20 August 2008

An Interview with Katherine Kwei

This post is a little tardy as I put it together before I went on my ridiculously long vacation, but a while back when I visited the design museum to check out Tim Walker's stuff I quickly popped into one of the galleries that had a range of Chinese inspired designs/fashions/furniture. And in the fashion section in between Lu Lu Cheung and Vivienne Tam was a synopsis on the lovely Katherine Kwei. Her bags were on tow but such the beauty of her bags that I simply had to get in touch with her to ask her more about her design ideas/influences and successful design brand. Kwei was lovely as can be following up with me as soon as I asked for images etc. Thanks Katherine for being such a delight and gracing us with such beautiful bags!

Fashion Ambition: When and why did you start your collection Katherine Kwei?
Katherine Kwei: WE OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED IN SEPTEMBER 2006 WITH S/S07 COLLECTION.

FA: Where do you find inspiration?
KK: IN JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING - FOR THE FOOD MARKETS IN CHINATOWN TO THE MEDITERRENEAN COASTLINE OF ITALY.


Donna tote in teal water snake
FA: What was your childhood like?
KK: VERY BLESSED WITH LOVING PARENTS AND FAMILY.

FA:Describe the relationship you had with your grandmother and how that affected you as a designer?
KK:MY GRANDMOTHER WAS THE KINDEST AND CUTEST WOMAN I HAVE EVER KNOWN. SHE DID NOT SPEAK ENGLISH WELL BUT WE HAVE A CLOSE BOND. SHE TAUGHT ME HOW TO FOLD DUMPLINGS, I WATCHED HER MAKE KNOTTED JEWELERY AND SHE LOVED TO WATCH ME EAT. WE TOOK WALKS TOGETHER AND WE LOVED TO JUST BE IN EACH OTHER'S COMPANY. I MISS HER DEARLY AND THINK ABOUT HER MORE AND MORE OFTEN AS I GROW OLDER AND WISH THAT SHE WAS WITH ME TO SHARE ALL THE AMAZING EXPERIENCES I AM GOING THROUGH. AS A DESIGNER MY GRANDMOTHER TAUGHT ME THAT HARD WORK, HONEST AND INTEGRITY ARE IMPORTANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL - NOT MONETARILY BUT FULFILLED PERSONALLY.

FA:What was it like working with the Loius Vuitton brand for 14 years? What did you learn ?
KK:I WORKED FOR LV FOR 4 YEARS. MY EXPERIENCE WAS FANTASTIC AND I AM STILL FRIENDS WITH ALL MY OLD TEAM MEMBERS. WE DID AMAZING EVENTS AND REALLY PIONEERED AWARENESS OF THE BRAND IN CHINA AND ASIAN MARKETS (EX-JAPAN). I LEARNED THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAND IDENTITY AND KEEPING STAYING TRUE TO YOUR ROOTS. I LEARNED TO BE INNOVATIVE AND MODERN, BUT ALSO TO RESPECT CRAFTSMANSHIP AND TO CREATE THE BEST PRODUCTS YOU CAN MAKE.

FA: How was your experience as a London design student?
KK: GREAT! I LOVED BEING A STUDENT AGAIN. IT WAS VERY CHALLENGING AND DEFINITELY HELPED ME PREPARE TO RUN MY OWN BUSINESS.

FA: As a design student of the University of the Arts myself I found design school very challenging, especially the Crits, how did you handle it ?
KK: THE CRITS WERE DEFINITELY THOUGH - BUT THEY WERE ALWAYS CONSTRUCTIVE AND IT'S IMPORTANT TO HEAR FEEDBACK FROM YOUR PEERS.

Teresa hobo in black water snake

FA: You've had work stints with Zac Posen and Susannah Hunter, what was it like working for them?
KK:SUSANNAH AND ZAC WERE BOTH GREAT EXPERIENCES. SUSANNAH MADE ALL OF HER BAGS HERSELF SO THE JOB WAS VERY HANDS ON, CUTTING FLOWERS, PLACING FLOWERS, CUTTING, ETC... FOR ZAC, BECAUSE THE COMPANY IS MUCH BIGGER, THERE WAS A WIDER VARIETY OF JOBS TO DO FROM SOURCING MATERIALS, TO LOOKING AT FACTORIES, TO DESIGNING THEIR SS06 HANDBAG LINE, TO DRAWING SPECS, ETC...

FA:Describe the design process you go through.
KK:WE ALWAYS START WITH FINDING INTERESTING MATERIALS. THEN WE LOOK AT DIFFERENT SOURCES OF INSPIRATION. FOR SS09 WE LOOKED AT CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE ART IN THE FORM OF BASKETS.

FA:You are known for your signature knot inspired weave, how did that come about?
KK:I CREATED THE KNOT WEAVE AT LCF WHILE I WAS GETTING MY MASTER'S DEGREE :-) I WAS DOING A PROJECT ON JOINING OBJECTS AND FIRS GOT MY INSPIRATION FROM AN EXHIBITION I SAW AT THE GUGGENHEIM IN NY CALLED 'HELPING HANDS' BY MR. BUHL. FROM THERE I LOOKED AT CHINESE KNOTS, CELTIC KNOTS, NAUTICAL KNOTS, ETC... THAT IS HOW I CREATED MY SIGNATURE WEAVE, WHERE I JOINED TWO PANELS THAT LOOKED AS IF THEY ENDLESS, WRAPPED AROUND A BASE SO THAT ONE CANNOT TELL WHERE SOMETHING STARTED OR STOPPED, WITH HIDDEN SEAMS.
Edna Shopper in brown leather w/ patent leather trim

FA:You have lived in so many cities, do you have a favorite?
KK:HONG KONG AND NEW YORK ARE MY FAVORITE CITIES. I AM LUCKY TO HAVE TWO DYNAMIC CITIES TO CALL MY HOME.

FA:What is your favorite part of being a designer?
KK:THE FACT THAT I AM ABLE TO CREATE AND EXPRESS MYSELF THROUGH AN OBJECT THAT IS BOTH BEAUTIFUL BUT ALSO FUNCTIONAL. I AM SO LUCKY TO HAVE MY OWN COMPANY AND I AM VERY APPRECIATE OF THIS OPPORTUNITY I HAVE.

FA:A 24 hour typical day in the life of Katherine would consist of...
KK:UNFORTUNATELY MOST OF MY DAY IS SPENT WORKING ON ACCOUNTS, TALKING WITH MY PR AGENCY AND SALES AGENCY, AND WORKING ON MARKETING STRATEGIES. MY PRODUCTION TEAM IN HK ALSO KEEPS ME BUSY FOLLOWING UP ON SAMPLES AND PRODUCTION ISSUES. BUT I DO GET TO VISIT LEATHER AGENTS, SOURCE FOR NEW MATERIALS AND VISIT GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS ON THE WEEKENDS.

FA:What is your fave handbag from your collections?
KK:THE DONNA SATCHEL IS MY FAVORITE BAG RIGHT NOW BUT FOR HOLIDAY/RESORT 08/09 I LOVE THE BELA AND ALIXI LINE!

FA: Where are your bags stocked?
KK:MY WEBSITE HAS THE COMPLETE LIST.

FAAnd finally, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
KK:STILL DOING THIS :-)

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