How many pilates pros workout in Rick Owens? I would venture to guess not many. Karen Lord is one-of-a-kind and her fashion-background influences go beyond her workout clothes. Her gorgeous, white and airy Tribeca studio was inspired by Yohji Yamamoto and when she designed it she had his “perfectly imperfect” themes in mind. Lord is an intuitive person and when she left fashion for pilates she was onto something before working out became Instagram-worthy. “Fitness is the new fashion,” she says.
How long have you been doing pilates – have you always had some interest in health and wellness?
It started as a hobby, I wanted to move my body so I reluctantly took a pilates class and I loved it so much. It was the missing link for me. I had always been a health food store nut as a kid – and a vegetarian/vegan at a really young age and it wasn’t at all a popular lifestyle choice at the time. I haven’t eaten a bite of meat since I was very young. That’s been the one healthy constant in my life, for the longest time. I was a teenager when I got into all natural health and beauty products. I make my own Vitamin E oils and convert my friends to my little life hacks. Yeah, I’ve always been this way.
How would you introduce your program to someone new to pilates?
That’s a great question because it seems I’m always doing just that. I’ve made a lot of pilates converts out of people that were turned off by it, because I’m good at boiling it down to its essence – no nonsense, practical, accurate – and I’m good at helping people apply the practice to daily life. Also, I’m passionate about what I love, seek out the very best, and am honest so people trust me. I’m grateful for anyone trusting me with their body and I make that clear.
When a person opens up to me it’s a privilege. We work hard, sweat, move and feel and all emotions are okay. I give people something positive and unexpected and I’m proud of that. I’m empathic, so I feel and see it all – that can be hard sometimes for the day-to-day, however as a trainer it’s a lucky trait to have.
What are some of the things unique to your pilates approach?
Efficiency, Excitement, Emotion, Music, Laughter, Touch, Expecting the unexpected, Connection and communication, Reciprocation, Truth.
Unconditional love and patience for the person I’m working with, I bring my life experience to a session, to my studio, to my team – not just my fitness experience.
How have you incorporated aspects of your art and fashion background into the wellness brand?
I love sharing this. I had a vision during my training of what I wanted a space to look like and feel like. It ended up being my space. My fashion hero is Yamamoto and I wanted to incorporate my signature into a logo that felt like him. The white space, the black line. The perfectly imperfect. Then this was pre “movement” as a big buzz word, but I listen to a lot of new order, technical emotional music and I wanted of course to start a movement – it felt bigger than pilates, a feeling of unity. I love that record and the bauhaus design. I’m a design and architecture freak – I’ll be an interior designer in another life – so you’ll see a lot of mid-century, simple flourishes around the studio, George Nelson lamps, Knoll stools. The stools actually came from my house. I designed the benches, the desk and did everything myself. No architect. No designer. I’m the most proud of that, especially once we started getting attention from architectural publications and press I’d long admired.
I’m a musician at heart. My first love. I had a Misfits cover band while I was in pilates school, friends from other bands and me – I sang and we wrote some absurd punk stuff. It was so cathartic. Then, my bandmate helped me make a poster of the crimson ghost logo with pilates over it. I wanted a poster. Then it became a t-shirt I designed that people love. It’s time to get the band back together come to think of it…
Wellness has become a huge trend among the fashion set – what do you think about this? What do you attribute it to?
Fitness is the new fashion, right? What a shift. I felt it happening as I was right at the front of it. I left that biz because it just didn’t feel good to me anymore. I trained so many fashion people. The industry was changing, the financial climate had changed, some were really happy and some were not. Things start in NYC – I feel like women especially wanted to feel good. You couldn’t smoke in public anymore, the days of smoking in fashion closets during a run-through were long over. There was a lot of decadence and indulgence in fashion. Money or lack of changed that and the business became more serious, drawing a different sort of person to it. Then the bloggers…then Instagram. Pilates poses and smoothies look pretty on the IG feeds…I think it’s all of this stuff. Not one thing. So interesting how fast it happened though and where it’s headed.
What do you think makes the combination of style and healthy living so organic to consumers – how has that helped grow your business?
Eat well, look good, clothes fit better and the endorphins kick in, that helps people put themselves out there more. Plus I think it’s my honest connection to these worlds – that goes back to trust. My clients trust that I’m giving them the best I’ve got. Honesty makes the best company – in my case.
Aside from pilates, what other daily routines contribute to your healthy lifestyle?
I read. I sing. I play music. I meditate. I find calm places and sincere people. I’m cautious who I give my time to. I’ve learned to nurture my relationships after so many years letting them fall by the wayside, as you do creating and launching a company. Something always has to give. Living on both coasts is helping. Gardening. It sounds boring but it isn’t because I’m so nutty, I have such a wild art brain that the calm stuff is a much needed balance for me. The biggest thing which is really a shift more than a specific habit: I’ve learned not to be embarrassed anymore. Nothing is cool, I don’t believe in cool anymore, with that off the table- I just go for it. It’s the healthiest thing that’s ever happened to me.
Do you think living in New York City makes it more or less difficult to be our healthiest selves?
NYC is a double-edged sword. The creative energy can make us high. Then the people, by sheer numbers and proximity can really zap that energy. Some people handle that really well and thrive off of it. I used to, but I’ve changed. I need the little patch of garden now. I think a lot of people do.
How has entering the fitness world impacted your personal style, if at all?
Leggings every single day. The top changes. The shoes change, but the black leggings are staying. I love a one piece anything and always have. Jumpsuit: there’s pilates clothes under there. Stretchy Unitard? I’ll throw on a big sweater or a giant t shirt and go. Here’s something – pilates made me feel taller. It actually made me taller, but that’s another story. I love heels, but wear them less during the day. Everything is just – straighter – my body feels like a better canvas for clothes now. I don’t have to overdo it to feel good. Though I still over do it sometimes because I will always love love love fashion.
Who are some of your go-to designers for chic active wear?
Right now I’m loving Olympia Activewear separates. Live The Process make my favorite one piece – I own 6 of the same one in black! Lisa Marie Fernandez makes dreamy photogenic separates in super luxe fabrics, Carbon 38 house t-shirts are awesome, I just discovered them. I wear a LOT of Rick Owens and Isabel Marant to work out in, sounds silly maybe but I’m in this stuff all day every day. Rick’s one-shoulder tops are my super hero costume and Isabel Marant linen muscle tees are my favorite to get sweaty in.
I want to design. I’ve got sketches. I know exactly what I need and I haven’t found it yet so I might need to create that too.
What are your personal benefits of doing pilates?
Pilates is just incredible. It supports everything else I do in my life. It re-connected me to my body – for years I was really distant. I’ve learned to breathe better and focus on the moment. The mental health benefits are unlimited to me. I have an artistic temperament, which I regulate with my pilates method. Anxiety, depression, the more I move the farther that stuff moves away. I’m more connected to myself sexually – no eye rolls, it’s a big deal – all the pelvic floor work makes for an important connection. It’s a big part of health for everyone. It’s self discovery.