Siki Im isn’t the kind of designer who’s going to try to please an audience—he’s too busy working on figuring out who he is first. Every season is about his issues, struggles, questions and discoveries, his state of life and the dynamics of the good and bad within. “Embracing the fears and the insecurities, then being transparent and dealing with it and not trying to overshadow it—for me that’s beautiful,” he says, “and all my collections are about that.” Im isn’t worried about whether you love it or hate it. His only concern is being genuine and honest with his own process.
Originally from Cologne, Germany, he left immediately after high school on scholarship to study architecture at the University of Oxford. After his three-year program, Im moved to New York to put his studies to use and a few years into designing, he met David Vandewal, then VP of Design at Club Monaco. Vandewal offered him a job assisting him, and then in 2005, they both left to work at Karl Lagerfeld with fellow New York-based Ohne Titel designers Alexa Adams and Flora Gill. “It was a dream team,” Im says. Vandewal is proof in his career that you never know how the people you meet will influence your path. Now a brilliant stylist, Vandewal styles every one of Im’s collections.
The Siki Im brand launched in 2009 during New York Fashion Week and originally started out as a pursuit for the perfect modern blazer. Im’s love for tailoring and structure left him feeling unsatisfied by fits from other brands. Now he doesn’t see many people wearing blazers anymore, and his own needs have evolved, too. Facing his fears and exploring his own identity have became his main sources of motivation. “Fashion, I guess, is deeper than I thought,” Im reflects. “I never thought I’d find all these answers through it.”
For him, it’s become a pursuit for honesty: “It’s important to know who your customer is, but it’s more important to know who you are. What is your goal, what is your language? And then everything else will come. If you don’t, then it will only be good at the beginning. People will smell it if it’s not genuine.”
The Siki Im Spring/Summer 2016 collection, “Youth Museum,” was a paradox that made fun of Im and his memories of his youth. The contradiction lies between the notion of youth and the archaic and non-dynamic concept of a museum. Creatives are obsessed with immortality, and museums in some ways act as its symbol. Combining the nostalgia of a time that was so freeing for him with the aspirational idea of immortalizing a period is a way of dealing with his own issues, while remembering the influence of his years growing up. It was a time when he saw beauty differently than those around him, and didn’t care what others thought. Im answers to that today.
“Embracing the fears and the insecurities,
then being transparent and dealing with it
and not trying to overshadow it
—for me that’s beautiful.”
— SIKI IM
He spent his youth frustrated by mainstream culture and was naturally attracted to the abnormal. Most days were spent skateboarding, playing basketball and listening to underground music, which in Cologne at the time were somewhat unusual pastimes, so Im always felt like an outsider. Those dynamic years still influence and drive him to continually question what is mainstream, probing deeper than the immediate answers that surface. Growing up in the age before cell phones, computers and the rise of instantly encyclopedic technology, Im had to actively seek out and make an effort to find those resolutions.
“It’s important to think back to your youth, not to be punk or to be counterculture on purpose, but to ask a lot of questions of yourself and the people around you,” he says. “The people that find out what their fears are, are the people that will ask those types of questions of themselves. Art should be a process of learning and asking questions and expressing that evolution. In order to be honest you have to first find the truth and then express it, but it’s a lifelong journey.”
Im isn’t driven by the idea of what you might think is beautiful, but he acknowledges that there is a visual balance. “I don’t think that beauty is as abstract as we think it is; I do think there is a universal language,” Im says, conceding that even though he isn’t driven to please others, he still looks to balance this language. “Everything that I do is hopefully beautiful.”
He does, though, want his work to translate truly to the fashion-forward market. “I love New York because everyone can be more open and free than anywhere else to express their individuality. Also because no one gives a shit,” he says. “People are so stylish on the street, and you don’t see it on the runway. Everything’s the same, you can’t distinguish. I find that sad. What’s the point to create?”
Im is going to continue looking for his own answers—he knows that the evolution of finding them is what keeps his work important. “What I think is beautiful is when someone is honest,” he says. “You can feel it. You smell it if it’s honest, it’s so beautiful.”