With a cult international following and collections stocked in more than 1,000 stores in over 40 countries, Karen Walker is undoubtedly New Zealand’s most famous fashion export. She’s a self-confessed lover of creating order out of chaos and mixing pragmatism with eccentricity – both of which apply to her prowess as a fashion designer and her love of a good puzzle. We talk to Karen Walker about the inspiration behind the design of her Runaway Stamps puzzle, how she prioritises wellbeing in her day and, of course, delve into her love affair with the humble puzzle.
"At my heart, I love creating order out of chaos, which is why I love what I do and why I love puzzles."
Your pieces are usually found on catwalks, not in a box. What led you to this collaboration?
As a puzzle fanatic, I’ve actually wanted to create a jigsaw puzzle for many years! When PieceHouse sent us a puzzle to look at out of the blue, we knew we’d found the right partner. They’re puzzle fanatics like me and create lovely puzzles that are carefully crafted.
We’ve spotted your signature Runaway Girl, but tell us more about the Runaway Stamps puzzle design.
We reworked a print from our 2018 collection called Love Letter (see below) – a montage of vintage postage stamps that nod to Edwardian etchings and feature camels, giraffes, a kiwi bird and, of course, the graphic silhouette of our Runaway Girl with her shoulder-slung bindle front and centre. As a child, I was a bit of a stamp collector and was always drawn to the multifarious graphics and the sense of adventure and possibility they suggested. We took the original fabric, recoloured the graphics and repositioned the stamps, taking care to have them placed in just the right way to create a puzzle that’s challenging but still fun.
The Love Letter Collection which was the inspiration behind the Runaway Stamps puzzle.
You’re a self-confessed puzzle fanatic; where did it all start?
I’m a lifelong puzzler. My first, as a very young child, was an old wooden puzzle found at the back of Grandma’s games cupboard. The scene: a Regency painting of a grand drawing room with parquet floors, chandelier, harpsichord and a woman in a white gown by a large window. I was hooked. From then, every winter school holiday had a puzzle - 1,000 pieces minimum. One of the Eiffel Tower was the only one to beat me – too much flat, blue Parisian sky. Forty years on, that defeat
"Escape for me is when my mind goes into neutral. I’ve always found that place in small, repetitive problem-solving and movements. Ticking both those boxes: the mighty jigsaw."
Karen Walker puzzling then and now.
What do you find so compelling about the humble jigsaw?
Escape for me is when my mind goes to neutral and stops buzzing with the highs and lows of the day, the email in tray, tomorrow’s schedule, the household’s tasks. I’ve always found that neutral place in small, repetitive problem-solving and movements. Ticking both those boxes: the mighty jigsaw. There's also aware of the mental health benefits of jigsaw puzzling: problem-solving, memory, fine motor skills, the combining of logical and intuitive sides of the brain. Small moments of satisfaction, too, the minute dopamine hit every time pieces connect, especially on the first attempt. I love all of these, but most of all, I love them as meditation. They take me to a meditative space the second I sit down.
Tell us what your dream puzzling scenario looks like.
Having company when puzzling is great fun (with the right types at the table), but they are also divine solo. My perfect puzzling scenario is a mid-morning empty house, a fresh pot of Earl Grey tea and one of my favourite podcasts or audiobooks. I’ll often do a bit of binge and really enjoyed having every John le Carré for company on one such binge (le Carré himself a lovely reader) and, on another, worked my way through every 007 (David Tennant is particularly good company) followed by every Jeeves and Wooster (Martin Jarvis does a lovely job). That’s a lot of puzzling and a lot of fantastic books.
"As a puzzle fanatic, I’ve wanted to create a puzzle for many years."
How do you juggle seemingly endless work demands with personal wellbeing? What advice would you give those aspiring to live a balanced life? What works for me is building my wellbeing into my schedule as I do with my work responsibilities. That might be scheduling a dog walk, yoga class or meditation without guilt. These tasks are just as important as anything else in my day. I also start a puzzle at any time of year when I notice my mind’s buzzier than I like it to be, as a puzzle is one of the best ways I know to calm that buzzy state.