Christian Kimber is the newest designer in the No Man store. I spoke with him about his design philosophy and how he got where he is today.
David Isle: How did you first get involved with design?
Christian Kimber: I wanted to study design but didn’t have the confidence after school and actually the best thing for me was to be pushed into business. When I was at school and university I painted architecture, then the painting turned to sketching and watercolours of what I loved, clothing and footwear. For about two years I was just painting shoes for fun at home to relax, and the wonderful lady in my life pushed me to make my passion for footwear and clothing actually my life. I took night school a little bit to try to learn more, footwear pattern making etc but mostly I am untrained, like some of my idols in this industry.
DI: Pocket squares and casual footwear are kind of an interesting combination to start a brand with, since they’re rarely worn together. Is that on purpose or it just turned out that way?
It makes complete sense to me. I love clothing, all genres. I have the foundation of working in classical menswear but I have always loved sneakers and casual clothing. I guess, living in Australia, I have been interested in a casual lifestyle a little more and my vision evolved from living in London. Even if you just love the classics you can’t wear a suit everyday. I live in a wider chinos, a linen shirt or polo, perhaps a washed unlined shirt jacket and sneakers, or a blazer and a pocket square - I work from a small studio until we open our first location.
I am interested in this blend of Menswear and Streetwear and Workwear too, this blurred lined between clothing genres. Everything I create for Christian Kimber has a meaning - a reason to be a certain colour and a story behind it, so my sketches from my travels printed onto squares make sense with a casual footwear line created from a surf beach. I do not want to be put into a box.
An interesting point would be that someone understands classical menswear should want his casual footwear game to be of the same artisinal nature. My sneakers are handmade in Florence. I inject the same quality to the sneakers and thoughtfulness to the materials and details, the patterns handmade too.
DI: Who or what have been your main stylistic influences?
As a young man my father influenced me, but as an adult I am inspired by friends and how they put things together. I have been working with Antonio Ciongoli from Eidos at lot recently, a chap that can wear anything and look cool. Hiroki Nakamura is the bomb too.
DI: What have been the biggest non-clothing influences on your aesthetic?
A lot of what I do is based on travel and architecture at the moment. Living in Melbourne, I go surfing - badly surfing - whenever I can, and the more casual lifestyle perhaps has influenced my thinking as a designer and my mindset. I love the idea of casual dressing in an elegant way, and coming from a foundation of classical menswear really makes my stuff quite interesting as most casual designers are only influenced by streetwear. My brand is born in social media, so the good thing is our clients can join us on the journey as we evolve.
DI: Australia doesn’t really have an international reputation for stylishness. What’s the scene like there for someone interested in design?
Melbourne itself is a stylish city although a small one and without an reputation for style. It has been voted the world’s most liveable city for the last 5 years. Its style goes beyond just clothing. The food, art, architecture and genral life is wonderful. Melbourne is my base, but I travel a lot and I am from a very stylish city. When I started this I wanted to get men into better shoes as a goal in Australia and the mens fashion scene is growing here. Everyday I sell shoes to clients in countries all over the world, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, LA, Canada etc, so my little collections are quite international, which is humbling.
DI: Is it harder to break into the international market from Australia? I know you travel quite a bit to the trade shows at Pitti and in New York.
It is hard to break into an international market from anywhere. If I was still living in London I would still have the same problem of constant travel but a lot more competitors, although directly we do not have one as we create all of our kit just for us. The flight is not so bad, it is one of my favourite times as I don’t have emails so I can just sketch or watch bad movies that I could not convince my Mrs to come and see. There is a perception that Australia is just so far away, but so is Japan from New York. I think the flight is the same. I am creating products for an international man with meaningful inspiration. Really, through social media I am able to share my designs. I don’t feel like I tried to break into the international markets. There was no strategy. I am just passionate about producing something unique.
DI: Was there a particular moment when you realized you could actually make your own brand happen? Or did it always seem inevitable to you?
I decided to do it when I was in London. It has only happened as I have worked really hard on it. I try to rise at 6am and finish at 1am some nights. It’s a passion but I have also worked to the bone to get to where we are now, which is still launch mode. When in London I was finding it hard to get work as I was not a trained designer. I can sketch ok and my technical drawings are good, but I had no experience in design, just buying and retail. My boss at the time told me seriously I would never be a designer, especially shoe design or clothing, but this really started a fire in me, that I would do it myself, study myself and get there myself. I did some pattern making night courses while working full time and now work closely with artisans bring my vision for the footwear to life. I just decided one day I would do it myself and nothing could do it and nothing was going to hold me back.
DI: What’s been the thing that has surprised you the most since you started designing and selling your own brand?
Perhaps the kindness and reaction from friends and clients around the world. My pockets squares are essentially my little drawings so for me to release them is like releasing a part of me, and for people to like them has been incredible and humbling. I do everything myself, design, invoicing. It’s a learning curve I am still learning everyday. Working with Antonio at Eidos was a great thing to happen and really I have learned a lot through the process, and really helped what I am trying to do.
I am constantly suprised that anyone likes my ideas or sketches, and humbled. I could not be more stoked to work with No Man, seriously though - I look at the site every week and to be on a list of brands next to my idols…dope.