BY MARC KARIMZADEH
A few things people in fashion may be surprised to learn about Siki Im: He was born and raised in Cologne and is a native German speaker; he is a guitarist and singer in a band called JVLIVS/ERVING, which prides itself on mellow and melancholic tunes; and he quite regularly attends church in downtown Manhattan. And those are just some of the facets that add up to this dynamic Renaissance man.
Born to Korean parents, Im’s interest in creative culture can be traced to his early years in Germany’s art mecca, Cologne.
“I was always really into subculture,” the menswear designer, who launched his namesake label in 2009, recalls. “In Cologne, there was graffiti, hip hop, hardcore punk, skateboarding. There was all this American subculture. This helped me get into style and design.”
That, and an early proclivity to draw, paint, photograph and write poetry. By the age of 17, he had his first photography exhibition that came with what he playfully refers to as a “little, young existential art crisis.” It prompted his wish to study architecture at the Oxford School of Architecture in England. Post-graduation, he moved to New York and worked for progressive architecture firm Archi-Tectonics—a move that ultimately led to fashion when he met stylist David Vandewal, whom he considers his mentor.
“He came from Raf Simons and Dries Van Noten and I assisted him,” Im explains of the moment that launched his fashion journey. “I first worked at Club Monaco, then at Karl Lagerfeld under Melanie Ward, and then Helmut Lang.”
Im came to fashion with a point of view that draws a distinct line to other designers who pursue a more classic approach to sportswear. He describes his aesthetic as “quiet, but strong.” Though the designer refined a goth-y streetwear sensibility in earlier collections, his impressive Spring-Summer 2016 lineup pulsed with a youthful, almost raw touch. “Classic as in timeless but also genderless” is how he put it.
Gender is such a huge word right now. I see my garments not as androgynous but as unisex. That’s a big difference. The sensibility is for everyone. It’s not about emasculating or demonizing certain genders anymore.
“Modernity,” he adds, “doesn’t care about race, religion, or sex. This freedom can hopefully give a strong and quiet sensibility. Whatever the emotion is, if they can feel what I feel, I have succeeded.”
Different cultures from Asia to the Middle East provide him with inspiration. “Vernacular cultures inspire me, as they are less contrived and more pure,” he says. “These cultures don’t even know they are stylish, which inspires me. I also don’t look at blogs for inspiration. I think New York City is so inspiring itself, especially the outer boroughs and all the beautiful cultures there. The best school for me is traveling and being respectful and open to a new culture.”
Since launching, Im has developed quite a following with this sartorial approach, and stores such as Barneys New York and Lane Crawford have embraced the collections. He has won accolades from an Ecco Domani to the Samsung Design & Fashion Fund as well as the prestigious Vilcek Prize. He was also a finalist for the 2015 International Woolmark Prize and teaches at Parsons School of Design BFA and MFA.
In addition to his namesake label, he designs Den Im, an extension line launched in 2014 with a focus on essential utilitarian clothing.
“I design the main line for the future, Den Im is more about the now,” he says. “Den Im is a little bit more dynamic, younger, more fun, in a way. With the main line, if we use lofty concepts, there is always humor to it. You can’t be too serious in this industry.”
But when it comes to his future trajectory, Im is serious.
“We are more of an interdisciplinary studio,” he says. “I do architecture. We now have almost three lines. I would love to do women’s wear and hopefully have a concept store. I want to do different things—not just clothing. I am a very curious person.”