Impressive: A Conversation with Designer Siki Im

When Siki Im moved to New York in 2001, he had no intention of designing clothes. After graduating with honors from England’s Oxford Brookes School of Architecture, Im took a position with a New York architecture firm, but over time realized the job wasn’t satisfying him. Since high school he had liked clothes, admiring  iconoclastic labels like Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, and especially Helmut Lang before they were well-known beyond fashion circles. When Im got the opportunity to join Helmut Lang (in the post-Lang era), he took it. After several years working in the fashion industry, he decided it was time to start his own label, and in September 2009 he introduced his first solo collection. Inspired by William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, it was a hit, earning him the Ecco Domani Award for Best Men’s Wear.

Im’s collections since have taken their inspiration from a variety of sources—Native Americans, the immigrant experience, Michael Jordan—but each works with one consistent vision. Beautifully tailored blazers and coats, billowing pants, and elongated tops, all crafted from luxurious fabrics—often in black—form the foundations of that vision. Im also insists on adhering to traditional methods whenever possible. Most of his blazers are fully canvassed and hand-tailored at Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, and his denim, which he introduced in his spring-summer 2012 collection, is all selvage sourced from Cone Mills in North Carolina. Im’s fans may not know exactly what to expect with each collection, but they can always be certain it will be expertly made, modern, and smart.

Styleforum contributor Marc Bain sat down with Im at his Manhattan design studio to talk about Im’s work, his influences, and whether fashion has a brain.

A lapel-less blazer from Im’s spring-summer 2012 show.

Marc Bain: Walk me through your design process. Where do you start when you’re coming up with a collection?

Siki Im: It’s not very linear. It starts always with something like an emotion or feeling, or even a proportion I’d really like to develop further, and then I test it out for a couple months—or not months, it depends—[to see] if I still like it. Sometimes you listen to great music, and maybe at first you hate it, but it’s stuck in your head and you start thinking about it more and more. Then you think maybe that’s something which is valid, you know? The initiation, sometimes it starts with a mood, like from a book, or once it was a New York Times article, once it was a movie. I try to keep it pretty open. At the beginning I started with books, but then people were asking “What will be the next book?” And if that already happens then it’s not really fresh.

I like to also surprise a little bit. The spring-summer ’12 collection was pretty heavy because it was about the Arab Spring in a way. Then last season I did the opposite more or less. It was a lot of Michael Jordan in the ’90s, because somewhere along when I was developing and designing the spring-summer collection it got very political, which I personally love but I don’t know if it was justified in fashion. I was a huge basketball fan in the ’90s and into all that stuff, so how can I make that into a non-streetwear, non-literal form, you know? So it’s definitely not linear.

MB: You’re known for doing a thesis for each collection. Where does that come in? Is the idea there from the start?

SI: My first collection, Lord of the Flies, it was really parallel. But sometimes it comes way before, sometimes in the middle, sometimes it’s later. If it does come later, usually the mood or the theme was already there; I just had to dig deeper and research more. For me, what I really like is researching more, so every season I can learn something. It keeps my mind going, which I need and appreciate. It’s just also fun. People can dis and say it’s not relevant or it’s too much, and that’s fine, but for my sake I like to learn and research and study.

MB: Do you have a particular person in mind as your customer?

SI: I’d like to say 25-35, male, sophisticated, but no. We do also have women wearing it, which I think is very beautiful. But it’s not for everyone, just because of the fit, the details, the price, the visibility. I think it will already in itself direct to a certain group.

MB: One thing I’ve noticed looking at your pieces is that you choose really beautiful, rich fabrics. How do your fabric choices play into your designs?

SI: Like with music, if you write a song, sometimes the melody comes before the lyrics, sometimes the other way, sometimes they go together. It’s the same thing. Sometimes with certain garments I design I already know what the fabric is, or sometimes I’ll see a fabric and I know what type of garment it should be. So it goes hand-in-hand.

