Siki Im / A models.com interview
From its effortlessly multi-cultural world view to its deeply thought presentations, the Siki Im label has been distinct and eye-catching over the past two years. What catches the eye about the eponymous line created by Im, is the details, subtlety and clarity of vision that infuses the clothes with an aesthetic that is practical and at the same time philosophical. Born and raised in Germany, Im studied at the Oxford School Of Architecture before moving to New York where he worked with the architectural firm Archi-tectonics, after which he segued into the fashion industry, working as designer at Karl Lagerfeld and Helmut Lang. The great virtue of Im’s clothes is that despite their apparent simplicity, his precision cut pieces already have a unique vocabulary that makes his work stand out in sharp relief on the New York fashion scene. MDX sat down with Mr. Im for this exclusive interview in which he outlined his design ethos with a dextrous mix of insight and humor.
A models.com interview by Wayne Sterling
Cover photo: details at Siki Im’s studio by Stephan Moskovic
Photos: Stephan Moskovic + Betty Sze
All looks from Siki Im S/S 2012
Model: Duco Ferwerda
Casting by: John Tan
With a special thanks to John Tan
How do you feel about New York City as a general creative environment, Siki?
Whoah! We’re really plunging in there aren’t we? (laughs) The reason why New York is New York is because it’s all about money. Not only fashion but everything; advertising agencies, film, art. Which is good right? But also it takes a lot of the other elements away and I think you can see it in the general New York landscape. Though in terms of architecture… I moved here 10 years ago, and in the last 5 or 6 years there has been better architecture… better buildings. Before, it was just pretty much developers throwing up these buildings without much thought. The reason why I think there are better buildings, is that in the peak time of the economic boom, if you didn’t know how to make your building sell, you’d get a big architect for his name. Or some designer name, slap it on there and raise the price… another 10 million.
Much like fashion. A big part of your back story was that you studied architecture before coming to fashion design.
I did study architecture and worked in an architect’s office for a while. So I appreciate buildings. Anyone can talk about buildings, just by looking in the street. People always say there are cross references of my design with architecture, which is… I don’t really know.
What led you to the idea of making clothes?
It was less of an idea and more of an accident… more of a coincidence. I didn’t really plan it. It just fell in my lap. I was just naive enough to try it. I wish I could say it was an epiphany, but it wasn’t. It was a gradual process. I met this amazing stylist, David Vanderwal. He was a design director. We met and he really got me into fashion. I tried it out and really enjoyed it. It took me a really long time to call myself a fashion designer. Probably because of my insecurity as an architect… you think that architecture is the premier language of design and anything else is just crap or superficial (laughs). Now I just say that I’m a designer .
And yet we live in a culture where design pervades everything!
Oh, everybody does everything now. Model-slash-photographer-slash-DJ. It’s part of our society where things are cross-cultural and hybrid. There are less boundaries and less fear! There are a lot of good things. Like the Internet. There are also a lot of scary things. But you’re right. We certainly are talking about some deep stuff today. (laughs)
Yes, this interview gets filed in the models.com “Deep Thinking” division. To counteract our everyday use of ironic vapidity. You say you’ve been in New York for 10 years, where did you come from?
I was born and grew up in Germany and then went to university in England. Then came from England, here, to New York in September 2001, one week after 9/11.
I came before to visit and hang out around 95-96. I was really into music. I was into graffiti. It was the Rock Steady Crew 10th anniversary in the Bronx. I had no idea and just went there with my bags and sketch book. I remember also around that time I went to Tonic and saw Sonic Youth. It was really sketchy… the Lower East Side then. But I can’t tell you any CBGB stories or anything.
Very few people from those days can hope to remember.
Going from Cologne to New York was that culture shock?
I went to England and THAT was culture shock. Going from Germany to England I thought it was going to be very similar because of the weather. But it was a real culture shock.
This was London?
