Baltimore brims with an amazing sartorial edge. No matter where you go, Baltimore’s citizens sport confident looks inspired by creative energy and expression, rather than wealth. Whether it’s handmade jewelry, hats, tattoos, brightly colored suits, or just an interesting combination of couture with sportswear (especially amazing sneakers), Baltimore’s style is smart, sometimes over-the-top, and always independent-minded. A recent day trip to Washington, DC reminded me just how unique Baltimore’s fashion expressions are; I was surrounded by a sea of khaki pants, floral sundresses, and sensible, neutral colored shoes and, while I realize all the business casual was due to a robust economy, I felt so uninspired.
One reason that Baltimore-based style has evolved is through the efforts of creative individuals like Natalie Karyl. The fashion designer opened the Doll House Boutique on Charles Street in 2004 to showcase her own brand of one-of-a-kind couture designs, Ragdolls Couture, as well as the collections of other Baltimore-based designers. The boutique is not only a space to shop, it’s a place for people to come together and celebrate a variety of shapes, sizes, and looks. Karyl’s generosity and enthusiasm are largely the reason her customers have become like an extended family over the years.
“When I started dressing women after designing clothes, my clients would say, ‘I feel like such a doll, you make me feel like a doll,’ and it stuck,” Karyl explains. “When I opened the boutique I spoke to my mother about rag dolls and she suggested calling the boutique the Doll House. I love that I make them feel as pretty as dolls, and that my customer service is nothing short of making women feel special.”
Karyl is now bi-coastal, based in Los Angeles with a second boutique there, so it’s an occasion when she comes to town, especially to share a new collection. I attended an open house for Karyl’s pre-fall 2019 collection on July 9 at the boutique to celebrate with the designer (and now celebrity stylist) and to photograph a variety of her clientele wearing her designs as well as those by others.
Despite the Baltimore summer heat, Karyl’s new jackets, especially those embellished with adornments and patterns, were a big hit at the open house, with up-cycled denim, transformed vintage pieces, bold colors and textures, and dramatic blazers stealing the show. Jill Fannon and I had the pleasure of interviewing and photographing new clients along with those who have been Karyl’s fans for well over a decade, creating a new photo essay of stylish and smart group of women based in Baltimore who adore Doll House and proudly wear Karyl’s brand of Baltimore-based couture.
Photo essay by Jill Fannon. Text by Cara Ober.
Trashana Hall, 51, Social Worker
Wearing: Doll House original jacket from Ragdolls Couture Pre-Fall Collection 2019
Natalie Karyl, “ageless,” Owner of Doll House Boutique (Baltimore and Los Angeles), Ragdolls Couture Fashion Designer, and Celebrity Stylist
@natalie_karyl, @dollhousemtvernon, @thedollhouselosangeles
Ragdolls Couture Victorian bustle blazer, Doll Collection jeans and drape top, Gucci shoes
Ann Carr, 65, Executive Coach and Leadership Development
Wearing: Ragdolls Couture original tunic, re-purposed jeans and purse, Kuboraum “Mask” glasses
Jade Brace, 29
Wearing: Zara jacket, H&M top and pants
Marcella Myles, 22
Wearing: Ragdolls Couture jacket and jean shorts, Doll Collection T-shirt, shoes from FashionNova
Adriane Becker, 59, Marketing Researcher
Wearing: Ragdolls Couture jacket, Doll Collection graphic T, rose gold wedges
Jessica James, 30, Mortgage Consultant
Wearing: Doll House white top, Zara snakeskin pants, Zara slides
Imani Brown, 20, Works at Doll House Boutique
Wearing: Edge silver dress, Zara shoes, jewelry from the Doll House Boutique, Six Flags, and an ex-boyfriend
Cara Ober, 45, Editor at BmoreArt
Wearing: Rachel Comey blouse, Ragdolls Couture “Mother of Pearl” blazer, leather shorts from Doll House Boutique, vintage Oscar de la Renta shoes
Mwuese Igyor, 36, Social Worker
Wearing: Ragdolls Couture jacket, Doll House corset skirt, tube dress from Forever 21, Converse sneakers
Cheryl Coldwell, 53, Contract Specialist for the Federal Government
Wearing: Ragdolls Couture jacket and shirt, pendant from Doll House Boutique, skirt from Ross, belt is a souvenir from Miami