Menswear Designer Siki Im Predicts the End of the High Fashion Streetwear Trend
Illustration by Amanda Lanzone

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Menswear Designer Siki Im Predicts the End of the High Fashion Streetwear Trend

Maybe it's time to give those drop crotch sweatpants at rest?
July 16, 2015, 4:00am

Menswear designer Siki Im was fascinated by the culture of New York City long before he set foot in the five boroughs. The fashion designer grew up in Germany listening to legendary New York artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, John Coltrane, and Quicksand. Unfortunately, when he finally moved to the city that never sleeps, it was in the midst of its post-9/11 malaise. But he still found inspiration in its fertile streetwear culture, then led by brands like Alife and the slim, rocker-inspired looks of Cloak. His interest in fashion was also spurned by the diverse people he met in the city's outer boroughs, who wore styles that mixed their immigrant roots with American culture—taxi drivers who paired Middle Eastern tunics with bomber jackets.

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Siki may have come to America to work as an architect, but it wasn't long before the avid reader of magazines like the Face and i-D (which is now owned by VICE) put down the drafting tools and started designing clothes. First, he worked for the iconic New York brand Helmut Lang (after Lang's departure), then for fashion vampire Karl Lagerfeld. When he finally struck out on his own with his debut collection for spring/summer 2010, he immediately captured the awe of the menswear world. Inspired by the Lord of the Flies, the first Siki Im collection signified a break with longstanding traditions in American menswear. Formal, meticulously-tailored blazers were styled without shirts. Long white tunic shirts were worn like dresses. And different interpretations of skirts and hyper-extended vests were presented as style staples. The collection established the fashion vocabulary of the designer's eponymous brand that has since gone on to launch a successful diffusion line, Den Im, and be a finalist for the CFDA Woolmark Prize and a winner of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Fashion.

On Friday, the designer will be showing his latest crop of designs as part of the first ever New York Fashion Week: Men's. It's hard to say what he's got up his sleeve this time around considering his previous collections are based on everything from the Arab Spring to the crash of Wall Street. To get you stoked for the newest looks coming from Siki, I sat down the him in a quaint coffee shop in downtown Manhattan to get his take on the future of New York City menswear and his insight into the way disparate aspects of our culture impact the shit we wear. Here's what he had to say.

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Siki Im's Spring/Summer 2015 Collection

VICE: What direction do you think New York menswear is going in right now?
Siki Im: I grew up being into graffiti skateboarding, so I come from street. I started doing street style in my third season in a designer context, with sweatpants and drop-crotch joggers and baggy T-shirts. Now we see that street luxury thing is huge. You see kids wearing less jeans and more of that stuff, which is cool. But all trends come and go. So that street thing is going to die soon. Before it was Americana and now it's this. What comes afterwards is hopefully what I'm going to show in my next collection.

Can you give us a hint as to where you think it's moving?
Trends always start the same way. It's a pyramid. They start from the top and get bigger, wider. Now it's gotten too big and mainstream. The top will wear something else that's going to be less street, but definitely more casual.

So we're not going to reverse and start wearing tailored suits and stuff?
No, not in my opinion. You're going to wear suits, but a different type of suit. It will be more casual. It's not going to be fully structured. Of course, you will have that for special occasions, but not in general. Look, it's the same thing with skinny pants and then big pants. Big pants and then skinny pants. We're so funny, us humans. We ebb and flow. We're never happy.

Do you think that this is the first time that men's fashion is having that kind of a cycle?
I don't think it has ever been quite like this. You could see a little bit of it before, but men have not always been so fashionable. It has changed so much in the last few years because people can see more trends. Because of that, the trends come and go even faster. You see it more clearly than before. There are more menswear magazines, more menswear products, more men's beauty products, and on the streets of America, more stylish men, which is super cool.

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So it's just a general evolution?
Look at Apple products. They taught us to be more aware and design-conscious. Mainstream music is better. TV shows are now amazing. The standard is just better. In a way, we're more cultivated and cultured because we have all the information and we can get it so easily without doing much. Now we can compare our deli coffee and the artisanal coffee and complain about it and write shitty reviews. Now everyone has their own opinion.

Do you think all this makes it easier for creative people, or is it harder?
Everyone is a creative person, a photographer, a DJ, a designer, a stylist… On one hand, it's beautiful. The world is flat. On the other hand, it's more competitive and you just have to be better. That's good because you don't want to be lazy and be stuck. It makes me more ambitious to be better and I'm still learning.

Siki Im's Fall/Winter 2014 Collection

You always have big ideas behind your work. Can you tell me what you're thinking about right now?
Social media, and how it influences us physically and socially. That's what interests me. Obviously this is maybe less important than what's going on in Afghanistan or in the Ukraine or whatever, but that's what is influencing me on a personal level.

What are your thoughts on social media?
Let's say a knife could be very violent, but it could also be very important to cut your bread. I think that's the same thing with social media. It can be helpful, but it can also control you and take over your life. I'm a little bit conservative, so it took me a while. Our Instagram just started a year ago, and the reason why I was persuaded from my team is because it's a nice thing to emotionally connect with our fans and customers and people who follow us. We put a lot of energy in our collections like research and studies and it gets lost in the shows. So I have an opportunity with Instagram to show what inspires me.

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Siki Im's Fall/Winter 2015 Collection

Talking about Instagram, I was wondering what you think about the movement in fashion towards designers being more approachable and less elite?
I think we're all human, we're all vulnerable and have insecurities. As designers, we're very insecure. That's why we design and dream and are super nerds. All of a sudden we get attention. That attention can't be more important than your creativity and your drive at what you're supposed to do in life, you vocation. That's when I think it's dangerous.

So we're having this men's fashion week. What are your thoughts on that?
It's been in talks for some time. I think it's amazing what CFDA did to not only own the calendar, but to separate women's and men's, and put men's first in the same calendar as women's. We've always [been] secondary. Women's is a bigger business, and it's more interesting and more fun. And men's was always like the little stepchild. In other cities, it's not like that.

Siki Im's band, Jvlivs/Erving

Do you think it will impact how people show or what they will show?
I hope so. I'm sure my peers will use it to be more creative and more fun. I really hope it's going to be a very strong globally competitive fashion week. So we are not a stepchild to Paris menswear or something. Paris should look up to us.

You've been so innovative in changing the silhouette and the shapes of menswear. Do you feel pressure to keep pushing that forward?
That's funny. All of the shit I do, it's not new. It's just me observing New York City—and I don't mean the Lower East Side. I mean Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island. That's the beauty of New York—not what the downtown kids wear. I just take it and use my experience growing up in Germany as an immigrant. That's where all the silhouettes come from. I realize now more designers have a similar silhouettes, which is great. So for me it's time to do something new, which means maybe doing the opposite. You know, the ebb and flow. I want to push not just the envelope, I also want to push myself. I want to see what I can learn. If I only do what makes me comfortable, then I should just live in Wisconsin or something. I'm grateful that I have the freedom to challenge myself, and to get excited for new things. That's my job. And hopefully, I can inspire other people with that.

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