If you were to take a peek back in time and find yourself in 1996, you’d hear “The Macarena” on every radio station, be able to catch a new episode of “Murphy Brown” on CBS, celebrate the New York Yankees first World Series win in 18 years and hope to get your hands on the brand new flip phone introduced by Motorola. While many of us were still singing Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” and on their way to being overcome with boy band devotion, Katerena DePasquale, at just 14, was hard at work, establishing a career that would bring her into adulthood.
DePasquale, born Katerena Alkhimova in Melitopol, Ukraine, was 14 when she moved to Moscow, Russia, where she signed a contract with Red Stars Models.
“Many young women in Eastern Europe were starting careers in modeling at that time,” DePasquale recalled. “It wasn’t something I always aspired to, but there was definitely an opportunity for me, so I went for it. I began my career at the age of 14. By 16, I had moved to Paris.”
Just a year later, in 1999, after modeling for three years throughout Moscow and Paris, DePasquale signed a contract with Ford Models in New York. DePasquale was now in company with the likes of Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson and Christy Turlington, just to name a few. Over the years DePasquale appeared in spreads for Vogue Italia, Vogue Russia, Vogue Germany, Elle France, Cosmopolitan U.S. and in campaigns for Versace, Kenneth Cole and Yohji Yamamoto. She walked runways for Christian Dior, Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood and Nina Ricci, in a career that spanned 13 years, well into her adult life.
“I felt like I ‘made it’ when I was booked for a Versus campaign with the legendary photographer, Steven Meisel [known for his work in popular fashion magazines and several album covers, most notably Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”],” DePasquale said.
The work with Meisel would not be the height of her career, however. Having always had an interest in fashion design, DePasquale never stopped drawing and began looking into a future beyond modeling.
“I began fashion drawing at a very young age and with time, my drawings became more complex and sophisticated,” DePasquale explained. “Consequently, I became increasingly interested in a behind-the-scenes job in fashion. In Paris, I was modeling for Christian Dior regularly and I knew a few designers there, one of them took a look at my drawings and showed them to John Galliano. To my surprise, John decided to schedule a personal interview with me. I was hired as a design assistant that very day of the interview.”
Working for Galliano, most famously known as the once head designer of Givenchy and Dior, DePasquale learned invaluable lessons that would lead her to the next step in her career.
“One of the designers that worked with me at Dior said, ‘Do as much as you can while there is an interest in you,’” DePasquale recalled. “Eventually I realized how wise these words were. Fashion is an incredibly fast paced industry and no one is immune, not even John Galliano [who was found guilty in September 2011 of making anti-Semitic insults at a Paris café]. It is important to value time and stay focused. The reality is that anyone can be substituted, so work hard and try to make the most of all your opportunities.”
In 2007 DePasquale made the most of her knowledge and talents with the start of her own company, Katbasics, a women’s apparel business featuring her own designs. In 2009 she launched Kat Cashmere, a line focused on bringing 100-percent cashmere to every woman’s closet with casual, yet statement-like pieces that are luxurious, yet affordable.
“The idea to create my personal clothing line came spontaneously,” DePasquale said. “While living in New York and traveling the U.S. for work, I learned about successful companies such as Banana Republic and J.Crew. These were businesses that provided fashionable, quality pieces for relatively low prices. I hadn’t seen shops like this back in Europe. It was obvious that they were on to something, so I decided to launch a similar concept of my own.”
Like most ingenious beginnings, her brand started with simplicity.
“When I was playing with the idea of starting my line, I came across my boyfriend’s cashmere sweater. That was it,” DePasquale recalled. “I learned all about it. It was perfect. It is luxurious, sexy, modern, and yet a very basic and simple fiber that everyone wants. I decided to start with cashmere.”
Cashmere is just the beginning for DePasquale, who never thought of herself as just a model and says that she “merged into the designing world with the attitude of a designer” with modeling in her “past.” But that’s not to take away all that modeling gave to her.
“Modeling is incredibly competitive,” DePasquale noted. “It has strengthened my stamina, patience, organizational and communication skills, as well as my mental focus. Modeling has taken me around the world, shaping and educating me along the way. For that, I am grateful.”