MB: You studied architecture, so how did you end up designing clothes?

SI: It was pure accident. I just like designing. I never thought to become a fashion designer. Somewhere along, when I was working in an architecture office, I was just getting bored doing, like, renderings and drawings twelve hours a day, and buildings take so long to be built because of the scale. I just wanted to try something else in terms of designing. It could’ve been a car or anything else. New York City is so open and so horizontal in terms of how you can move around and meet people—it’s like a playground almost—and I’ve been very fortunate. It took me a really long time to call myself a fashion designer.

Im experiments with silhouettes more than most menswear designers.

MB: You’ve said that Helmut Lang was a big influence on you. What about his work attracted you?

SI: Since probably the end of high school I was really attracted to his aesthetic. I couldn’t tell you why. Then coming to New York I studied more of his stuff, just going to the stores. I liked everything he did. It was always modern, meaning timeless, and always pushed the boundaries of what fashion is. The advertising, store design, the details: it was amazing, and it’s still so valid. If you see his menswear by itself, it’s well-made clothes but very simple. But it’s about the context. Everything he tried to do, and he did, like thinking of new ways to think of menswear and also to think of fashion. He was one of the first advertising on a New York cab. He was one of the first streaming online, on dial-up. And he had a great team, like Melanie Ward, who I was fortunate enough to work with afterwards. They just pushed the boundary.

MB: Do you keep up with menswear blogs at all?

SI: I really wish, just to keep myself, I don’t know, relevant or contemporary. I try to, and there are some that I look at, but not as I used to when I was in the corporate world and had more time [laughs]. I do sometimes now to just get away from reality and see what’s up and what’s out there, but not as much as I should maybe, I don’t know. I’m trying to also be very controlled. I teach at Parsons and I see the students, they come with so much research material and so much research from blogs that it dilutes and clouds. It’s just too much.

MB: So it’s not good that they have so much material?

SI: All the social media is great, but you really have to control yourself so that it doesn’t control you. Especially in design. If you have too much information, when are you going to say stop and do your own thinking, rather than getting inspired and influenced by other things? It could be a very dangerous process.

MB: Your heritage is Korean; you were born in Germany; you went to university in England; now you live and work in New York. That’s a very global experience. Has that had any influence on your work?

SI: It’s very strong, that dichotomy. Even in university, all my theses were about identity, and about anthropology, and cultural context and dissonance. It’s the same thing, I think, with my collections. It’s all about different poles and juxtapositions which could be violent or beautiful. This is what I always love, the tension between, say, soft and hard fabrics, or Wall Street and religious influence [Im’s fall-winter 2010 collection], or—I’m just referencing certain of my collections—immigrant culture and living in the Western Hemisphere [spring-summer 2011], or Middle East meets globalization meets America [spring-summer 2012], or Michael Jordan meets suiting [fall-winter 2012]. I’m always interested in that because I think that is reality and it is honest and imperfect, and this is what I like. It’s also how I’ve been living and experiencing, you know, messing around with identities.

MB: What are some examples of garments you’ve designed that you think demonstrate this juxtaposition you’re talking about?

SI: The tunic. I love tunics. The tunic is a garment which is very, in a way, ethnic. It could be seen as a primitive, vernacular garment worn in the Middle East, certain parts of Asia. But I just love it. I love the proportion. So we took the tunic and made it more modern: this is a silk-cotton fabric, and we made it slimmer and more modern with certain details. But this is like a simple metaphor.

MB: And you incorporate that into a more Western, tailored look?

