Monday, May 21, 2018

CK Bradley ’99 evolves from basements to boutiques

KELLY VAUGHAN ’17

FEATURES EDITOR

Trinity boasts a number of things- a beautiful campus, engaging academics, and the success and strong relationship with their alumni. Take it from none other than Trinity’s own Camilla Bradley, Class of 1999, who has been running her accomplished fashion brand, CK Bradley, for sixteen years.

As a transfer student from Columbia University and a brother of St. Anthony’s Hall, Bradley says that she owes everything to Trinity, noting that the skills and inspiration she gained from Trinity essentially created her business. If you visit Bradley’s website, a brief biography reads, “From designing clothes in fabulous prints to throwing parties with a twist, Camilla offers a glimpse into an inspired world.”

This inspired world comes from none other than Trinity’s campus. Bradley, who has an inviting and encouraging tone, described the experience she had at Trinity which shaped her own career. While she prided herself on taking advantage of academic opportunities, including taking the time to get to know her professors, Bradley says the real education she received was in how to dress and appreciate fashion.

“I really got an education at Trinity…It’s an education in style. It’s not really an original style but you learn to put yourself together.” Despite Bradley attending Trinity a decade and a half ago, she recognized the same monotonous style seen on the Long Walk that still exists today, perhaps now in a more modern form. “It was double popped collars and really super bright colors while I was there…preppy came in 2000.” The uniform she describes “came from boarding schools that set the trend of Bean Boots, Barbours, and Vineyard Vines. And then everyone starts catching on- it’s hard not to follow it,” even referencing the ever popular staple sandal, Jack Rogers, as “prolific.”

Bored with being “one in a sea of monograms and popped collars,” Bradley started to add her own touches to pieces that everyone else was wearing. “I didn’t even realize I wanted to stand out until I was in a sea of people who were all the same.”

During a late night party at the Hall, Camilla found a sewing machine and started sewing pieces of fabric to her L.L. Bean Tote Bags and fashioning belts out of grosgrain ribbon. As she started to wear her custom accessories around campus, other students started to catch on- “people wanted to buy the clothes off my back. Literally. It was a no brainer.” When Trinity students wore her belts around various summer vacation spots, including Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, shop owners demanded to know where they got them from and soon, CK Bradley grew to be in over 400 boutiques. “The ribbon belts did it for me,” she recalls.

Today, CK Bradley is not so much about re-designing preppy style as it is adding a fun twist on classic silhouettes, “The brand is still about infusing inspiration and playfulness in any way shape or form.” “As soon as preppy became mainstream, it was no longer inspiring to me so original and fun was the way the brand evolved. I think the brand has evolved as I have evolved, but ultimately, it is not about a style, but a feeling and that feeling is contagious when I get it right…and the idea that clothes can make you DO things, and FEEL things is what gets me going, and always has. I may have wanted my clothes to make you skip or climb a tree in your ballgown or do the unexpected.” When talking about other independent preppy fashion designers, such as Kiel James Patrick, she says, “people that did not live this life know so much what they want that they can portray the dream.”

Bradley pulls inspiration from whatever her surroundings are, from the campus and students at Trinity to growing up in New York City to working in Newport, RI. Her biggest influence, however, is her mother. “My mom died when I was two, but left me an incredible wardrobe and pictures of how to wear it. My warehouse in Rhode Island pays homage to a lot of her stuff.” Architecture within these settings intrigues her- “I am more interested in shape and form than I am fashion.” When talking about her design process, Bradley says, “It is never about trend or fashion, but form, fun, and doing the unusual in an addictive way.”

As a successful designer and businesswoman, Bradley offers advice to fellow Bantams hoping to follow in her entrepreneurial footsteps. “There is NOTHING you can’t accomplish. I love the quote, ‘If you can CONCEIVE it and truly BELIEVE it, you can ACHIEVE it.’ Not sure who said it, but I live by it. If you are inspired, that is half the recipe for success. So do what inspires and the rest will come.’”

Bradley also understands that Trinity can often times be a bubble and encourages Trinity students to burst that bubble- “Go abroad! Getting a taste of other culture can breed the most incredible concepts, ideas and inspirations, and make you realize what is beyond the little cocoon we live in.”

Bradley’s signature design touch includes one very specific omission- “I don’t do black. To me, life is about color and reinventing the rules. I love the unexpected in life, the unexpected in clothing…linings of jackets being bold and unexpected, the backs of dresses – reeling in attention from behind…and hiding my initials in all the prints in design so that you can’t really tell that it is not part of the print.”

Bradley admits that her own personal style has a huge influence on her designs. Straying away from dresses and grosgrain ribbons, Bradley designed a line of Apres Skiwear specifically for women. “I wanted a super sexy 70’s Bond girl ski outfit that didn’t give me camel toe and smell like the 1970’s, so I started Apres by CK Bradley. I wanted pom pom hats that weren’t hand me downs from the cedar closet riddled with moth balls…so I made them with detachable pom-poms so you could go fur, or yarn pom – or just perform a trick at apres between shot skis and wings.”

The passion and enthusiasm Bradley has for design is evident when she talks about her own line, and as she encourages others to enter the fashion industry. “My life is my design…they are coming soon with fun things like Devils, Elephants drinking martinis, ski bunnies, antlers…and the list goes on,” she explained.

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