Saturday, November 13, 2010

Designer Spotlight: Kim Schalk

Kim Schalk is at peace. The creator of the whimsical line “God Help Miss Agnes” has quietly retired her label after eight years to launch a new label simply called, Kim Schalk. But there is nothing simple about her new direction—edge is the new Kim Schalk.

Endearingly referenced as a “fierce designer” from the “fiercest” designer to grace Project Runway, Schalk has taken Christian Siriano’s words to heart and channeled them into body-con silhouettes such as her signature wrap skirt engineered for a universal fit. A piece of leather in unexpected places is an extension of her experimentation with combining fabrics akin to her God Help Miss Agnes line which featured reclaimed materials and reworked vintage.

The day we meet, the mother of three had just finished a photo shoot. “I don’t normally have this much make-up on,” she says candidly. “But it’s fun.” She could have easily built a career in modeling, but you instantly feel the presence of a fashion designer. Upon entering her modest family home in Alexandria, Virginia, a dress form showcasing a reworked dress greets you to the left – standing guard over a kitchen table that serves sketches and fabric swatches. Kim disappears for a moment to remind her children in the next room that it is “mommy time” and returns eagerly to talk about her upcoming collection. The self-taught pattern maker-turned-designer is excited to expand upon her DC-success.

MSL: When did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer?

KS: In the early 90s, I was working at Barneys New York and was doing pattern-making on the side and all of a sudden, I found myself creating pieces for some of our customers. I knew then that that is what I wanted to do.

MSL: How do you approach your design-work?

KS: The design has to meet four needs: innovation, high quality, affordably priced, and great fit. I don’t want to produce something that doesn’t meet all four elements.

MSL: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

KS: It could be a photograph or an image I’ve come across and where someone may see one think, I immediately think “there is a garment there.” Right now, I’m loving the fashion Faye Dunaway wore in her 1970 cult films and of course, Mad Men. I like to take references from the past and introduce them in a new, progressive way.

MSL: You launched your label, “God Help Miss Agnes” following the closure of your boutique store, Betty in Adams Morgan. Who is Miss Agnes?

KS: Miss Agnes is actually a metaphor. My design partner at that time suggested the name after her grandmother, who was quite the character. Tennessee born and bred, Mama Helen would say such expressions as “God Help Miss Agnes” in place of saying “Oh My God!” She evoked so much passion into her words and we are passionate about our designs.

I must admit--I’m the proud owner of several God Help Miss Agnes pieces that I bought at Nana. I love them for their innovation, but more so, their eco-factor. Do you consider yourself an eco-designer?

I do use eco-friendly materials when I can such as recycled and vintage fabrics. I am conscious about the amount of waste that is often associated with fashion design and production so I am precise in my yardage and choice of materials. One thing to note is that eco-fabrics such as hemp, bamboo, and 100% organic cotton are still very expensive and as a small-independent designer, it becomes a bottom-line issue.

You produce in the U.S., is that important to you?

KS: Yes! I produce here locally and in Los Angeles. The manufacturers are good guys and they are willing to produce in small quantities, which is huge for small-independent designers like me.

MSL: How would you describe your new line?

KS: It’s definitely cutting-edge. I’m ready to take my design work to the next level.

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