At the start of this year, tongues in the fashion press were all busy wrapping themselves around one name: Kiko Kostadinov. The little-known CSM graduate had previously garnered some attention with a small capsule collection for London boutique Machine A, but it wasn’t until his next project that the media began singing his praises from every available rooftop.
Having been commissioned by über-stylist Stephen Mann to rework a couple of classic Stüssy pieces into bespoke items for a photoshoot in Clash Magazine, the folk at influential London distributor Gimme5 asked him to do a full collection. Faced with the daunting prospect of an MA at Central St. Martins to fund, Kiko saw a unique opportunity to pay the bills, and agreed to produce a small run of handmade, one-of-a-kind items for very limited sale via SHOWstudio — all created using the same deconstructed, cut’n’sew technique. They sold out in moments.
Now, several months later, he’s back with round two. And, just as before, every piece in the collection is hand-made and 100% unique. Yet there’s another similarity with the inaugural release, too — every item in this collection is a means to an end, and after this latest instalment is over that end will have been reached. For as impressive, inventive and highly coveted as Kiko’s work with Stüssy is, ultimately it’s paving the way for his own eponymous fashion label, and this is the last time it will ever happen.
We tapped him up via email to ask a few questions about his past, present and impending future…
You interned with Aitor Throup at the age of 18. What sort of effect did working with him have on you?
Imagine being around him and in that studio for a year. Mind blown. “Question everything” and “don’t trust anyone” were the key things I learned. I got a similar feeling being on the MA at CSM; it’s definitely a way of thinking that I hope will sink into my brain and help me go on my own.
You’ve said “Everything Goes Back To Stüssy.” What’s your first memory of the brand and how much of a part did it play in your formative years?
I didn’t grow up with Stüssy. My first proper memory and experience of getting inside the brand was through being at the Gimme5 office and around Stephen (Mann) and Michael (Koppelman). Stüssy’s legacy spreads through so many decades, with countless friendly and honest people involved. Somehow there is a part of Stüssy in anything cool that happened in the past 35 years, anywhere on Earth. Kim Jones used to work at Gimme5, and there was a large influence on his MA collection from OG Stüssy Tribe images. Nicola Formichetti’s first advert was Stüssy. This is just a tiny bit on the fashion side of the brand…
2015 has been a big year for Stüssy — 35 years in the business. As someone at the (relative) start of their career, what do you think you can learn from them about longevity?
My own career plans are in a different direction to Stüssy and how their business both started and was maintained. Really, the thing to learn will be about upholding that honesty to yourself and what you believe in. Find what you want to say and stick to it. Also, find those people who are close to you and understand your process, and not those who are there “just because.”
What is it about Stüssy, in your eyes, that allows the brand to straddle the worlds of high fashion and streetwear so effectively? Do you personally see a distinction in those categories?
Stüssy has been highly present in high fashion (or whatever you call those streetstyle photos!) because of this project. And yes, there is a huge distinction between streetwear and high fashion. One is pretty much based on flat designs; the other involves cutting skills and knowledge of garment construction and practice. People who are doing T-shirts and ripped denim jackets that think they are part of “high fashion” are fucking delusional.
The capsule collection at the start of this year was for a very specific purpose, and it was extremely limited in numbers. What convinced you to follow that up with a second round? Will these be produced in greater numbers?
I just managed to pay off the final part of the fees with this commission, so the purpose remained the same. There are only 40 pieces across hoodies, T-shirts, bags, trousers and hats. This time it’s more completed in terms of styles.
What’s your creative process when designing each piece? Do you sketch out ideas beforehand, or do you simply have an entire room stacked full of Stüssy staples that you dive into and experiment with?
This time there was bit of drawing beforehand, but just to oversee the number of pieces and make sure it was all balanced and made sense. Then I requested the basic logo items from LA and just made it all. The process is mainly based on gut instinct decisions with a bit of back and forth, just trying to keep myself excited with each piece and question if I would like to wear them myself.
What’s the average work time involved in creating each piece? Are they still all produced by your own hand?
I created my own dye/bleach/paint process during the summer, which involves working with wooden frames and heavy-duty staple guns. By wrapping the pieces around the frame and stapling through them, I then apply different treatment to the fabric. It’s something very personal to me, as it’s a technique that I used while working with my father building recording studios.
Each garment takes around 1-2 days to produce. That’s two washes, approximately 500 staples in and then taking them all out… Also, there are few hand-stitched pieces that took around 12-13 hours each. So, yeah, I made all of them!
Your deconstructed approach has had its share of imitators since the spotlight fell on your first collaboration earlier this year. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery or is it simply a lack of imagination?
I think it’s funny. No single person can claim ownership over deconstructed garments, so I never said it was “my idea.” I just try to push the things I do into a place that feels sincere and new in my head. I did basic cut-and-sew three years ago just for fun, not to sell at Dover Street. Now it’s selling at Dover Street and I can proudly say that the product and idea are on a level to be sold with the best.
Now that you’re closing the Stüssy chapter of your career, when can we expect your own first collection to arrive? And what can we expect to see from it?
If I’m selected for the CSM MA runway show you will see it on February 19 (2016) as part of London Fashion Week. That is my focus right now, creating a strong MA collection that I can potentially develop into something afterwards. You won’t see any graphics or hoodies for a bit.
Your Instagram feed reflects a very nuanced range of visual inspiration, particularly in the clothing of strangers on the street around you. Do these observations find their way into your designs? What is it about the people of London you find so engaging?
I do reference things I see on a daily basis. I don’t really research anymore. I have consumed a huge amount of images in the past 7 – 8 years, so I don’t find excitement flicking through old copies of i-D or Vogue. Also, I don’t like looking at vintage garments unless they are personal to me. I’m more interested in contemporary life — workwear clothes, art and music. We don’t really move forward by redesigning the same MA-1 or M65 jacket; unless you’re applying a new process to it, it’s pointless.
You’ve said before that “the main consumer just wants to be part of the cult.” Do you ever worry that your work could become just that — the cult?
Yeah, thats why we’re stopping the (Stüssy) collaboration. It was never meant to be on this level. It’s a great feeling when so many people are interested in the product, but I need to make sure what I want to say with my clothes is always clear, then I won’t be worried.
Finally, if, as Franz Kafka once said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” what would you say the role of fashion is?
It’s just clothes, but I use it to do things; I use it to say things without saying. It’s so broad right now, everyone sees it differently and uses it differently. Some for creativity, some to join a certain group, some to hide their insecurities…
Kiko Kostadinov’s second collaboration with Stüssy goes on sale Today (Friday November 6) exclusively in-store at Dover Street Market Ginza, Tokyo.
- Images: Them magazine 2015 WINTER FASHION ISSUE NO.8
- Photography: Robi Rodriguez
- Styling: Stephen Mann