Astonish Magazine introduces Ken Chen:
A Q&A with Kristen Irby, Men’s Fashion Editor of ASTONISH Magazine
In order to kick off Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and to celebrate the re-launch of our digital community ASTONISH WORLD, ASTONISH MAGAZINE hosted an event at NYC’s exclusive ‘Work in Progress’ featuring San Francisco-based designer Ken Chen. “I’m not so good at interviews,” said Ken Chen, Creative Director and head designer of Ken Chen International, after he finished the last model fitting for his first presentation in New York City. I met with Chen and his equally well-coiffed business partner James Sekelsky, Owner of Ken Chen International, in the living room of their suite at the Hotel New Yorker. Chen, currently enrolled at the Academy of Art, and Sekelsky, a former visual merchandiser, have their hearts set on astounding revelers with their Fall/Winter 2012 collection.
Ken: I wrote some notes. Is it okay if I look at my notes?
Kristen: You wrote notes? (I’m secretly and openly laughing inside) Sure! You look like a baby! How old are you?
Ken: I’m 22…
Kristen: And you’re showing in NYC and haven’t even finished school yet?
Kristen: What is the inspiration behind your Fall/Winter 2012 collection?
Ken: I get inspiration from everything… little things and small things. I can’t pick just one…
Kristen: Specifically, what are some of the big or small things that inspired this collection in particular?
Ken: It’s hard to say because so many things really do inspire me. I’m inspired by this interview…
Kristen: Are you going to design a piece called ‘The Kristen?’
Kristen: I think you should.
James: We’re taking notes!
Kristen: Take my measurements.
Ken: For this collection, I’m really focusing on the balance between humans and nature. Humans and nature coexist. Nature is apart of our daily lives so why don’t we just wear what’s already in our lives? That’s my main inspiration.
Kristen: What should I expect to see on the runway?
Ken: On the runway you’ll definitely see lots of structured jackets with lots of geometric shapes. You’ll also see lots of draping, flowing, organic garments that show the nature side of my inspiration.
Kristen: How did you become interested in fashion?
Chen: Two years ago one of my best friends was looking into getting into interior design school. He didn’t want to go to the interview by himself so he asked me to go with him. I said, ‘why not.’ So, I went! Somehow when we got there, there were two advisors assigned to us. I was taken into one room and he was taken into another. The advisor and I started talking about fashion. I told the adviser that I wasn’t really interested in applying but I decided to just learn more about the school…
Kristen: And that was at the Academy of Art?
Ken: No, it was at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising). So, we were just talking and she told me she thought I would be a really good fashion design major or merchandiser. She asked me to design 12 looks for her. After that I was accepted.
Kristen: Prior to that fateful meeting did you have any experience or training in fashion illustration?
Ken: No, not at all. The designs were just in my head and I drew them out. She basically gave me images of bodies and I drew clothes over them. It was pretty easy!
Kristen: But you chose not to attend FIDM even after you were accepted…
Ken: No, I actually did attend FIDM. I was really excited. I told my parents how excited I was and they said if I really wanted to go there I could but I was studying biology and economics at the University of San Francisco. I took a semester off to go to FIDM to study color and illustration.
Kristen: Did you make an agreement with your parents that you would go back to the University of San Francisco after a year at FIDM?
Ken: Yes, I did…
Kristen: How did you tell mommy and daddy that you weren’t going back to USF?
Ken: They told me not to give up and that if I was going to do it I could not give up. They thought I was going through a phase but I told them no. They wouldn’t let me leave USF unless I proved to them how serious I was about being a fashion designer.
Kristen: And how did you go about doing that?
Ken: I started interning with a small company and they later asked me to be their menswear designer?
Kristen: What company were you interning with?
Ken: I’d rather not say but it was an interesting experience… I was telling my parents how I was doing but it still wasn’t enough for them so I entered the Arts of Fashion master class. I did my first show in San Francisco. After my show, I started a company with James and they slowly began to approve my decision to study fashion with the agreement that I would graduate with my bachelor’s degree. I left the University of San Francisco in 2010 to go to FIDM. In 2011 I enrolled in the Academy of Art. It’s complicated! (Laughter)
Kristen: How did the two of you meet?
James: We met through mutual friends in November of 2009. We didn’t realize that we’d be involved in this type of relationship when we met but it just kind of unraveled. We’ve put everything into this project!
Kristen: James, were you always interested in founding your own company?
James: I was always interested in in fashion and architecture and with Ken I was inspired to keep pushing forward in that way. He has helped me grow. We work very well together! When Ken came to me about the possibility of working together, I knew right away that he was genuine in his talent and in the way people accept him for who he is. I was very impressed with the reaction he received from other people.
Kristen: There must be a great deal of trust between the two of you.
James: We pretty much trust one another more than we trust anyone else right now.
Kristen: What types of expectations do you have in regards to the outcome of your presentation here?
Ken: Definitely reach out to a different part of the nation, different customers and expand our fan base. What we really hope for is that buyers like us. Hopefully, we’ll get some orders.
James: By the nature of it being our first show in New York, it’s very introductory. We’re introducing our personalities and our brand. We want to make a very good impression in terms of the show. We want to make it something amazing!
Kristen: Are you nervous or excited?
Kristen: How did your partnership with ASTONISH Magazine come about?
James: We met members of ASTONISH Magazine while doing a show with Phuong My in San Francisco. That show was especially successful for us and set the pace for our growth in the following year.
Kristen: What events actually led to ASTONISH presenting you for the launch of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week?
James: After that particular fashion show and after the San Francisco Fashion Awards (Ken Chen received a nomination for best emerging designer) I think we really caught their attention. We were approached to work with ASTONISH for Issue 2, which we later learned would be distributed in several different countries. ASTONISH Magazine is an amazing publication with beautiful images so we knew we wanted to work with them. In one of our early meetings with ASTONISH we mentioned that we were working on putting together our own show in San Francisco. They were interested in the idea and suggested that we show in New York. They offered to help find resources for us to make it happen.
Kristen: Most young designers begin designing with a clear focus on either men’s or women’s wear but you design both. Why?
Ken: When I first got into fashion I was basically designing collections that I could wear for myself but a lot of women were asking me to design women’s wear. So, I tried! Somehow, I found that I am more fluent in women’s wear. So I switched over to women’s wear. When I applied to the Academy of Art I chose women’s wear.
Kristen: If you had to make a choice between one and the other, which would you design?
Ken: Women’s wear but I don’t think I could ever make that choice.
Kristen: How would you characterize your design aesthetic?
Ken: Our aesthetic is definitely powerful but feminine for women’s wear with accentuated waistlines and structured jackets. For our menswear it’s more tailored. The fit is the most important component of our menswear garments.
James: It’s a very tailored look, keeping a classic look of elegance with ideas of luxury.
Kristen: I love the blazer on your website with the bejeweled detail on the shoulders. Will you be showing that?
Kristen: Did you bring it with you?
Kristen: DAMN! Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Ken: We definitely have some big plans for ourselves. I hope we have our own house in ten years. We’d also like to open stores throughout in the world in all of the major fashion markets. We’re looking to open a store in San Francisco this year. We’d like to open stores in New York, London, Paris and I’m from Taiwan so, of course, we’d have to have a store in Taipei.
Event Recap: ASTONISH MAGAZINE NY Fashion Week Event Featuring Designer Ken Chen.
Event Recap: ASTONISH MAGAZINE New York Fashion Week Event Featuring Designer Ken Chen