By Juleana Enright
Voltage designer Kevin Kramp just may be the King Midas of knitwear. His eye-popping designs -- designs that l'etoile fashion editor Jahna Peloquin once called “Missoni meets Henrik Vibskov” -- combine unique structures with luxurious fibers, intricate jacquard patterns and colorful textiles. A designer never content with the classic elements of apparel, Kramp’s Voltage collection features a stunning use of yarns, angora, cotton blends and textured silks in refreshingly new shapes. His innovative style and unique techniques have caught the attention of the global fashion industry, garnering him attention in international publications and trend reports. Some of his pieces can even be found in select boutiques in London and Paris! Très chic! Kevin's long list of fashion triumphs range from being a recipient of a Jerome Grant for Fiber Artists to winning a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to Brazil as well as being a finalist in the L’Oreal Professionnel: 100 Years of Colour competition and the NuLook t-shirt design contest -- just to name a mere few. Color us majorly impressed! Having returned to Minnesota after studying design in New York and London, Kramp recently took up residence as the Men’s Knitwear and Collection Designer for the upscale label St. Croix Collections. We can’t wait to see what tricks he has up his Italian yarn-knitted sleeves for Voltage!
We recently caught up with the eloquent designer who dished on his “outed” addiction to knitwear, a whirlwind of future projects, and how – like a blind Cinderella – he accidentally met the Creative Director for Dior.
l'étoile: Your conceptual menswear collection is really pushing the envelope when it comes to silhouettes, shape, even texture. It's almost MC Hammer meets nomad warrior. Where did the inspiration for this style come from? And how did you end up focusing on knitwear?
Kevin: My God what doesn't inspire me?...The natural world. Men. Food. Colour. The possibility of creating that one brief moment when someone is taken aback by beauty.
I wouldn’t say that I design within a particular ‘style’. I simply pursue beauty in my life, draw a great deal, canvas a wide range of yarns and materials that in and of themselves must speak beauty; imagine an inspiring character for these beautiful things, create something beautiful for him, and then choose the best ideas from this process. I do not research or reference pre-existing fashions, garments or trends for my own designs. Clothing is the most uninspiring source of inspiration for more clothing. Not to mention hideously unoriginal.
Despite the overwhelmingly obvious signs throughout my life, it took me years to realize that I was keen on knitting…I always run to the knit sections first in retail stores, I react most strongly to knitwear in designer collections, I am by nature a crafty materials-oriented designer, I relax when I touch yarn and knittable materials, and I unsuccessfully attempted to join local knit groups or programs for years. I began at St. Martins in the Menswear program and with every project continuously designed knit pieces, without having a clue of how to construct them. With much, much trepidation and secret panic, I switched over to the Knitwear course, and it has been the most fabulous move of my career thus far. I am a knitwear designer, there is absolutely no question. I can’t stop the ideas, they compete for room in my head at all times. Ask me to design a woven tailored jacket, and I can sit for two hours without any ideas and utterly devoid of inspiration. Ask me to design a new knit piece, and I ideate brilliantly for endless hours!
l'étoile: You've brushed shoulders with some pretty exciting creatives in both the fashion and art world including Victoria Beckham, the folks at Paper Magazine, fashion designer Clare Tough and Italian artist, Massimo Pulini. What has been your most memorable experience in the global fashion industry?
Kevin: Ok, I’ll indulge you with a gossipy story on this one. Once upon a time I was very young, very fresh, and very naive in New York City while at Paper Magazine, and one night I attended an exclusive and chic fashion party. At one point in the evening, my friend happened to introduce me to an average-looking, shy, and excruciatingly awkward French man who had been taking very obvious interest in me all night from across the room. We shook hands, spoke a bit, he had nothing to say and so I was uninspired, and we went off on our separate ways.
Literally, LITERALLY, the next morning I am riding the subway to work, and a fellow rider across from me is reading the New York Times Art/Style section. And there, on the back page, is a huge portrait photo of the French man I had met the night before, absolutely staring at me in quiet victory from across the subway carriage. It was Hedi Slimane, the newly appointed Creative Director for Dior Homme. The biggest thing in men’s fashion in years and years and years and years. And I had had utterly no idea.
Fast forward nearly ten years later in London, just last year, and I am walking down an empty little side street in soho. And of all people, and places, and moments, who happens to turn the corner walking towards me in the opposite direction, but Hedi. I stopped, said hello and we shook hands again after a decade. He was still very shy, this time more harried and stressed. Naturally he had no memory whatsoever of who I was. And as I am no longer as fresh and beautiful as I once was, he had absolutely no lingering interest. He walked away very quickly.
I think that lost moment ten years ago was that one random, lucky chance I had at being the Belle of the Ball for a moment in New York, of being whisked off to see crazy things and big people and showy events, all for having done nothing. But I didn’t recognize it, and I didn’t take it, I wasn’t ready. Of course, it all would have been very superficial and not lasted, but it would have changed my life in very significant ways. I do not necessarily regret what could have been…but I do simply wonder.
l'étoile: What's on your plate after Voltage? And can you dish a bit on your new job?
Kevin: I have some great projects coming up! The Jerome Foundation, via the MN Textile Center, has awarded me a fiber artist project grant to realize and present a Fall 2010 Men’s Knitwear collection. This will include a six-week static exhibition at the Textile Center gallery in September-October and possibly a live presentation. New features on my work are coming out this spring in international fashion publications in France, Italy, New York and Canada. As always, some performers and musicians wear my garments to one-off events in London and New York, so keep your eye out for a singing man swimming in colourful knit, haha!
My job is great though I don’t know how dishy it is! I am Men’s Knitwear and Collection Designer for St. Croix Collections, a luxury men’s sportswear label now celebrating its 50th year this year. I am one of three designers responsible for the design of all knitwear, wovens, trousers and denim, leathers and outerwear, and hosiery. We travel six weeks a year to Paris, Milan, New York and Las Vegas for trade shows and trend research. The most cuckoo exciting part of it is that we are a total vertical operation, meaning all manufacture takes place on site, including all industrial knitting, laundry and finishing, cutting, sewing, piecing and hand finishing, inspection, shipping, and of course design. I went through our entire production process myself to construct one knitwear garment! I can design a knit stitch idea on paper in the morning, and that afternoon the actual sample is on my desk for review. It’s bonkers! And fantastic.
l'étoile: What advice do you have for up-and-coming local designers to advance in the fashion community and get noticed?
Kevin: Live your life. Pursue joy. Smile and say hello to the beautiful stranger in the street who is too shy to do so first. There is no ‘will be given’; there is only ‘take.’ Be visionary, inventive, brave and intelligent. Above all, focus your energies on very, very good work. Abundant enthusiasm for mediocre work is unacceptable, idiotic, and far too common.
l'étoile: Describe the kind of film you could see your Voltage collection featured in. What kind of motif do you think it would embody?
Kevin: An epic and operatic nihilist tragedy as envisioned by the love child of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini and Tim Burton, with extraordinarily beautiful men of all ages trudging through the monotonous and discouraging landscape of life.
To visit Kevin Kramp's website click HERE
For more info on Voltage: Fashion Amplified and to purchase tickets to the April 16th event at First Avenue click HERE