MAKE NO MISTAKE: Karen Walker doesn't design for cheerleaders. 'We design for the slightly weird girl in the back of the class, hiding behind her fringe,' says the tall, striking New Zealander. 'It's that part of not wanting to run with the crowd.' Increasingly, it's the in crowd that wants to run with Walker, who remains something of a fashion outsider, despite being a favourite with the likes of Madonna, Mandy Moore and Eva Herzigova, and being stocked by more than 100 stores around the world, from New York to London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. For now, she prefers to continue working in New Zealand, venturing to the fashion centres only for shows or special projects. 'There are positives and negatives about working from New Zealand,' she says. 'I like the extreme of working there because it's so casual, with its own little bulls*** scene. The mix of stepping away from it all and then going to New York or London with the collection, right into the thick of the 'real' fashion capitals, is very inspiring.' Walker was in Hong Kong last month to promote her latest collection and a one-off T-shirt project with British magazine Sleaze. Not that she's a stranger to the city: her 1998 collection, Daddy's Gone Strange, helped seriously kickstart her career when it was shown at Hong Kong Fashion Week. It caught the eye of buyers from Barneys New York and Colette in Paris, and Walker hasn't looked back since. Nowadays, the 35-year-old is into everything from jewellery to collaborations, underwear and eyewear. And she's tossing up about trying her hand at shoes (thanks, in part, to some advice from a Temple Street fortune-teller). Walker's 2004 autumn/winter collection, Liberal and Miserable, updates one of her favourite weird girls: Annie Hall. It features crossback halterneck dresses over polo necks and earthy brown blazers over tweed waistcoats, complete with shirts and ties teamed with denim shorts and tights, big wraparound coats and red hats. 'The mood we wanted was cosy: a rugged-up walk in Central Park, followed by a visit to a museum,' Walker says. 'Whenever we design a collection, we start with a mood, then create a character and dress her. We decided we wanted a neurotic intellectual. Then, we realised Woody Allen had already created her: Annie Hall. She's so flawed and messed up, I just love her. We just took it forwards and tried to work out what she'd be wearing now.' Right now, Walker is just finishing her spring/summer collection, which will show in London in September, then it's back to New Zealand to do the autumn/winter range. This month, she also plans to get out a menswear and fine jewellery collection. In October, her line of house paints will again go on sale in New Zealand and Australia. Within the next 12 months, she plans to launch her own eyewear line. And within 18 months, she wants to put out an underwear line - something sexy, fun and functional. The T-shirt and tank top collaboration with Sleaze is to celebrate the magazine's relaunch (from Sleaze Nation). The result is on sale in Hong Kong only at I.T. Another key collaboration is with British high-street chain New Look, for which she's doing four collections: 'cheap, cool and funny, but all the clothes still have the Karen Walker signature and personality. Apparently it's selling out, with T-shirts going at six quid. It's chain-store prices, and that's what I really like about it.' She says she loves the New Look project 'because it's an extension of our belief of what fashion should be. There's a certain elitism, which is good - but sometimes it's also good to only have to pay #5 [HK$70] for a T-shirt,' she says. It's why she likes the recent trend of major designers collaborating with high-street stores - Isaac Mizrahi for Target and Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, for example. 'It means you don't have to be rich to be fashionable,' she says. 'Being head-to-toe in Prada doesn't necessarily mean you've got good taste. It might just mean you've got money. 'Cheap designer clothes have led to the rise of mixing it up. It's stopped being about designers dictating. Now, it's more about individuality.' And individuality is something Walker says she loves about Hong Kong. When she first came to town in 1998, there were only big brands such as Gucci and Prada or cheap knock-offs, but nothing in between. 'People have reacted in Hong Kong, and you can see a cool little niche group walking around the streets who have a personal style and want to keep exploring it. They're not happy to be head-to-toe in something somebody has told them is fashionable and they aren't happy to buy crappy little knock-offs. They can figure it out for themselves.' Walker says she likes Hong Kong's abundance of 'absurd' places. 'There's just so much to take in and discover. I haven't been here long enough or often enough to stop being surprised,' she says. 'I'll probably come back again in a year or 18 months. I'd love to open a shop here.' So, how about the shoe line? 'I'd love to do shoes,' she says. 'We're negotiating with a shoe-maker who makes for a lot of the big designers. Funny thing is, my fortune-teller in Temple Street, who didn't know I was in fashion, told me I should do leather shoes.'