Every so often, a wave of new talent comes, is chased after, crests, and then fades away. Less often, within that wave, someone with a gracefully assured distinction alters the tide in quiet, small, but definite ways. One of those designers is Adam Kimmel, who, right now, is enjoying a PBR and nibbling on a grilled cheese sandwich in Los Angeles as his collection with the classic American workwear brand Carhartt unveils at Barneys in Beverly Hills. Eager fans ask to take pictures and Kimmel is kindly obliging.
In the past few years, there has been a continually mounting clamor of excitement over each new Kimmel collection and in particular, the presentation of these collections, where there is always an art component. No one will forget the George Condo masks that corresponded with Kimmel’s Fall 2010 Casino Collection, which included a luxurious robe that had a roulette table printed onto it and scarves with slot machines. There were also the photos of Spring 2010 shot by Marlboro ad photographer Jim Krantz and modeled by ranch hands (as well as artist Dan Colen). And then there is the video of illusion artist David Blaine donning an impeccable Kimmel tux while flouncing about underwater with the ever lethal and rapacious Carcharadon carcharias (the Great White) for Spring 2011.
Why does Kimmel feel the need to work with artists? In fashion, such a construction may easily be dismissed as gimmick, but with Kimmel it comes from a rather humble desire to collaborate. “Sometimes,” he explains, “[working with artists] can really bring you back to the here and now, and I want that with my work. It’s not like I’m making clothing in a factory. I want it to have a relevance. And a lot of these guys are like my heroes. I really love what they do, and I’m always trying to work with that. It makes it more fun—to aspire to work with people you admire. It makes your whole thing worthwhile.”
This Fall 2011 season, Kimmel was inspired by and worked with Portland artist Dan Attoe, who created Twin Peaks/Pacific Northwest-inspired paintings. Kimmel, in turn, translated these works into towering trees and Sasquatch graphic T-shirts, scarves, and a sweater. “Dan is one of my favorite people in the world,” Kimmel exclaims, “He’s got that incredible balance of being the off-roading, backwards motorcycle punk—a gun-toting, tattooed, crazy motherfucker. But he’s the sweetest, most gentle, beautiful person.” Whether intentional or not, this duality of character—tough with a silver lining—comes through in the clothing. It’s the motorcycle-riding underbelly of the American backwoods that permeates the collection, but all the rugged, wilderness punk posturizing is only complemented by Kimmel’s most technically refined tailoring, fabrics (all of which he develops himself), and cuts to date.
There are beautiful reversible blazers that feature fine linen on one side and nylon rain-proof on the other, a down-insulated peacoat that reverses from twill to quilted moleskin, a hip-length hunting jacket that transforms into a full-length trenchcoat, and much more that can be zipped off and zipped out. Of the improvement of his craft, Kimmel says, “I’m constantly finding better factories, developing better fabrics, and, you know, it’s a learning process. I feel a lot more free from when I started. In the beginning, you start off with a job, you have to put on a tie, there’s a dress code, you’re there for a while. I can let loose a little bit and become more of an individual. When I started, I didn’t have the comfort level to jump around with the inspirations, and I didn’t do what I wanted to do as much, and now it’s nice.”
Despite his creative evolution, Kimmel has remained grounded with his vision—constructing garments that are functional and wearable—perhaps one of the reasons he chose his first and only collaboration to date with iconic, fourth-generation, family-owned American brand Carhartt. “They [Carhartt] really stay true to their customer,” says Kimmel, “which is the real working man, the farmer. And they know that they provide that service for working men in America. Just because we’re doing a collaboration and selling at Barneys, our real customers, you know that’s not important to them. What’s important is having a coat that lasts forever.”
There’s an ease and quiet confidence about Kimmel himself, who speaks softly and lacks the domineering ego that pervades the American designer archetype. He is a person of loyalty, exhibited as such in his eyewear choice: Kimmel is a devotee of Cutler & Gross, so much so that he purchased their last remaining production of his particular frames, and he’s been wearing Carhartt since he was 10 years old. An attempt to uncover his favorite booze or mind-altering enhancement was met with a smile: “I don’t know. I’m married and have a baby. I’m kind of chilled out right now. I’m satisfied.” And like any trustworthy citizen, he relishes food and can cook up a “killer hot dog,” enjoys eating in Florence, and even washes his hands first thing upon waking every morning because “it just wakes me up.”
But Kimmel remains, above all, a man who knows that life is to be enjoyed. In parting, he suggests, “If it’s not fun, then fuck it all.”