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Texas authors of fashionable picture book talk celeb sightings and homestate obsession

Fashionable picture book authors talk celebs and Texas obsession

Where's Karl book jacket
Play spot-the-fashion-designer with this book created by TCU grads. Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

Adults co-opted comic books long ago, then coloring books for grown-ups became a thing. Now, two Texas-bred TCU alums have reimagined the classic kids’ picture book Where’s Waldo?, trading out the bespectacled and striped character for the fashion world’s most enigmatic figure — the black-suited, sunglass-sporting Karl Lagerfeld.

In Stacey Caldwell’s and Ajiri A. Aki’s creative reinvention, Where’s Karl?, a fictional fashion blogger globetrots from one stylish scene to another — Milan’s fashion week and a Marrakesh photo shoot, for example — determined to score an interview with the iconic Chanel designer. If only she could find him among the models, magazine editors, and flashy celebrities.

The idea first came to Caldwell, an El Paso native and vice president of wholesale for high-end clothing line Thakoon, when she spotted Lagerfeld picking up a newspaper at a Parisian cafe. She conferred with longtime friend Aki, an Austinite and creative director of lifestyle site Mannaparis.com, to develop the concept.

CultureMap did some tracking down of our own, eager to find out how these two went from studying fashion promotion at Texas Christian University to being women of the world.

CultureMap: Stacey, what’s the secret to your success, and what advice do you have for new grads looking for work in the fashion world?

Stacey Caldwell: My first internship was in the wholesale department at Moschino. I worked very hard during my internship, and luckily the team added a new position for me upon graduation. I ended up working in the department for five years prior to moving to Thakoon. 

Nine years later at Thakoon, I would say that my internship was an important step in my success. Dedication and patience are very important, and the relationships you establish early in your career are priceless.

CM: Ajiri, after TCU you worked in fashion magazines and museums in New York City. How did you end up in Paris?

Ajiri Aki: I first went to Paris as part of my grad school study abroad program with the Bard Graduate Center to research about Jean Patou (couturier in the 1920s and Coco Chanel’s biggest rival). After some months of trying to live “the dream” in Paris, I gave up and returned to Brooklyn because getting a visa to stay was impossible for me at the time.

But it’s funny how you never know what life has planned for you, because then I got involved in fashion video production, met my husband on a job in New York, and ended up getting married and following him back to Paris.

When I moved back to Paris, I was frustrated with how complicated it was to figure out day-to-day life. I religiously read all my favorite American blogs and lifestyle magazines, but they suggested products that were not available in France and featured stories that weren’t relevant to my life as an expat.

When I got pregnant with my daughter and was handed a packet in French about maternity and motherhood life in Paris, I just lost it. My language skills were not good enough to understand all this information that was probably pretty important to know!

There are hundreds of food blogs in Paris and personal family blogs, but nothing fully dedicated to expat life and travel. Out of this frustration and desire to make living abroad easier, I created Mannaparis.com.   

CM: Stacey, you live in Brooklyn, and Ajiri, in Paris. Do either of you get back to Texas very often?

SC: We travel back to Texas three to four times a year. El Paso and Marfa are regular holiday visits, and luckily I travel with Thakoon annually to Dallas to visit one of our favorite clients, Forty Five Ten.

AA: I come to Texas every year for the entire month of November. I basically eat myself silly from Dallas to Fort Worth, to Houston, to San Antonio and Austin. And last year I added El Paso and Marfa to that mix. I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder, because I am obsessed with Texas since I moved away. 

CM: How did you two end up collaborating on Where’s Karl?

SC: Ajiri and I both loved seeing Karl in Paris, whether at Cafe Colette or Cafe de Flore. Each time we would get equally excited, as would the strangers around Karl. 

We quickly realized that replacing Waldo with Karl could be very intriguing. We discussed the concept originally over a dinner at Le Petite Marché. This was followed by many hours of Skype conversations between Paris and New York.

CM: How exactly did your collaboration work?

AA: I’m six hours ahead of Stacey, so we used different time zones to our advantage. Basically I would start working on something then pass it off to Stacey, who would wake up at the crack of dawn to take over, then pass it back when she went to work at Thakoon.

By the time she got off work, I would send her something else, and she would work on that until late. We were basically passing off to one another and having Skype calls, iMessage chats, and phone calls at all hours of the day and night.

[Editor's note: The Pinterest boards the authors shared with their illustrator are still public, if you care to take a peek behind the scenes.]

CM: What are your favorite celebrity sightings in Where’s Karl?

SC: I adore Laurie Simmons keeping Lena from flying away in Los Angeles, and Tom Ford handing out Vogue Japan issues in Shibuya Square. Thakoon and Lily Aldridge raiding the cash register in Hong Kong always make me smile.

AA: Every time you pick up the book, you find something new. Currently my faves are Channing Tatum pole dancing in Miami, Michael Kors juggling in Tulum, and because I am an Austinite, Matthew McConaughey with Lupita in Los Angeles.

CM: Favorite celebrity sightings in real life?

SC: Following Oprah into the CFDA Awards was surreal after years of watching her onscreen.

AA: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West getting out of a car at the restaurant 404 in Paris, literally in front of me. I nearly got trampled by paparazzi that rolled up on bike, foot, motorcycle, you name it. It was kind of crazy and fun to witness.