Q & A with Michelle Kim

1. You work as a designer for some of the most inspiring and distinguished brands in fashion, and I love how completely obsessed you are with print and pattern and color.  How long have you been designing?

I’ve been designing and making with hands ever since I could remember.  I was always drawing as a child - fashion plates, sceneries, catalogs of my dreamt up clothing and beauty collections (my big color pencil sets were great for all the shades).  I played in my father’s sewing factory during grade school.  I wasn’t allowed to turn on the industrial sewing machines, so I would turn the wheel by hand to get the needle working and piece together fabrics.  I also went through a peculiar phase in middle school where I would draw clothes and accessories on paper, cut them out into their shapes, and then obsessively laminate them in layers of shiny scotch tape.  I think I just wanted to will anything in my imagination into existence.  And a lot of time I kept to myself.  This probably shaped my solo working process.

2. I discovered your Liberty print decoupage plates through Gregory Parkinson and fell in love with them.  What led you to start working with decorative objects?

My Liberty print decoupage plates came together in the early 2000s when I became obsessed with them while working for Anna Sui and my boyfriend at the time bought contemporary decoupage plates (John Derian’s) as gifts for my sister and I.  I looked at those plates and thought, I could make my own version that actually say something ABOUT me and TO me.  Liberty prints are so perfect to me in the way they are drawn. I don’t know why but at this same time, my learnings about Japanese gardens and landscapes from high school art history came up for me.  I was so intrigued with creating your own landscape by layering in perspective a rock, shallow bowl of water, and a bonsai tree to mimic the mountainside and river.  This made me think of collage and that I could create whatever experience I wanted through this medium.

3. You also repurpose vintage textiles and make blouses using deadstock hankies, embroideries, etc.  I love the marriage of home and fashion! Which came first, the blouses or the plates? 

I am a child of the 90s.  In high school, we didn’t have fast fashion.  Fashion was a bit more specific and slower per season, not as much pluralism as today.  When I looked at my Vogue and Bazaar magazines and saw a style that I had to have and couldn’t easily find, I had to make it!  I altered things, dyed or embroidered on them.  I had seen a patchwork Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld bag in a magazine, and spent HOURS cutting up clothes and stitching the patches together by hand. I remember I trimmed the top of it with eyelet and the handles were corduroy (from my dad’s pants).  I even lined it.  I really wish I kept that bag.  So working from existing materials comes easily to me.  I hooked my own rugs to look like the Moroccan shag rugs because I wanted my own version, using cut up clothes and fabrics (including Liberty prints).  Yes, I like to make things that take a long time by hand.  I always loved making home wares and it’s the same to me as making clothes - they all represent who we are.  And like the Weiner-Werkstatte movement, anything functional should be beautiful.

And the hanky blouse - my boyfriend’s mom sent me her aunt Eleanor’s vintage handkerchiefs, most of them embroidered with her name.  This blouse is definitely in the pipeline!

4. Not everyone loves a paisley as much as you and I do!  Tell us about the new collection of trays you designed for Kneeland Co. Rarities using one of our favorite motifs and the inspiration behind the title, Garden of Eden, for this particular series.

I love that we both had paisley on the brain!  It’s a real collaboration with us, where you pick out the color stories and set the tone.  From there, I let that initial inspiration speak to me as I’m cutting in a meditative state and composing the different motifs from the Liberty prints.  The romantic paisleys, lush greens, and the snake gave me decadent, mysterious, sensual, and cup runneth over vibes.  I kept envisioning Henri Rousseau’s “The Jungle” - the lush foliage captured in collage-like compositions along with feminine and nature themes.  I suppose this is the artist in me, sometimes I never know if something that lights me up will do the same for someone else. So it’s more inspiring and meaningful to create with and for those who get my work.

5. What do you love the most about designing and creating?

It’s my own time and space to truly be with myself, and that it helps me connect with others.

6. Name 3 things that are inspiring you right now.

Gloria Vanderbilt - always

Comme Des Garcons - when I’m blown away, I’m blown away again and again and again 

Justina Blakeney’s home recently featured in AD - I want to go to there

7. If you could set a table with your plates and trays and serve your favorite meal, who would be your 5 dream dinner guests?

I have two sets lol:

Gloria Vanderbilt

Jean Paul Gaultier

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Jim Dine

Thomas Miller (my beloved friend who passed away that would soak up what these guests would have to share along with me)

Casey Rose Wilson

June Diane Raphael 

Joel Kim Booster

Vanessa Bayer

Bowen Yang

(I love how this group makes me laugh so hard (best feeling ever) when I watch and hear them, and makes me wish I could do what they’re doing).