Siki Im

Conveying a design language of structure meets deconstruction, fashion designer Siki Im proposes a complex and layered style. While his principally black and charcoal palette offers a dark and romantic silhouette, Im insists his vision remains optimistic, claiming, “I’m not a dark person. Some people think I’m dark. The reason why I approached these themes in my last two collections was to show how we should hang on to grace and live toward grace.”

Born in Germany to a Korean family, Im graduated from the Oxford School of Architecture, then worked in New York as an architect for Archi-Tectonics.  But feeling, “too naïve and bored of buildings,” he opted for a career break. Soon, he was working with stylist David Vandewal (Art + Commerce), who helped Im land design jobs for Karl Lagerfeld and Helmut Lang. After only a few years, Im was ready to start his own, eponymous collection.

Combining avant-garde with androgyny, Im offers a consistent and streamlined form. While he readily admits American audiences are confused by men in skirts, Asian and European buyers have embraced his approach. Meanwhile, leading domestic boutiques like Blackbird in Seattle and Project No. 8 in New York quickly snatched up his debut collection for SS10. With clean lines and an unembellished form, Im offers a strong and confident silhouette. The asymmetrical result recalls
(without recycling or recreating) Lang’s streamlined vision of the ’90s, while simultaneously breaking new ground and forging a place among forward thinkers like Rad Hourani.

Upping the ante, Im took home a 2010 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for Best New Menswear. The award marks him as an official rising star, joining past winners like Richard Chai, Rodarte, Mary Ping, Patrik Ervell, Alexander Wang and Cloak to take home the $25,000 prize. Im summarizes the experience: “It was a huge honor for me to receive that award; I just had one season. It helped me psychologically to ensure that start up, and get more confidence that some people understand what I’m trying to do.”

Even without a formal fashion education, Im still works like any contemporary designer. Im’s approach is to sketch and drape, incorporating high level concepts into twists on classic wearability and proportion plays. For his SS10 debut, entitled “Black Beat White Wonder,” Im looked to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), interpreting the ideal of a fresh start. Unlike most of the younger menswear designers, Im doesn’t completely trim the silhouette, opting to sculpt and mingle volume with shape. The collection undoubtedly boasts a downtown, experimental vibe of youth and style while remaining sophisticated and streamlined.

Following up with a collection named “A New Era,” Im continues the story into Wall Street, drawing on the character of Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.  He explains the collection was designed during, “the down point of this whole crisis. The media bombarded us and brainwashed us and fed us fear. [There was] no choice but to listen to all of it.”  Rather than a standard mock of greed and privilege, Im looks beyond the story narrative. His point was for optimism. From his collection notes, “The kids grew up, got jobs on Wall Street, became rich and now have lost their jobs. They are now confronted with the dawn of a new era.”

As major European and American designers opted for conservative approaches, Im saw an opportunity to redefine the look of success. He says, “The media reinforced this kind of thing. I try to use that. Reverse that type of emotion and psychology. It’s not fear. It’s literally the beginning of a new era; that’s hope. It’s a new chapter to improve oneself, or change, or move forward.” This was further complicated by living in New York’s financial district, nearby girlfriend, Abigail Lorick, designer and founder of Lorick New York (see SOMA’s People issue, October 2009). While Lorick’s woman is feminine and pretty, Im insists there’s plenty of common ground, “Superficially it looks different. But there are similarities in what moves us. The inspirations are similar.”

Completing the look, Im collaborates on a footwear collection called “Made in Italy,” with Wells Stellberger. There are also retro technology accessories with Eugene Tsai of Made by Eugene. Providing touches of both whimsy and tradition, the accoutrement help define Im’s modern man. For his next collection, Im promises a highly personal exploration, dealing with his upbringing in Germany and a dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures. He claims some of the excitement comes with store feedback: “It’s very gratifying to work with buyers directly.” And like any young business, Im is still negotiating his balance on creativity and sales. He explains, “That’s probably the hardest part for me as a creative person. It is the most challenging part and the most interesting part actually: Making products to be worn and sold, but keeping integrity, sophistication and the dream.”

– Michael Cohen
Photography Isabel Asha Penzlien