By Jehangir Irani
Long before turning her eye toward fashion, Karen Patwa became well acquainted with lines, curves and bodies in motion as a physics major at Bryn Mawr University. She discovered her love for clothing design, through a course she took in costume design; there, her professor suggested she try her hand at fashion. Upon graduating, she returned to New York, took her professor’s advice and signed up for a design class at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Though she fell in love with the art, she became disenchanted with the industry. Its preoccupation with trends, as opposed to a focus on timeless and classic designs, led her to forsake the world of haute couture. Instead, she followed the other half of her heart, teaching math and physics. Years later, she began styling clothes for herself. Her unique sense of style caught the eyes of her friends and acquaintances, who began taking notice of what she was wearing. As she filled the requests that came in, her reputation grew. Eventually, demand for her services reached a tipping point and Patwa was forced to choose whether to continue teaching or begin a full-time career in fashion. Thus, Dangerous Mathematicians, her custom-design clothing store, was born – on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the past four years, but now in Boerum Hill. Two weeks ago, Patwa opened her doors at 394 Atlantic Avenue.
Something of an anti-fashionista, Patwa is looking to revolutionize the perception of the industry. “Fashion is a myth; what I’m trying to do is democratize fashion,” Patwa says. A Brooklyn native, Patwa says the increased floor space in Boerum Hill gives her more room to custom fit clients while still being able to make off-the-rack sales.
“Women are dangerous in whatever way they choose to be and they are mathematicians because they’re calculated,” said Patwa, describing the meaning behind her company’s enigmatic name. She also feels her fashion sense brings an element of danger by defying the exclusivity normally reserved for A-listers and glammed-out runway models. “So if you’re not in those proportions, you don’t look good in that clothing,” she said. “You just have to have somebody employing those lines and curves in a way that works with your body.”
Patwa’s style can only be described as a unique type of ballroom fetish. The dresses are long, chic, and sophisticated. But the back and shoulder lacing, along with her corset belts, give them an erotic touch, without being sensationalistic. Though most of her clothing is geared toward women, men are starting to notice her talents, too. According to Patwa, sales of men’s suits, once negligible, have skyrocketed in the past six months and now comprise 50 percent of her total suit sales. She attributes the rise to her competitive prices (custom-designed two-piece suits start at $700) and distinctive style. “Come directly to me and I will design exactly what you want,” she said. “If you want a suit in silk paisley, that’s styled for men, you can get one. If you want (a suit in) matte PVC, you can get it.”
Noah Landow owns the aforementioned matte PVC suit. Already the owner of two bespoken suits, Landow wanted his third suit to be a lot less practical. “I expect to wear the suit to a wide range of fun parties, gatherings and events,” he said.
Courtney Vowels, a Seattle resident originally from Brooklyn, reached out to Patwa to design her wedding dress; her theme was authenticity and simplicity. “I didn’t want a wedding dress,” said Vowels. What she wanted was an elegant dress for all occasions that she could wear to her wedding. One face-to-face consultation was all Patwa needed to help her walk down the aisle in a hand-tailored silk dress. From there, she mailed Vowels fabric samples and even a demo-dress crafted to her measurements. Patwa walked her through the whole pinning process and helped her make all the size adjustments over the phone, after the dress arrived. When the dress came back, it fit perfectly, needing no additional alteration. “And, come on, the cute little label in my wedding dress says ‘Dangerous Mathematicians,’” said Vowels. “What more could you want?”