It’s a bad time for Siki Im to chat. he has a few days to finish his Fall 2012 collection before heading to Paris for sales presentations. The apple he’s crunching is probably the first thing he’s eaten all day. Five people bustle behind him, sewing, cutting, fitting. Im looks depleted, because it’s an incredibly good time for business.
Momentum has been building around Im the past few years. He won the prestigious Ecco Domani Award for Best Menswear and the Samsung Fashion & Design Fund in Asia, and he was nominated for the Dorchester Prize in Beverly Hills—where I first met Im while an America’s Next Top Model film crew scampered about. Im’s frankness regarding his displeasure at the ANTM circus became my entertainment for the evening.
He may as well get used to the cameras, though, because Im is on the brink of big things. The reason he will be successful is simple: Im crafts beautiful clothing with a foundation of intellectual and spiritual balance. The Siki Im man is an intellectual and an athlete. He is serious and playful; feminine and masculine. Im’s work reveals that disparate elements and ideas are indeed embedded within one another, and thusly, refuses to adhere to one rule or definition.
For Im, it’s about belonging to nothing but one’s own identity, though he realizes that, generally, “Everyone wants to belong to something, somewhere.” The clothing can be worn comfortably by either sex; Im has said that he chose menswear as it was easier for women to wear than the other way around. In the collection, there are skirts, long tunics, and dresses matched with jackets constructed by Martin Greenfield, one of the world’s foremost tailors. These pieces integrate seamlessly into the gender of the person wearing them. There’s nothing overtly masculine or feminine, nor would one necessarily use the word “androgynous.” They exist in serene balance. Im did grow up in a Confucian household, after all.
Im’s pre-fashion days account for his unique approach. Korean by ethnicity, Im grew up in Germany obsessing over Goethe, Hesse, and Kundera, before studying architecture at Oxford. He migrated to New York nearly a decade ago to take a job at the visionary firm Archi-Tectonics, before meeting stylist David Vandewal. Vandewal became Im’s mentor, easing him into the world of fashion. From there, he worked under fashion icons Helmut Lang and Karl Lagerfeld, which allowed him to hone his skills enough to start his own line.
Every Siki Im collection coils itself to a theme or idea. His current Spring 2012 collection, titled “The Topography of Globalization,” focuses on the overlap of cultural, political, and economic ideas. Im draws inspiration from the Arab Spring, the recent wave of demonstrations against the authoritarian regimes and government corruption across the Arab world. Past themes have been similarly lofty in their intent. His first collection referenced The Lord of the Flies and the sense of possibility through the idea of a blank slate. His second collection was even more conceptual. A riff on Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psychoand the decline of Wall Street, Im visualized the newly destitute, showcasing his version of their deconstructed, tattered suits.
But don’t reduce Im to the sum of his literary and socio-political references: His next collection will be about Michael Jordan and the heyday of the Chicago Bulls. Besides being a childhood fan of Jordan’s—Im’s Bulls jacket was his favorite teen possession—the culture of American sports interests Im.
“They treat sports players like gods,” says Im, “and sports branding really influenced me—from Levi’s to Champion to Nike. So basically, that is the language you will find in my new collection.”
It’s a kitchen sink approach that keeps Im fresh. In the future, he’d like to revisit architecture, having only ever “taken a break” from that field, and he’d even like to try his hand at automobile design. With all these other callings, will fashion hold his interest? “I don’t know how to do anything else,” he says, which is a lie to say the least, based on everything he’s said and done up until now.