With Kat Cashmere, DePasquale finds inspiration in everyday life and then draws it.
“Women inspire me. My garments reflect feminine essence; they are classy, elegant, modern, sexy and comfortable,” DePasquale explained. “ I derive a lot of ideas from my own sense of style as well. Naturally, I wear all the garments that I design. The process of designing starts with an inspirational feeling. I am always on top of the most recent trends and colors. I love to innovate, while also achieving a timeless look. Eventually I conceptualize a garment that has a mix of today’s trends and my own unique style. I then draw a garment in detail. The drawings go to my production facility and, with my final approval, we are soon shipping garments to customers.”
Living her dream “behind the scenes” in fashion for more than 13 years, DePasquale has surpassed all stereotypes that some like to label onto models and proven that women can break through, even when seen first as just a pretty face.
“Let’s be honest,” DePasquale quipped, “modeling is not the most intellectual industry out there. Most of what models are required to do is to maintain the diet, know how to pose in front of the camera, and be nice. I always resisted the simplicity of this lifestyle. I tried to develop other skills in tandem, like designing. I know many models that are diligent about furthering their education, and some that have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs. And what about models like Cindy Crawford or Kathy Ireland? I’d say there are more than a few clever models out there.”
With DePasquale’s cleverness withstanding, it takes more than wit and determination to succeed in fashion. It also takes talent and understanding. DePasquale has a knack for knowing what women want and the ability to create it.
“Having your own clothing line is like making something out of nothing,” DePasquale said. “It’s all on you. It’s incredibly difficult, and yet, hugely rewarding. Every day there is a barrier to push. I am one of those people that likes a challenge.”
And while some may see a challenge in just focusing on one fabric, DePasquale plans on taking it further, expanding her cashmere collection and adding in new materials as well.
“In terms of cashmere, I am planning to add more long dresses, long cardigans and more crew-necks to the product line,” DePasquale said. “I have begun exploring other fibers as well. Next season I will introduce some silk summer dresses, so stay tuned!”
If you were to take another quick peek back into the late 1990s you might realize that you’d see a lot of similarities amongst all the fun throwbacks. From the pop music to the fashion – think leggings with boots – and even the TV shows about vampires, you could think you were just in an alternate universe without iTunes. Though while fashions and fads seem to come and go in cyclical manners, there are few constants. One constant has been DePasquale, working all this time, evolving and expanding. One can’t help but wonder what the next 20 years will bring for her and for us, though here’s to hoping it’s the end of the mullet and more Katbasics!
Some Tips from DePasquale on What to Know About Cashmere:
“100 percent cashmere is incomparably soft to the touch. Always check the care label, because sometimes sellers market cashmere that is really a blend with synthetics. I prefer natural fibers and steer clear of synthetics in my line.
“In order to have your cashmere serve you for a long time, one needs to know a few tips:
“Try to dry clean your cashmere. It is the gentlest way to clean your cashmere and will ensure a long life for your garments.
“It is also OK to machine wash in ‘delicate’ mode, in warm/cold water.
“Do not dry cashmere in the dryer. Let it air-dry instead.
“If you stained your cashmere, make sure to clean it that day as stains can attract moths.
“The best way to store your cashmere is to fold the garment and place it in a drawer. Do not hang cashmere, as it will stretch.
“In the summer you can still wear cashmere, but in thinner knits (gauge). I pack my 100 percent cashmere Sophia V-neck in 12 gauge for all my summer vacations. There are always those cool nights that are just perfect for it. Also, I produce a line of light and airy cotton/cashmere garments. My favorite is the Daisy cardigan. I also produce 100 percent cashmere sleeves that are ideal protection from super chilly air conditioners in the summer. In addition, my line offers the cashmere Desiree dress in 14 gauge, which is very thin (website recommends to wear a slip underneath). It’s a great feel for spring, summer and autumn.”
To take a look at all the items mentioned by Katerena, check out her full line at www.katcashmere.com. You can also check out all her looks on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest where you’re sure to be inspired.