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There’s not much KidSuper founder Colm Dillane hasn’t done over the past four years since his brand/madhouse creative studio has blown up. He’s gone cliff-diving with Steve Aoki off the coast of Spain, collaborated with PUMA on his very own football boot (which was worn in the Premier League by Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin), gotten away with posting nudes to Instagram, and hung out with the who’s who of fashion, music, and sports at KidSuper HQ in Brooklyn.
Unsurprisingly, Dillane is not one to sit still and rest on his laurels. Fresh off winning the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize for his brand, Dillane has already set his sights on the next precipice to scale. “I’m goofy. I’m out of the box, I’m joking 99.9 percent of the time. But the work was always really good,” he says. “Now I want to figure out how to be respected in the art world, too.”
Best known for his fun, light-hearted, ready-to-wear brand, one might even say KidSuper’s art career started before his fashion career did – when he was a kid, painting with his mom, whom he lovingly describes as a failed-artist-turned-teacher. “I never saw what I did with my mom as being an artist,” he explains. “It was just a hobby or fun thing I did. It was like doing puzzles or playing chess.”
Art, alongside his other big love soccer, informed most of Dillane’s childhood. “As a kid, I played soccer, went to school, and did art. Always those three things,” he says. Pretty soon, aspirations developed to actually be taken seriously as an artist and to present and sell his pieces. “But when you’re 14 or 15, no one is going to buy your paintings or invite you to shows. But what will sell in NYC is a $15 T-shirt.” And thus, KidSuper was born, a brand that literally transformed Dillane’s NYU dorm room into a shop (which ultimately got him kicked out of campus housing).
While KidSuper the brand is skyrocketing, Colm Dillane the artist has quietly put in his 10,000 hours. Every piece of clothing features artwork by the man himself. He has hosted his own gallery shows, and even sold a painting in South Korea. “Dazed hit me up, they were doing an art show in Korea. I told them no clothing, but they can have some of my paintings,” he laughs. “They asked me how much I wanted to charge, and I had no fucking idea, right? So I said $20,000. And then they emailed me to say one sold.”
Dillane is aware that his success in fashion can serve as a springboard for his career in the art world. It’s laid the blueprint for how to get where he wants to go. “We’re only talking because of clothing,” he admits. “But as I became more and more successful on the clothing front, I was actually just pushing my art. Since I'm now validated as an artistic designer, I’m going to push into the art world, because that was always my initial objective.”
The fashion industry is no easy nut to crack. Talent, hard work, connections, and luck all play a big part in whether a fledgling designer or brand will either make it or break it. The same goes for the art world. Dillane is acutely aware of the similarities in both worlds, and the need for progression on his part.
“I think in our day and age, the creative director must constantly be evolving and elevating and becoming more of a genius for that brand to be successful,” Dillane says. “Take Virgil Abloh as the perfect example. He consistently evolved and elevated his craft and fine-tuned his genius, resulting in Off-White™’s explosion of popularity and the game-changing Louis Vuitton call-up.”
That’s exactly what Dillane hopes to do to bust through the doors of the art world, just as he’s taken the fashion industry by storm.
“I need to establish myself as an artist, so that it’s really hard to say, ‘Fuck Colm.’ Because people hate success, right?” he laughs. “I think as I become more successful as an actual fine artist, it will actually benefit the clothing brand.”
It’s hard to argue with Dillane’s logic, as the late Abloh did exactly that. Every single one of his non-fashion projects served to expand his portfolio, which, in turn, increased and benefited Off-White™ and (almost impossibly) Louis Vuitton’s profiles.
The style of art Dillane is actually doing and into himself is a little surprising, considering his goofy, almost always-joking nature. If you spent a few hours with the designer, you’d most likely think he was into more cartoonish or airy art. His work his still whimsical, but it’s a lot darker and more serious than one would first expect.
“Some are a little dark, because art tends to be a little darker. I like paintings that visually inspire me,” he explains. “It's not so much about the meaning. Of course, it's cool when works have meaning, but I also think cool paintings don't always need a museum director being like, this is ‘why this is great.’”
Dillane has already hosted his own exhibitions and shows. They’re mostly impromptu and planned independent of any gallery, which he says is because it’s too difficult and expensive to get featured by gallerists when you’re starting out. But he’s got a game plan of concrete next steps to establish himself in the art world.
“I need to develop consistency in dropping new paintings. I’ve now reached a level in fashion where I can hit up my peers in the community, and just chat shop. That took me 10 years,” he says. “I don’t even know who to hit up in art, and I want to get there in that world as well. I have the respect of the fashion world. It took time to build up, and it’ll take time to build up in the art world. I don’t think it’ll be overnight.”
If fashion is anything to go by, Dillane will be a household name in the art world before we know it. “Hey, man, I’m already a famous painter in Korea,” he says with a wry smile.
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