KAIMIN is the eponymous fashion label of South Korean-born Kaimin. Soft and hard, transparent and light-reflecting, ballet and BDSM, shibari and tulle — the designer/ artist/ actor/ visual- and film director utilises fashion as an instrument to examine juxtaposed ideas. Together with graphic artist Jason Ebeyer, KAIMIN collaborated on a series of highly stylised computer-generated 3D videos inspired by the ancient Japanese erotic art, Shunga.
There is a distinct badass attitude in your designs, were you a rebellious teenager?
As a kid, I was pretty shy and quiet rather than rebellious and often didn’t feel like I quite fit in. Asian societies in general and South Korea in particular are historically homogeneous and there is this overpowering behavioral similarity – culture similarity, generation similarity. Deviation from the norm is rare and is almost frowned upon, although things are changing now. I always felt the need to be different and to not adhere to some social barometer, which I couldn’t relate to. I think this shaped my aesthetic and fueled my curiosity.
Your work is about balancing yin and yang. How do you choose two opposites, and how do you find a harmonious balance?
Very rarely do I purposefully seek out contradictions, most of the time these things come together naturally. I get inspired by all sorts of stuff and, when I try to incorporate something that caught my eye, often the elements that work well on their own clash when applied together. So I experiment and try to harmonize these unlikely parings of colors, textures, shapes, and concepts. When I see similar things I kind of know what’s going to happen when you put them together so it’s not always exciting, but when I see something different I like the tension and the lure of the unknown – makes going with the flow fun and sometimes very rewarding. Regarding balance, there is no formula, it just arrives when I feel comfortable with the end product so it’s pretty personal and subjective.
The BDSM influences are visible in each of your collections. What is it specifically about Japanese erotica that peaks your interest?
Growing up, anything related to sexuality was very much taboo and I was always curious about it. My family has some Japanese roots so when I was exposed to erotic folk tale art I thought it was beautiful. Specifically, Japanese Shunga has much complexity and explores various relationships unrestricted by social norms, which is why I’ve titled this modern CGI interpretation “Unbound Identity”. I’m infatuated with sexuality as a whole and, no matter the culture in question, I just think it’s beautiful when human beings are engulfed by primal emotion and animalistic instinct – it completely transcends spoken language.
How do you navigate walking the fine line between challenging standards while empowering women, and playing into stereotypes of fetishisation?
I’m most interested in different personalities rather than gender specifics and strive for my pieces to have a strong emotional and inspiriting effect on the wearer, be it a girl or a boy. In the same way, I pay little attention to the stereotypical gender roles in fetishist relationships and only embrace the overall aesthetic and the supercharged sensuality. I firmly believe that the capacity to be a dominant force is determined solely by the person’s inner strength – again, irrespective of gender – and, of course, men can be just as submissive as women. Unbound Identity further explores this principle with the female character claiming dominion over men, other women, and even mythical creatures!
You said you want to build an inclusive creative empire. Do you think your retail prices allow for inclusivity?
Social and economic inclusivity on all levels is very important as I feel everyone deserves a voice, and if such self-expression is amplified by my designs then I’ve done my job. All of my garments are made right here in Manhattan to a very high quality standard and many of my pieces are cut in rare, innovative materials and include intricate handwork. So the craftsmanship and limited volume production certainly play a role. With that said, I do make many items that adhere to my design and high quality philosophy but which are more accessible from an economic standpoint and address appetites of the more stylistically risk-averse. In fact, I’m making a real push to ensure the signature KAIMIN ruckus is within reach for more people so stay tuned for cool new things to come!
Developing skill sets in multiple different areas is becoming the norm for many young creatives today. How does polymathism affect fashion?
I really like where things are headed on this front. There are so many cross-functional innovators out there and fashion definitely benefits from this, becoming more interesting and multifaceted. It’s moving beyond just garments and is more about the persona and the platform. Technology has been a huge driver and people’s unprecedented ability to communicate who they are has opened up new frontiers. My artistic background is fairly unconventional for a clothing designer so I may be biased but I think having a varied perspective is highly desirable.
How did you start collaborating with Jason Ebeyer?
The KAIMIN brand is thoroughly intertwined with digital communication and we laud and lean heavily on technology in general so at some point we thought what if we transplant our aesthetic into the virtual realm – we wanted to make something cool that really distilled the KAIMIN essence. We have known about Jason’s work for a while and really like it, so I just asked if he’d like to do something with KAIMIN. I think our two visions work so well together and he came up with a beautiful interpretation of Shunga motifs that are candid and a little playful, which I love!
Peek KAIMIN SS18 collection below
What is the essence of the Kaimin wearer?
Self-confidence is paramount. It’s ageless, genderless, and all-encompassing. It’s such an alluring human trait and it draws you in even more when displayed through an extravagant outfit. Sometimes my clothes can be a bit intimidating and the last thing you’d want is for the garment to be wearing you!
Music by Gavin Rayna Russom