Kevin Kramp: Extended interview with the fashion designer
Featured as one of our Artists Of The Year 2010, Kevin Kramp's work-of-art knitwear first caught our eye months back at a local fashion show, where he was distinctly the star. Here's the extended interview we had with Kramp about his time in London, his upbringing in Minnesota and where his designs have taken him.
How do you describe your fashion aesthetic and how did you decide to get into knitwear in the first place?
I aim for bold, decisive, sexy, street, innovative, intelligent, inspiring, unexpected and sometimes sophisticated design work. My foray into the world of knitwear was another unexpected turn for me! I began St. Martins in the menswear program, but for every project I continually designed knitwear ideas. I was never able to make any of my designs because I didn't know how to knit, and so I thought very carefully for three weeks to change to the knitwear program, and did so! It was a truly terrifying and brilliant decision. I had never ever knit in my life when I began the knit program. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a bit of a crafty geek who enjoys manual manipulation of materials, textures, colours, etc. I want to touch what I'm making! Woven fabric is boring. I didn't design it, I didn't manufacture it, and I barely control it when making a garment, all the work is already done. Whereas in knit, I start from the beginning and make/control everything. What drove me to knitwear? I'm crazy, that's what.
Tell me a little bit about your history within MN, and how you have ties to London. What's the story there?
I grew up in white middle-class suburban Minnesota on a dead-end street located between a military arsenal and a highway, where good people did bad things behind closed doors. And raked leaves. As a continual social outcast that never understood or related to my age group and was a target for pschological and physical assault throughout middle and high school, I pursued high achievement in academics, athletics and music as my cliched ticket out. And it worked. I left MN at eighteen years old and have lived out of state for the vast majority of the past ten years. I have many good friends here, and love the beauty and charm of MN summer, but do not feel a part of this place, nor anywhere else.
However, I have since returned, and am creating my own place now on my own terms. My move to London was the most unexpected change that I never could have predicted. In January 2005 I was about to move to Brazil for three months on grant for advanced Portuguese language acquisition and public service projects, and so I wrapped things up stateside by taking slides of my current work to update my portfolio before the trip. On a total joking whim I sent off a set of slides and application to St. Martins, honestly believing I didn't have a chance in hell of getting in. Two months later while still in Brazil I get an email notification that I had been accepted to the acclaimed fashion program, which shocked me mostly because I had literally forgotten that I had 'applied!' So I returned to MN for a summer working 13-hour shifts at two different mall jobs, and in the fall headed off to London for the next four years. I now collaborate with many photographers, stylists, performers and designer friends whom I met while living and working there.
What's your experience w the MN fashion scene?
I'm thankful that there is an enthusiastic and returning audience that very much wants to visually consume fashion, even if their understanding and tastes do not always align with the designs on the runway. So many young creative people leave MN for college or right afterwards seeking better opportunity in the major metropoli, there is a unfortunate outflux of engaged and knowledgeable creators. The bottom line is that the Midwest, and even the US, do not cultivate and are not renowned for exceptional, intelligent fashion design, and it will be this way for a very long time.
Who inspires you most on a day-to-day basis and also in your design work?
My life is not separate from my design work, they are one and the same. The inspiring people in my life and work are the secret sentimental characters from my past, present and hopefully future that continually parade in my mind and dreams. The lost loves. The mysterious train passenger from afar. The dinner companion that I never met again. The passerby whose smile I was too nervous to return. The world I create in my head is much more inspiring than anything I encounter in 'real' life.
What is the craziest piece you ever designed?
Well, this would be a tie between a hugely oversized pair of underwear made from extremely stiff, scratchy metallic ribbon for a photoshoot that never happened, and a six-foot-wide scissor-shaped 'bow' headpiece for a UK national design competition, which was made from over 10,000 rows of machine knitting and stuffed with foam board. It placed third and I hated everything about it:
How is your own personality reflected in your knitwear?
I think my knitwear is quite the opposite of my personality actually. The image I create is quite sexy, very fashionable, exclusive, and too cool for school. I have never been anywhere near too cool for school, thank god for that. I think I'm quite frumpy and basic. I like a lot of really tacky obvious things, and I'm very accessible and open. It's my dark side that I'm dressing up.
Do you do knitwear for summer too? What does that look like?
Admittedly my work is better suited for colder weather. I do make many intricate, summer-appropriate jersey pieces that feature innovation in pattern, proportion, silhouette and detailing as much as my more involved knit pieces do. Expect to see more jersey pieces in upcoming spring shows!
What is the most stand-out lesson you've learned as a designer?
This is a good question. While at St. Martins, a group of us fashion students were invited to attend an informal presentation and conversation with famed fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro. There we were, 30 of us sitting classroom-style in a small room with this iconic designer with a 50+ year outstanding global career. Before the question-and-answer session, he says this, "Listen. I'm not here to be the big designer and you the little students. I don't have the power to make you anything or anybody. We are here to share and learn, I'm here to learn from you as much as you're hear to learn from me." In that moment I had full realization that I am the sole determiner of my fate. There is no ultimate approval, award, recognition, job offer, etc, that will officially signify my status or success as a designer or creative. No amount of desperate clawing (and indeed it is desperate) to the 'big names' or 'big companies' can get me what I want in life --only I can achieve what I want, with my own work. I have never given a damn about celebrity or hype, and this meeting affirmed even more the worthlessness of the celebrity mirage.
What do you do when you're not doing things related to fashion?
To be honest, it's on my mind in some way nearly 100% of the time. But...I make a near daily pilgrammage to my local coffee house to indulge in delicious treats, expansive thinking and to make friendly chit-chat with the servers. I worry, dream, panic, replay in my head scenes from my life, pet cute puppies of strangers on the street, pick at my skin, read any printed material that I come across, browse antiquey junk at markets, and admire the greener grass on the opposite side of the street.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself where I was five years ago, and where I am today: inspired and enthusiastic to create objects of beauty and moments of joy, regretting my perceived mistakes and secretly ecstatic over my accomplishments, continually paralyzed by insecurity while simultaneously taking bold steps in daring directions, being caught off guard by a moving life lesson in the most unexpected place at the most mundane of times, and preferring fun over work.
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