Dress Like De Kooning: Fashion Designer Adam Kimmel on Finding Inspiration in 1960s Rebel Artists

Dress Like De Kooning: Fashion Designer Adam Kimmel on Finding Inspiration in 1960s Rebel Artists
Fashion designer Adam Kimmel
(Justin Lin)

Art and Carhartt have been a partof fashion designer Adam Kimmel's life from a young age. A native New Yorker, Kimmel, who recently collaborated with the workwear brand on a collection for Barneys, wore a Carhartt barn jacket as a kid. During his undergraduate years at New York University, Kimmel studied art history. So it makes sense that Kimmel, now in his early thirties, decided to recruit Beat artist George Herms and the predominantly male collaborative art group Paintallica to create a site-specific installation for the Adam Kimmel X Carhartt collection for the Barneys New York store windows.

Kimmel is among the new contingent of up-and-coming American menswear designers to watch. And it's no wonder why, withfriends like artists Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley craving his effortlessly cool, yet rugged designs.

The Herms and Paintallica pairing for Barneys is just the latest art-related project for Kimmel, who often draws upon art as inspiration for his collections and presentations. ARTINFO questioned Kimmel on his relationship with art, how Tony Shafrazi helped broker the project, and whether or not he partook in the chainsawing and beer swigging of the installation's creation.

How did the collaboration comeabout with Beat artist George Herms?

I've known George for about five years now and first collaborated with him on a menswear collection inspiredaround the 1960s West Coast art collective Semina. George has continued to be a big inspiration for me, in both my work and in my life. I was honored that such a reclusive and important master artist accepted the task of creating work live at a party for a Barneys window.

What about Paintallica?

I've also collaborated with Dan Attoe in the past, this time for a collection that used elements of his Northwestern free-riding, painterly lifestyle. Dan is the founder the art group Paintallica, and the Carhartt collection seemed like a great opportunity tohave them involved. They were wizards with chainsaws and, as with George, they have tremendous heart and soul. They're also guys' guys and entertaining as all hell.

Is it true that Tony Shafrazi had a role in producing the collaboration? Tell me about it.

About five years ago I went to Tony and asked him how I could meet some of the Semina artists that I admired. Tony and George have been friends for ages through Tony's best friend, the late Dennis Hopper. So he sent me out to California to meet George at his home in Topanga canyon and that's how it all began. Tony was instrumental.

This collaboration follows your highly visible work with George Condo last season in which you brought the painter's gruesome characters to life last year. Why is working with artists such a key part of your vision?

Certain artists'  lifestyles genuinely inspire me. When I think of the ultimate man's man, I think ofJackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and a few others. In very different, but intertwined ways, I love George Condo's lifestyle the way I love George Herms's lifestyle. I think it comes down to a raw, understated elegance that artists sometimes embody the best. Also I've always designed clothes for my contemporaries. When I tell a story with a collection an artist can sometimes help tell that story in a way that offers a model or a set of visual references or even just a strong sensibility. It elevates the story's relevance to the here and now, which is important to me.

Did you direct the artists inany way, or do you let them have free reign?

There is no formula. Each collaboration is very different, just as each collection is very different.

I know that art of the Beat Generation, the Abstract Expressionist movement, the 1960s L.A. scene has been big inspiration in your work. Why is that?

The work of those groups and periods has a lyricism that I find inspiring. I try to bring a similar feeling and personality to my clothes.

Did your graduate studies in architecture influence your fashion design aesthetic at all?

Yes, a little bit. Architecture has a similar language as clothing it's all about material and proportions.

What did Carhartt think about your concept for the Barneys windows?

They were excited about it. Yeah I think chainsaws and Schlitz beer was a no-brainer for them.

Did you partake in any of thechainsawing or beer swigging that took place during the installation'screation?

I was just a bystander. They start chainsawing at 7 p.m. and worked until 7 a.m. That is their usual process.

Where did you source thematerials for the installation?

We brought the logs down from upstate New York.

Do you think art and fashion have been coming together more and more in recent years?

Yes. It's all over the place, invading each other's realms in very interesting and innovative ways.

How do you think that the two fields are related?

Art has more of a timeless quality. Clothes wither and perish while art is hung and preserved. Art is treated withmuch more care and reverence, and, of course, critics write about art — and thusan audience witnesses art in a far different way.

Do you have any other artist collaborations planned in the future?


What artists would you like to work with in an ideal world?

I'm not sure I believe in ideal worlds. I'll come up with the story for my next collection and then figure out if there are any artists that can help express it.