in The Alps. He tried to woo me by inviting me to Paris. He told me he lived alone in his apartment which overlooked the Eiffel Tower. I was already going anyway, so I booked myself in to a Hotel, which is lucky because I caught him out – he lived with house mates in an apartment nowhere near the Eiffel Tower! He did give me a tour, though. He was sweet – took me out for a typical day in Paris. We saw a French movie with all the locals, which was one of my favourite things. I’ve always had this thing for the French accent. It makes me purr (and drool)!
I find Parisian style pretty boring, though. Sterile. Safe. Some people call it classic, but I find it quite dull. It lacks character. To me, everyone seems too afraid to dress the way they want to. They wear black or grey or brown like it’s a uniform. When I was in Paris, it wasn’t seen as appropriate to be any more daring. That’s why I love what I do now. It’s the complete opposite!

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TGW: What is your proudest achievement?
THC: Being acknowledged for my creations, and for who I am, by journalists and people I really admire and respect. Coming 360° from wanting to be a fashion designer at school…to reaching this point ten years later, from a chance meeting – making hats, jewellery and things – being paid to dress up. It’s a dream… and I’m doing it on my terms.

TGW: Who are your most famous fans?
THC: I wouldn’t know of any famous people, but I do have two fanatical fans, one who contacted me through social media, just to tell me how much she loved the stuff I make… she called me a style inspiration, which I thought was quite cool, and the other one is a young boy in America who contacted me initially for some style advice, and to tell me one of the pics I posted online was his most favourite image ever. We’ve started an ongoing email conversation, which is really sweet.

TGW: What song lyrics have stuck with you?
THC: There is a song that I start humming when I get bored – Minor Swing by Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli. It’s not even something I’m conscious of half the time.

TGW: Elvis or The Beatles?
THC: Elvis. ‘Cos he wore blue suede shoes, and who doesn’t love coloured shoes? I have green suede shoes, and I always think of him when I put them on.

I also “married” my gay boyfriend at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Vegas, an Elvis impersonator was the celebrant – it was truly a singing and dancing affair. It was like the old adage “when in Rome”. I married in Vegas, ate pretzels and wore lederhosen in Germany, had  croissants beneath the Eiffel Tower. These things must be done.

TGW: What’s next for you?
THC: I don’t really like to make plans. I have ideas. I feel like I’m jinxing things if I make ‘plans’. At present, to finish what I’m working on today, and putting them on-line, is my idea. Attending Paris Fashion Week is an idea, which happens to have a specific time attached to it (Sept). Actually, I have no idea what’s next. Lunch, perhaps?

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Contact The Human Chameleon here

Shop Shop: the collection
Insta: @thehumanchamelon #thehumanchameleon
Twitter: @ahumanchameleon #thehumanchameleon

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