SI: Yeah. For instance, you have this soft, drapey fabric, and I would put a harder, tailored, fully canvassed blazer on top of it, and that gets a look which people think, “Wow, it’s fresh.” But no, it’s not. In the Middle East, that’s what they do: huge tunics with a jacket or blazer. What I do is nothing new. It’s not that avant-garde, I think. It’s just what I like and what I’ve seen in other cultures, studying them. So that’s a simple example. Or that crazy hat from the Native-American collection [Silent Thunderbird Prayer, fall-winter 2011]. It’s actually from images of Native Americans, and they used to wear these crazy big hats. But ours is done in a rabbit felt and, hopefully, more modern. So using those references from those ethnic or vernacular languages and making them more modern with fabric, with proportions, and then clashing them with denim or a leather jacket or a handmade blazer, something like that.

Mixed influences: a Middle-East-inspired tunic; tailored, asymmetrical vest; and Native-American-style hat.

MB: When you think of someone actually wearing your clothes on the street, is there a particular image or fantasy that comes to mind?

SI: I hope it’s some cool kid who could be a skater, or someone who works in a gallery, or someone who goes to a party, or someone who picks up the trash, that would be fun. But since it’s luxurious fabrics and it’s all made here in America, in New York mostly, there are certain limits in terms of price point, so it will already specify a certain [person], unfortunately. But I’ve heard from a couple of customers who say when they wear my clothes they feel very confident and strong and protected. That’s a very nice compliment.

MB: That raises an interesting question about who has access to your clothes since I’ve read that you’re influenced by a lot of left-leaning thinkers. Is that accurate?

SI: I really enjoy postmodernists and poststructuralists from the ’60s and ’70s to the ’90s and now, like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, or like Martin Heidegger. They seem to be socialists/Marxists, but the reason why I like them is not because they are leftists or socialists but because of their critical thinking and critical questioning.

MB: Do you think fashion can be an intellectual pursuit? I guess by that I mean can clothing ask critical questions or make critical statements?

SI: Yeah, I totally think so, because fashion is cultural in itself and culture is usually a reflection of certain opinions or statements. Even like Michelle Obama wearing a lot of domestic designers, it [offers] an opinion. That’s the beautiful thing about fashion: it’s not just clothes, it’s something more than that, which is how design should be actually. It should have an opinion, I think, or no opinion is an opinion too.

MB: Do you have any favorite pieces from your last collection, or from any past collection?

SI: Yeah. We started denim, and I really like some of that stuff. From last collection, I really like the outerwear a lot. I thought it was quite successful. There’s stuff I don’t like as much, but definitely the outerwear I’m very happy about. I enjoy designing outerwear more anyway probably.

MB: Is there any general direction you see your designs heading, or is it just one season to the next?

SI: What’s really important—and some people see it, some people don’t—is that every season we have certain stories or themes, like Native American, or Michael Jordan, or Arab Spring, but if you take the themes out or the colors, then everything should have the same language. Some people think every season I’m so different, which I don’t think at all just because there are certain things that are alike and will continue. You will always see a tunic. You will always see a big, cropped pant. You will always see a black blazer. And it’s just about the styling or the story put on top of that. So for me it’s really important that I keep my language and keep improving my language. It’s important for me also to work on silhouettes, which I think menswear is not really doing so much.

To discuss Siki Im, visit the official Styleforum thread.

Robert Geller Fall 2012 – Interview and Collection

Styleforum’s Marc Bain brings you a Robert Geller interview and a discussion of the New York-based designer’s Fall 2012 collection.

For his fall 2012 collection, the eleventh for his namesake label, Robert Geller looked to England for inspiration. Models layered with sturdy wools, rain-repellent waxed cottons, and that most British of fabrics, tweed, walked a dirt runway that seemed to lead from an English garden. Gray, brown, and olive dominated the palette, while a few bright notes of marigold and fiery orange sparked amid all the sobriety.  ’80s British post-punk influenced the collection (The Sound’s “Where the Love Is” provided the show’s soundtrack), and a sense of brooding disquiet infused the clothes. Maybe more notable was their debt to English tailoring, with sharply cut blazers and coats, and, in place of Geller’s popular jeans, wool trousers.

Robert Geller’s secret garden.