Oxford. It was really different. I was really surprised at how it showed me how naive I was. Then from Oxford to New York, it took me a few years to fathom that I really was in New York. It felt like a movie. Generally you work so much here , you don’t have time to chill. You work, work, work and then it’s a few years later.
How long have you been producing the Siki Im line?
We launched it in 2009 for Spring ’10. We had what I’d call “performances”… kind of inter-active presentations. It was great. We had the first one in the Meatpacking District, next to the Diane Von Furstenburg space. It was a construction site when there were still meat packing factories in the neighbourhood. For some reason we got in there and we had the whole building and it was really sketchy. It was dirty with dead rats everywhere. It was just… I remember we burnt so much incense in there to get the stink out. But the experience was ultimately a great one for me. You felt like you were in this bunker in East Berlin. Or Bushwick (laughs). So since then, every season we have been doing some performance-slash-presentation. Last season was our first runway show. The second show had been in a deconstructed office space. Then afterwards the garage space . Then there was the Indian theme. Last season was the “Arab Spring” runway show.
A lot of that evokes the idea of an underground happening in New York. Which is a great tradition dating back to the Beat Generation and the Warhol factory and all that. Do you find there is still that underground ideal alive and well ?
It’s hard you know, because usually you’d want to try to keep it underground. But how do you keep it underground these days when there is all this social media? I still believe there probably is a music sub-culture and these kids are super-intense and you don’t even know it. They don’t want you to know about it. I just hope I’m not too old to react to it. In terms of an art and fashion underground… Definitely not, as everything is based on PR and marketing. They want to say “underground” but I don’t think there really are any underground designers because it is a business. Art is a business, fashion is a business, at the end of the day, right? You want to make it creative and cool but I think the next underground might be in somewhere unexpected. Maybe in Wisconsin.
Somewhere in Wisconsin is this mythic genius producing some new beats that will be a revolution. Whereas it used to be the Bronx.
(laughs) Yes, exactly. I appreciate those kind of things. You’ve been in New York for so long, so you’ve seen the real New York ’90s.
Oh yeah. I remember seeing casting call posters for Larry Clark’s “Kids” and all of us went, “Who’s this Larry Clark?” But it’s movies like that which make people dream of coming to New York.
Very true! That movie man! “Kids” is definitely one of my favorite movies. All my friends now think New York is all “Sex In The City”. For me, “Kids”, “Taxi Driver,” all those New York movies made you romanticize this city.
It’s like you said though, unless there is an underground that is no press, no twitter , no pictures… how do you keep it…”rare”?
I know, I mean we don’t have a Twitter and we are fine with keeping it less visible… and more controlled… more aware and sensitive about the issues of social media. I’m not against it at all. I think it’s really great but I think sometimes it takes away the real essence of what you’re trying to do.
I’ve noticed this new sentiment that there’s a certain kind of designer or brand that works best when the person, the buyer, discovers it for themselves. As opposed to having it pushed to them. Rick Owens being a great great example of that .
I know… it’s someone who has an integrity and a vision… an attitude and an opinion. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong. Just have an opinion or point of view. And stand behind it.
Rick Owens is great. All those designers who try to keep it real but still make it a business and keep it alive are great. Because it’s not easy.
Your clothes are hard to stereotype because it shifts a little each season.
In my opinion, which is very subjective because it is my brand, I like that each season that it has a different story. I like to learn more stuff for myself. But I do believe at the end of the day, it’s pretty much similar clothes. Just packaged differently. Meaning, you will always see certain silhouettes and certain staple design details. Because it’s still what I like.
You won’t radically change direction?
No. I’ll style it differently. We’ll have an Indian Theme. A Wall Street theme. The Immigrant theme. But no matter what, I hope it still has the same kind of brand identity. Usually we choose a certain kind of model for the story of the season, almost like the casting of a movie. But if you take away the make-up and the smoke and mirrors, I still think it’s consistent. Or at least I hope so.
