If drama is what you are after, then please step forward, Mr Jacob Kimmie.
His designs, which feature a facade of fierce lines, gallons of sheer fabric billowing around delicate ankles and heavy unapologetic couture coursing around bare midriffs also focus on an unconventional political correctness that is refined by skilful attention to detail. Contradiction is a word that may sum up the creations of his work, but specific meaning is there, strongly holding its own.
The self-taught, South African born designer, certainly has a strong viewpoint. Having started his work life at a local newspaper in his birthtown, Kimmie now shows at London Fashion Week and has presented in the past with both naked male and female models. The designer’s objection to the mainstream is represented in his own character and ‘unfashion’ appearance. With heightened emphasis on the importance of his work rather than on his own persona, it is a result that many of the fashion elite could take note of.
If his traditional father does not recognise the creative face of fashion behind the muscular rugby build, then surely now is the time appreciate it and be proud of a designer whose work is that of a modern day showman.
So, how did your relationship with fashion begin?
Well I was a big muscular kid growing up in the City of Johannesburg; instead of playing rugby I used to hide away making clothes for my cousin’s dolls. I knew it would freak my dad out, who grew up tough and with that masculine authority. I think it all really kicked off when I was watching Madonna’s wedding to Sean Penn and replicated the same dress in fluorescent yellow plastic, (a meatpackers suit my dad had bought me for a raincoat in thundery South Africa!) for a friend who was entering a beauty pageant.
You have no academic qualification in fashion or design, how did you end up bringing out your own label?
Forgive the facetious tone, but I bought a sewing machine and actually, made clothes! People imagine that fashion is something you stumble across and decide to draw pictures about. It probably explains why so much of what we consider to be contemporary fashion looks the same; have you noticed how so many sleeve lengths or fits look the same? Not all of that is down to zeitgeist. Fashion is a business; if you can make a dress, you can eat. You do not have to rely on a famous person to, ‘qualify’ you. In South Africa, I started my career making clothes from bubble wrap and shower curtains while living in a desert. Later, I made collections from fully finished toiles that I would sell to a clientele with couture service, at tupperware-like parties.
Having been brought up in South Africa, how has this inspired you?
I wish I could say that my backyard was like a version of Avatar, as people always imagine when you mention Africa. My heritage is like a pie chart of different races, nationalities and this predetermined how my life should and would play out; it always somehow felt that ‘could’ was never an option. I am completely mixed race but with no black blood in me. I grew up in coloured townships in apartheid South Africa, where my aunts worked in dress factories always sewing for themselves, where my parents could not get on busses because they were not white…I even remember being unable to go to the movies or beaches because there were signs that said, “Whites Only!” Life was a bitch, but amazing because the community found beauty and pleasure in the grimmest of situations and times. I guess it has given me an insight into why I am the person I am, why I am drawn to the themes that I toy with, why it means what it does to me. And I am very grateful for that.
You have previously stated that you are driven by anger and injustice, how is this shown in your designs? What else is a key factor in your work?
I do not think it does. I think it is the pursuit for beauty and truth that I am after; a truth that my work seems to convey, that is reflected in my collections. The religious themes in my work recently had nothing to do with the current happenings in the Middle East. That would be too simplistic. It was great for the press to make the connection instead of me. It was a genuine attempt at trying to find a truth about the way I think about globalisation; about art, about immigration, about fairness and about being hopeful and optimistic. The anger and the injustice are merely the motivation and energy to put my plan into action. The most important factor is that I refrain from designing clothes for the sake of, ‘designing collections’. I do not mean that every single piece has got to be overtly analytical or riddled with meaning, but sometimes you have to question whether 30 seams in print fabric is necessary or not!
What is your favourite piece that you have designed so far and why?
I do not have favourite pieces, but I wish I had that yellow plastic dress. My father made me chuck it.
What are your likes and dislikes in terms of design and style aesthetic?
I find it irritating the way people gravitate towards trends as if it were a form of democracy.
Do you have a current obsession?
Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata Op.19-3 as played by Yo Yo Ma.
Where do you see yourself and your label in five years time?
I see myself having finally developed a six pack and my label flexing its muscles.
Finally, which designer would you most like to meet?
Jean Paul Gaultier (and Dirk Bikkemburg).
You can purchase his pieces online at www.jacobkimmie.com