I HAD THE EXTREME PLEASURE of meeting with designer/mother/former model Jesse Kamm at her private studio/home recently and was really inspired. She is beautiful, super intelligent, and knows what she wants and makes things happen, so naturally I was pretty intimidated. But the more I talked with her, the more I was inspired and really glad to have gotten the chance to meet instead of just doing everything over email. She's really got everything figured out, and it was great to get some insight into her thoughts on everything from fashion to books and the necessity of going off the grid.
She was also kind enough to give me a piece to style, the Imperial Tunic, which is beautiful and meant to be wrinkly (which is perfect for me) and can be worn different ways! Read on to get a glimpse into her process and life!
Photos of me in the JK Imperial Tunic by Hollin.
Photos from the studio by me.
How did you get started in design?
It was completely accidental. (Although now I can look back and see that my path was always leading me here.) In 2005, I quit modeling and started taking sewing classes in LA. I started making pieces for myself and people on the street wanted to buy them off my back. A stylist friend brought a book of 6 images to Paris, and Colette placed the very first order for JK. And there it was: an opportunity. I worked 16 hours a day for the first 2 years to learn every part of the business. I had really struggled with the way I had no control over my life as a model. The agency dictated how to dress, how to wear my hair, how much to weigh, what I could eat, etc. In this career, I wanted to manage everything and feel in complete control. In the beginning, I felt like a fraud at times because I did not go to school for fashion design. Now I feel very comfortable with what I do. Part of that is me no longer putting myself in a box. The word “fashion” can conjure up all kinds of ugly feelings for people. I think it is too exclusive of a word. It really has nothing to do with me or what I am about. I like clothing. I like getting dressed. I like looking good. I like feeling comfortable in what I wear. I love helping other people feel comfortable in what they wear. I still handle all of the sales and press myself, and I only have one employee.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
I love looking at what the women who inspire me are wearing. It could be a girl at the market or actress from my favorite 1970's horror film. The women I am drawn to are always a very similar type. They understand simplicity in dressing. They are somehow strong and seemingly independent. I am not interested in the girl who has a great stylist, I am interested in the girl who naturally knows what works on her and is unafraid to commit to a look. When it comes to color, I always see my palates in nature. When I am taking a walk or coming in from the sea, I may see swath of color on the ground and there it is... every color for my next collection. My eyes are always open. I am looking for something tangible. I do best holding a book in my hand, rather than scrolling down a computer page. If we are all looking at the same thing, we are becoming less and less individual. I try to look elsewhere, peeking in the cracks where no one else is looking.
What sorts of things do you like to do on your downtime from designing? Hobbies? Getaways? Other creative outlets?
I like to keep my life very simple, to spend as much time with my friends and family as I can. I consider my work my “Jobby”. Part Job, part hobby. Some people take fashion very seriously. I do not. When I am not working, I am surfing or playing. I work 9-10 months of the year, and in the summer months we pack up and head to our house in the jungle in Panama to surf and live off the grid. When we are there I like to build furniture, stretch, collect rocks, bones, driftwood and other flotsam that floats up to our beach. I spend a lot of time making and organizing strange dioramas of my collections. I love composing photographs of all of these weird little groups, and of the odd and wonderful things I find in the jungle. I am acutely aware that we are on this spinning rock for a short time, and I try to enjoy my limited time as much as possible.
Favorite part of the design process?
I love when I find a tiny spark of an idea, and then can strip it down and turn it into bigger vision. I gather up the colors and the shapes really quickly. This part of the process is always the same for me. I will have a few sleepless nights where I am tossing and turning. The ideas are trying to surface, and then one morning I will be taking a walk, and snap, it all comes into focus. I spend the next few days organizing all of the ideas. This is my favorite feeling. It's like I can not stop to eat or answer the phone. I am just in the flow, and if I stop I might miss something. It is like being on a high. It is my favorite part of the process by far. Getting dressed should be fun. I like to make people look beautiful and comfortable. I love being a part women’s lives. That part makes me really happy.
What are you listening to/reading these days?
I am reading Joan Didion, The New Yorker, The Surfer's Journal and listening to Dave Brubeck, Jerry Garcia, Alex Greenwald, Toots and the Maytals, and Bahamas.
What's next for Jesse Kamm?
Girl, who ever knows what is next for anyone. I try to live by the words of Ram Dass and "Be Here Now". I try to be present in my life, and focus on what is right in front of me. When I finish this interview, I will go back to my studio floor where I am arranging all of my ideas for SS16. I am in that zone I was telling you about, and I have a giant grin on my face just thinking about it. Once the collection is ready, I am closing up shop on June 5 to head south of the border, where I will be focusing all of my energy on riding waves and drinking coconuts from the trees.