Karen Allen: Actress to Clothing Designer
After nearly three decades in show business, a successful actress moves to a bucolic New England village where she creates and sells her own line of clothing. The role is one Karen Allen might be tempted to play — if she weren’t already living it.
Best known for starring in the film classics National Lampoon’s Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Karen still acts but spends most of her time in the Berkshires, stitching together a new life and career.
If you walk up Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, you’ll find Karen Allen Fiber Arts, a treasure box featuring intricately patterned cashmere and merino wearables. If it’s your lucky day, you might also find the designer.
Now 54, Karen’s eyes sparkle with the same wonder as they did when she was dashing about the world with Indiana Jones. Her petite frame, sporting embroidered trousers and a rust and brown zip-front jacket from her line, remains enviably fit, a testament to lifelong yoga practice.
Karen steps behind the counter to answer the phone and remains there to hand-stitch edges on a pile of scarves and tell the story of how she fell for knitting at the side of her maternal grandmother, Florence Howell.
“My grandmother was passionate about knitting,” says Karen. “I can’t think of her without a pair of needles in her hands.”
The concept of making something from nearly nothing thrilled Karen. “Starting with only the ideas of colors, design, and shape — a blank page to write on. I don’t think I had that feeling about anything else as a kid. I would go into fabric stores or yarn shops and look at textures and colors and patterns. It’s a kind of ecstasy — oh my God, all these ideas!”
In 1969, 17-year-old Karen entered New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to study apparel design. Then a 1971 trip to the theater changed her life.
“I was never in a play, never read a play except if forced,” she says. “Then I saw a play, and it was like vroom….”
Apocalypsis cum Figuris, a production by Jerzy Grotowski’s Polish Theater Laboratory, told the story of Christ returning to Earth as an innocent.