How do you manage the challenge of store buyers who want you to vary the line in a more extreme way ?
It’s a fine line. Every season you are trying to present a fresh new perspective. For me, I try to design something fresh and new so I don’t get bored. But on the other hand I aim to keep my storyline or plot. I’m very aware it. Sometimes I think it might be a little too subtle to see the similarities.
Do you see extending the Siki Im story into advertising? The magazine ads… the billboards and posters?
We’re a young brand so I’m not sure we need advertising per se. Secondly, maybe in 10 years I’ll think differently… but it is exactly what we talked about before. I don’t want to push our brand in someone’s face. I believe there’s more depth in the customer finding it. But you have to be smart and also do interviews with people like you (laughs).
Well it is not like you sent us a PR blast. We saw your shows and became excited. Organically.
Thank you. It’s why I like Betty so much (Ed. note: Betty Sze, managing editor at models.com). She supported us without me saying anything and it is something I really appreciate. Your coverage had those Hipstamatic shots which were a really interesting angle too on the show. There’s something to be said for “No PR is PR”… like the old school Margiela. I just want to be careful and be controlled in how I put it out there. On the one hand I don’t want to PR it all over the place, but on the other hand we have to sustain. People don’t know us. It’s still a very young brand. There has to be a fine line.
We are coming out of a phase where the luxury conglomerates would scan the young designer scene to see who they could move into those big brand labels. Is the idea of making an alignment with a big company appealing to you?
I think those guys are really smart. And I don’t think they would approach me right now (laughs)… maybe in a couple of years. But let’s dream that someone like that comes and knocks on the door. It’s very seductive. Because you could push to the next level and you would have all these resources. But then you have these board members you have to report to. You have to show numbers.. The real side to it is you have to have a sell through. You have to have a budget and projections. So then the pressure level goes up. Then probably I start thinking… OK… I have to make more t-shirts. To hit those numbers gets to be scary. Then you have fear and then suddenly you lose courage and faith and start designing a different way. Which could easily lead to something different from how I tried to build the essence of my brand. This is why the Helmut Langs and Jil Sanders that got bought ended up in a falling out. There’s good and bad things to the scenario. You just have to be smart. And have a good lawyer. Or maybe one day I’ll just sell it out and make baby clothes.
The Siki Im fragrance! The Siki Im underwear! The keychain!
I would love to! Actually I love that stuff. I love accessories. A Siki Im computer would be great (laughs) . It’s all a part of designing. You just have to be careful, is the thing. It could easily become so loud and lose its identity.
Will we ever see you marketing yourself as the cool scenester with the must-crash Fashion Week after-party?
I think I partied really hard a long time ago. I just moved to Brooklyn and I like it so… Listen, I like to go out dancing but the thing is that all has to do with your own personality. Of course I was thinking of doing an after-party after my show but I’m so exhausted afterwards I just want to go home. I admire those people who have the energy… to have another event to produce. I should go to more events. It is a part of the business. To hang out and have your picture taken with good names.
Even architects have to do that now.
Everyone! Artists. Scientists.
What’s your take on retail given your architecture background?
We had the opportunity to do one last year with Boffo. We collaborated with two brothers who are architects, super-cool and smart and fun. We did this temporary space, like a pop-up store. I remember when I was in university and Commes des Garçons was doing their guerilla store I remembered thinking… whoah that’s so cool!
There were other brands who did this before but Commes des Garçons had such good marketing, they really were definitive. Then everybody, even Target had to do the pop up store.
I fully understand the wisdom of growing Siki Im very slowly and carefully but do you have a vision of the brand as one day being global ?
Sure. The retail space… womenswear… definitely again creating buildings, are in my long term plans. My dream is to have an all around design firm, designing anything. Music. Posters. Water bottles. (laughs)
Which is a fashion essential in its own right. Thank you so much Siki for your openness and humor. I really enjoyed talking to you!
No, I have to thank you guys for all your support! I really appreciate it.