"Trash Talk" is VICE's new interview series where we invade the homes and studios of some of New York's most talented artists and creatives, dig through their garbage, and then ask them questions about it.
Siki Im is among the sharpest people I know. Despite him being one of New York's preeminent fashion designers, our conversations rarely dovetail into #menswear. When I visited him at his gorgeous showroom in Lower Manhattan earlier this spring, he wanted to chop it up about all kinds of heady stuff, like bionic technology, Donald Trump's uncanny ability to master modern forms of communication, and what it means to have integrity. When we did finally get to fashion, it was philosophical and reflective.
"We all have our insecurities," he told me, speaking of the desire some designers have to be internet famous rather than innovative. "And we want to have our millions of likes. But the millions of likes come with a lot of shit, too. So I'm OK with only having like three likes, you know?"
The cool thing about Siki is that all of those big concepts he has swirling around in his head actually find their way into his collections, impregnating his garments with more than just immaculate tailoring—they are bursting with brilliant ideas.
His most recent presentation for fall/winter 2017 took inspiration from Ponyboy Curtis, the misfit Greaser from Susan Eloise Hinton's coming-of-age novel_ The Outsiders_. "That novel was a really good starting point for embracing different cultures," he said. "I feel like it's very important for me to have an opinion and to be inclusive." You can see this ethos play out in the collection's designs, which defy gender binaries and bring Eastern and Western cultures together. Among the looks were kimono silhouettes, cowboy accessories like bolo ties and rodeo belts, and an elegant silk slip dress that looks better on boys than girls.
What's great about Siki is that no matter how hard he thinks about his work, he never comes off as pretentious. "I think clothes are meant to be worn," he said to me, dismissing my idea that what he does is art. His emphasis on utility probably has to do with his background as an architect and his deep love for egalitarian forms of expression like graffiti and punk rock. The German native who was born to Korean parents has never forgotten his roots. "I grew up poor, you know? I do make expensive clothes, but I alway say it has to be worn. It has to be functional."
I love Siki's designs and his ideas, so I figured I'd probably love his trash, too. Which I is why I asked the designer if I could rummage through his refuse. He kindly humored me. The garbage was a great gateway into the mind of the man behind some of the coolest, most exciting designs coming out of New York City. Here's what I saw.
"I always doodle on things like receipts. If you look at the embroidery from the Ponyboy collection, it is coming from the feeling of these doodles. It's not hard to turn a crazy doodle into an embroidery because they embroider with computers now. Basically, I draw it by hand, and then it is vectorized with software, and the it goes into a machine.
"For all of my designs, I always start with sketches. Then I do the sketches in the computer that are more like flats and are very technical. Not every designer does it that way, but for me, it's helpful to think about the construction, like where to put seams. It probably comes from my training as an architect. In college, I was a part of the last class who drew by hand with the big wooden board and used a ruler and technical pens. Eventually, I fell in love with Photoshop. But knowing both approaches helps a lot."
Star Wars Cards
"Everyone knows I'm a huge nerd, so someone got me these cards. I don't know where they come from. Maybe they are from chewing gum or something like that? But I'm a huge Star Wars fan—even the new ones are exciting to me. One magazine said that one of our old looks—a poncho or a kimono—was like something a Jedi would wear. I loved that because it has always been a big influence on me."
Junk Food Snacks
"All of these snacks remind me of growing up in Germany. The shrimp chips are some heavenly stuff. You used to have to go to K-Town to get them here in the States. But Korean shit is so trendy these days, you can get them at delis. That little plastic carton thing is from this yogurt drink my grandma would give me. You can get those here in K-Town for $3. I had that one earlier today. And the candy thing is this amazing chocolate from Germany that is hard and spongy and milky. My mom would pack it in my lunchbox. It's kind of impossible to find here because it has to be refrigerated, unlike a lot of American chocolates."
"I realize that as you get older, you've got to be aware of what you take in—especially in the States. New York is pretty good about healthy stuff. But Europe, where I grew up, has a lot more options. The good stuff here is pricey. I got that strawberry almond drink at the World Trade Center at this hub between the subway. It was like $7.
"I'm trying to eat better, so I can perform better. I've been running a lot more and exercising. All the running I've been doing helped me realize that there are only a few major players in the performance athletics space. So I started Siki Im/Cross, a running line for enhancing activity. Eventually, we're gonna grow it into a bigger collection. As a designer, I love it because it's a different way of creating: You have to think about anatomy, the climate... It's more like designing a car. Plus, you have to work with all these different factories to manufacture those kind of clothes. It's very different."
"This package had a bunch of new fabrics I was working with. I won this thing where I worked with this Italian fabric organization named Milano Unica, it's like a unique group that promotes and supports manufacturing with Italian fabrics. They invited me last month to Milan, and I had the chance to go to all these mills. Some mills date back to the 17th century, which is awesome. We already use like, 90 percent Italian fabrics anyway, so it was amazing. They just shipped us a huge load of fabric swatches for the next collection."
"I read three to four different newspapers everyday, from the New York Times to Germany's Spiegel. I think it's very important, and I enjoy it. I'm not sure if it impacts my work, but it's something that I'm interested in. Especially now, with the healthcare bill and all that stuff. On the other hand, I feel like there's so much more going on in the world that I don't have the energy to dig deeper. Everything seems shady; it's like House of Cards."
"I travel a lot. I go to Italy, where we produce, like almost every month. It's really cool. One of the factories we use is near Florence, and it feels like the future with its new technology and its smart and competent people. Before producing in Italy, we used to make stuff in New York, where manufacturing is still really archaic. In terms of production, New York is sending faxes while the rest of the world is sending emails. The factory I use in Italy has beautiful fabrics, and they can do complex laser cutting. Florence is great, too, just for the culture. I love their simple sandwiches. I'd go to Europe just for the food."
"A while ago, I started a second line called Den Im. A big part of it was because I love a good T-shirt. But to put a T-shirt in the main line, we'd have to charge like $400. That is something I just cannot do. I wanted to make $100 T-shirts, which are still expensive, but I feel a bit more reasonable. With Den Im, I made things like pants that are simpler in the cut, and the fabric came out at a more affordable price. But it was challenging doing both lines separately, because unlike bigger brands, I'm designing everything myself. So I've merged the two labels together into: Siki Im/Den Im. We're getting new tags that say that. So that is why this old Siki Im tag was in the trash."
Letter from the Louvre
"This letter is amazing. It's from the Louvre's Musée des Arts Décoratifs. They have an exhibition going on right now, and they featured one of my looks from spring 2013 in it. It's from the collection based on Sufi dancers and Georgia O'Keeffe, where we put guys in long skirts. I haven't been there yet. It doesn't close until April 23, so I'm going try to get over there and see it. My work is with stuff by Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, Damir Doma...
"It's weird though cause I don't consider my clothes to be artsy. Like, if you look at Alexander McQueen or couture, that's definitely a form of art. But the clothes I make are meant to be functional. For example, I would never make certain garments without pockets. I will say, it's an honor to be featured with those other guys."
_Keep up with Siki Im on Instagram. _
See more photos by Eric Helgas.
_Follow Wilbert L. Cooper on Twitter. _