Although not a departure from his previous work, this was Geller’s most mature show. Some traits were recognizable from past seasons: mesh underlayers and skinny leather pants; sweatshirts, including Geller’s well-known dip-dyed version; ballooning lounge pants. Footwear—suede chelsea boots; balmorals in black, or brown with a black toe—came from the designer’s ongoing collaboration with Common Projects. He also continued his experimentation with the silhouette, balancing slim and voluminous, cropped and elongated shapes. Geller took some of his most successful ideas of the past few years and integrated them into the wardrobe of his slightly older, more sophisticated English muse.

After his show at New York Fashion Week, a smiling Geller spoke with Styleforum contributor Marc Bain about his new collection, English style, and why he really wants his own line of socks.

Dip dye and layers (and non-Men’s-Clothing-approved buttoning) at Robert Geller fall 2012.

Marc Bain: English tailoring and style had a big influence on this collection. What makes English style so great?

Robert Geller: Since I’ve been of an age to recognize style, when I go to London I like the way that the boys dress. There’s a little bit of a dandy-ness to it, but it’s still very masculine. That goes very well with the way I like to dress. There’s still a little sensitivity, a little romance, but I still want it to be masculine. So that really drew me to it, but also the music. I really wanted to look into what it is about English culture that I like so much.

MB: When you think about this collection in the street, do you have a particular scene in mind?

RG: We always design the collection for the street. In the end it’s a business, of course, and I always think about the street. With men, you have your things you obviously need to have: a trenchcoat, you need to have your duffle coat. You need to have all these elements. It’s spinning it in a way that works with what you’re thinking about and where you want to go. So the way it is on the runway, with the bowler hat, isn’t the way people are going to wear it. But definitely some of the layering and the way it’s put together, I would love to see people wearing that on the street.

MB: I imagine it can be frustrating when you make a cool piece that doesn’t get produced. Are there any items this season that you really want to see on the racks in stores?

RG: Yeah, the blazers this season, especially the soft-wool yellow one with the gray trim. I love that jacket. People do buy that from me, but it’s not the main thing people come to me for, like the stronger outerwear, and people want the denim and the shirts. But I’d really like people to get some of the more eccentric pieces.

“I just throw some light / On your cold floors” — The Sound

MB: Are there any fabrics or fabric treatments you relied on a lot in this collection?

RG: Yeah. We actually did a lot of research about the English fabrics, and we ended up using Harris tweed in the collection. We did a lot of coated, waxed cotton, and things that are very British.

MB: For a rainy day, that sort of thing?

RG: For a rainy day, yeah. We have a Mackintosh. All of those things are very directly influenced by England.

MB: You’ve come a long way since Cloak, a line people still talk about. Collectors buy and sell it online and it’s highly sought after. What do you think made it such a popular label?

RG: I think the timing. There wasn’t so much menswear coming out of New York, and I think it surprised people. I look back at it and I think it was cool. I think it was fresh at the time, that look, much fresher than it is today I mean. My development since then has been changing. I’m getting older. That was something I did with Alexandre [Plokhov] and it was a great partnership, but now I’m doing my own thing.

Chunky knits at Robert Geller fall 2012.

MB: You mentioned really liking the tailored pieces from this collection. Do you see yourself heading more in that direction as you mature as a designer?

RG: Yeah, but also I like the mixture. I like to take sportswear and to mix it with tailoring. I think they go together really well. If you’re smart about the styling, I think it can look beautiful. I don’t think it has to be either-or. There are definitely looks where it’s just tailoring and it’s really beautiful, but I like the mixture: the soft and the hard, a little bit playful but refined. You can wear it all day.

MB: Can you talk to me about the collaborations you did for the collection? You’re still working with Common Projects, of course, and now you’re collaborating on socks with Etiquette Clothiers. Why did you want to do socks?

