Astrophel + Stella, a playfully chic and deliciously feminine collection of cocktail dresses and formal jackets by Georgia-native Kristin Klonoski has taken the New York social set by storm and is poised to make a splash with the debs down South. Luxurious fabrics, such as taffeta, silk, and Chantilly lace endow Klonoski’s garments with a distinctly romantic feel, while flouncy short hemlines keep the look contemporary—but you wouldn’t expect anything less from a label named after a 16th century love sonnet!
Klonoski’s career in fashion began at the young age of thirteen when she interned at the then brand new contemporary women’s label Tibi. It was so new, in fact, that when she started the company consisted of just Tibi founder and president Amy Smilovic, Smilovic’s mother, and Kolonski. “I was packing boxes and shipping things. It was an amazing experience and I knew from that point what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. After high school, Klonoski headed to the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I studied advertising and marketing primarily at FIT, but I also took design classes because I knew I wanted to have my own company, and I wanted to know the business and the design sides.”
After graduating from FIT Klonoski headed back to Tibi, now a hugely successful label, as a fulltime employee. From Tibi she moved onto Emmanuel Ungaro, for what turned out to be a fatefully brief stint as the company closed its doors in the US in February 2010. The stars were aligned for Klonoski who now possessed both the experience and the time she needed to found her own label. “I was thinking about starting my line for a while, and it just felt like the right time. My production fell into place. I had clients already coming to me, and it just worked out really well,” she explains. She named her label Astrophel + Stella, meaning star lover and star, inspired by the title of a Sir Philip Sidney sonnet about his passionate (and ultimately heartbreaking) affair with Queen Elizabeth’s lady in waiting Penelope Rich.
The collection’s focus is made-to-measure garments, with Klonoski working on a piece by piece basis, customizing styles to a client’s specifications--“I design silhouettes and from the silhouettes I can customize them so if you want a sleeve or a longer hemline or the dress is red and your really want hot pink, I can do that.” Recently, the line expanded to include ready-to-wear as Klonoski was invited into the Emerging Designers Boutique at The Plaza in New York. Featuring only six designers—including the likes of Christian Cota and Stanley Mellon—Klonoski was thrilled to be offered the last spot and has been very well received by customers. “I had a girl email me who went [to the plaza] and actually bought her wedding dress for a city hall ceremony, and she was like, ‘I was so excited to find your dress!’” Klonoski gushes.
Klonoski’s draws her design inspiration directly from events happening in her life and places she’s traveled to, and her collection reflects a young woman about town, from a glamorous ostrich feather covered mini dress to a dramatic floor-skimming satin gown. “I’ve always been a dress girl,” she says in a nod to her Southern upbringing, adding that her design aesthetic as “classic and wearable, but still elegant and unique and beautiful.”
Beyond dress designs so charming that Blair Waldorf and Serena Van Der Woodsen would swoon, Astrophel + Stella’s success can be attributed to steadfast commitment to quality. “Having started as a custom dress line, quality is my number one focus as well as fit. I like it to be as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside…I want people to look at my clothing as something they can wear forever and come back to me as return clientele instead of a one-off type of thing.” Clients appreciate the thoughtful construction, including supermodel Maggie Rizer who recently purchased the Isabelle dress while honeymooning in Africa. “She wore it to an AmFar benefit in San Francisco. That was really exciting!” Klonoski exclaims.
As Astrophel + Stella approaches its inaugural anniversary, Klonoski reflects upon the year, “I love working for myself. It’s a little lonely sometimes because it’s just me and my sewing duo in the garment district, but I love being able to create something that’s my own.” Klonoski is busy finishing up her fall 2011 collection and plans to expand the ready-to-wear offerings in the year ahead. Astrophel + Stella may be named for the stars, but it seems to be headed straight to the moon.