RG: I met this guy, Benjamin [Vergnion], who does this sock brand called Etiquette. We got to talking and I said I always wanted to have Robert Geller socks, and he was like, “Let’s do it.” He makes the finest quality socks in Italy, really amazing, and we knew that we had a lot of these shorter pants—jodhpurs, rolled-up pants—and there were going to be a lot of socks. So rather than buying black socks, because that’s boring, being able to make these really beautiful socks with Etiquette seemed like a great option.

Polka dots and billowy trousers from Geller.

MB: And what about Common Projects? Anything new going on there?

RG: New shoes. I love working with those guys. I think their collection is amazing. We sit together, we think about what we want to do, and season after season we can deliver such a beautiful product.

MB: How has your Robert Geller Seconds line been received since its launch?

RG: It’s good. It’s a way for me to make the things I want to wear when I’m either playing sports or just going out and being casual. You can also integrate it: most of my undershirts are Seconds and the sweatshirt that I have. It’s just a way to make it a little more approachable.

MB: I can see that you’re still playing around with the silhouette in your looks, something you started doing more of in your last collection. Can you talk a little about that?

RG: It started with Raf [Simons], but then definitely with Dior when Hedi [Slimane] was there, it became so slender. I loved it when I first saw them doing it. It was great. But it’s time for a change. It’s not saying, “Now it’s ’80s big, huge shoulders,” but like pushing and pulling the silhouette, mixing it up, and just seeing ways that feel right. I guess I’m figuring out where I feel like it should go as I’m doing it.

MB: I noticed some pieces from previous collections, the mesh for example. Why did you bring it back?

RG: It’s a great styling element, even for me just wearing it in my wardrobe. Instead of just wearing an A-shirt, you have a little bit more texture and you can play around with colors. It’s part of continuing the styling and vision of the past season into this new one. I like that idea.

Takahiro Miyashita The SoloIst at IF

The exclusive collection of Takahiro Miyashita’s The SoloIst at New York’s IF boutique is an homage to wandering. “Keep Walking,” a phrase repeated on The SoloIst site and on Miyashita’s blog, neatly distills the essence of the pieces at IF. Jackets and shirts seem patched from whatever fabric happened to be on hand, and nearly every item is distressed, suggesting the wear of hard travel. On a few pieces, the outer layer of fabric is cut to reveal lining underneath, adding depth to the garment’s surface. Edges are left ragged to give the piece a deceptively unfinished quality. Slashed dramatically with exposed white cotton, a pair of navy linen pants exemplifies the technique.

The abundant detailing in Miyashita’s garments may imply a free and careless attitude, but the materials and craftsmanship leave no doubt that every aspect has been thoughtfully considered. If the clothes evoke a vagabond image, it is an urban vision with a preference for Japanese streetwear and luxe fabrics. An Edwardian brocade jacket of wool, tencel, rayon, alpaca, and cotton (priced at over $2,000), would be more at home in NY or Tokyo, where it can be seen and admired, than in the wilderness it plays on. Another standout, and one of the more accessible pieces, is an incredibly soft jacket in a rich, mocha-toned sheepskin suede (at about $3,000).

The SoloIst work represents a progression from what Miyashita created at the late, lamented Number (N)ine. Number (N)ine was heavy on rock ’n’roll and rebellion. The SoloIst finds Miyashita designing pieces that feel more relaxed; even mature. Long-time fans of Miyashita’s work will still find his signatures in these latest creations, however, and if they’ve mellowed a bit over the years and just want some clothes to wander the city in, they know where to look.

The SoloIst on the racks at IF Boutique.

















Details abound on this charcoal double-breasted floral-print jacket.







An incredibly soft sheepskin suede jacket.

The suede on the back is slashed along the seams.

A pair of relaxed navy linen pants.








On many pieces, the surface fabric is cut to show the lining beneath.

One of IF’s friendly sales assistants shows off a 3/4 coat.

The shirts, like that pictured, feature mixed fabrics and patterns.

Accessories including hats and scarves round out the collection.