Behind the Avant-Garde Lies a True Rocker.
Photographs courtesy of Kelly Brinn
Probably one of my most favorite and inspiring interviews was with Chicago based apparel designer Kelly Brinn. Lately, I have been on the hunt for independent, edgy lines with a rocker chic element. I’ve kind of missed how simple and extreme edge have gotten a bit overstated and lost in mass brands. It makes you miss the days when you had a hole in your pantyhose and subsequently ripped holes in other places to compensate.
Launching her brand late in 2011, Kelly brings a rocker edge with a touch of simplicity… a feel and a look I think we have all been waiting for. As a conscious vegetarian, Kelly creates an edgy brand which utilizes faux fur and faux leather using eco-conscious materials in a fashion forward, sexy way. By doing so, she has put Kelly Brinn Designs on the map as a preferred and affordable brand.
What I like about Kelly is that she doesn’t have the fairtale designer story backed-up by family wealth or celebrity status. Her journey is very real filled with twists, turns and a change of addresses on more than one occasion. Underneath the brand lies a tremendous amount of good spirited energy, simplicity and a very ‘go with a flow’ approach with the creative process. Kelly shows us that sometimes, some of the best masterpieces are not born from sketches, photoshop and years of planning. Sometimes, they just happen…
FC: Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. The first time I saw your work was at ‘Green Fest.’ I was amazed at the way you magnificently pulled together leather looks, fur, studs, fringes and sexy tailoring in a chic sophisticated way. I was really inspired by your design techniques and delicate styles. Tell me more about how you branched out as an independent designer.
KB: I first kind of thought of design as a career in highschool. Before that, I was a ballet dancer and thought I would be a ballerina. I got out of dance because it was too much and started getting interesed in other things. I love drawing, art, clothes, fashion magazines and thought that maybe this is a career path for me. I went to school for design but dropped out and worked for a few years and lived in L.A. I would go back and take classes and drop out and did end up working for small clothing lines and loved it. I thought this was what I wanted to do. I ended up coming back to Chicago. If I wanted to be serious about it, I realized that I should finish my degree and finished school. After school, I felt ready to start my own business. With the economy so bad, there is not a lot of jobs for in-house designers so you work for yourself and struggle and grow until you get to where you want.
As a company and brand just under a year old, Kelly was selected as a semi-finalist for the Raw Awards based in Chicago.
FC: When did you launch Kelly Brinn Designs and what prompted you to move towards the vegan leather way and more of an edgier look?
KB: I started working on it last fall 2011. It was my first official collection which was meant for fall 2012. I did a capsule selection of jackets and shorts. Fall 2012 is already on sale early and am working on more pieces. I may do men’s pieces. I love working independently because I can make decisions on what I want to design. I’m vegetarian and almost vegan. And although my line is almost vegan but not quite, I love hemp silk blends in my collection. It is very important to me to use eco-friendly materials and processes wherever I can. I have strong beliefs about animal rights. I don’t want to sacrifice style, so I want the clothing line to be fashion forward and ethical.
FC: Did you have any concerns about branching to a line that was eco-friendly in scope of other brands/competition?
KB: Not really. I think if anything, I have an edge over non eco-friendly fur and leather brands. The stuff I do is stuff similar to stuff in magazines. The difference is that I offer an alternative for those who want this avant-garde look yet, don’t want real fur and leather. Also for people who want sustainable fabrics.
FC: Tell me more about the eco-friendly processes that surround your business.
KB: Materials. When I go to source fabrics, I always ask, “What do you have that is sustainable and eco friendly?” And then, I just find the best of what is out there to throw into the mix. I feel more designers would use these if they were made into a fashion forward look. I think fabric manufacturers are starting to catch onto it. I do what I want to do design wise but always think about what material could I use that would help lessesn the carbon footprint.
FC: Do you feel that it is possible to effectively bring a second life to recycled products?
KB: Yes, I am totally for recycled fabrics. I keep asking fabric manufacturers that I want to get polyester made from recycled materials. I think all fabric should be made in the future this way. It should just be just the way we all work to care for the planet. We have to recycle everything we can.
“I love fringe!”
FC: What different segments is your line broken into? I assume your brand is geared towards women?
KB: Yes…women. I try to do a little well-rounded pieces. My collections are small. I am fairly new and I do key pieces that a woman can mix into her wardrobe. I want to slowly incorporate menswear pieces too like a couple jackets. It’s evolving as I go. The first collection was dressy/casual and ready -to-wear pieces. The next collection, I will do a bit more variety. Probably, one gown and ready-to-wear pieces and a little bit of menswear. Also, for my capsule collection, I did some jackets on the side for fun. I will always incorporate these as a side capsule because everyone likes it.
FC: I’m very interested in your design techniques. I noticed a lot of play on fringes, short and long hems and leather looks.
KB: I love fringe!
This design has a story OR not!
FC: Can you share with us the insight behind your fall collection launched late last year? I saw a lot of black, oranges, golds and deep purple.
KB: I try to get a color story that works together but gets a variety. I use a lot of black and wanted to collect a mood for the collection. The hemp silk fabric came in beautiful deep purple, autumn and black. I used mahogany and faux leather for the pants and it all tied together beautifully. I think when I am designing, my mood comes from the fabric.
FC: So the fabric sets the tone?
KB: Yes, I see where I can go with the fabric. I have a hard time designing without it in front of me because it’s challenging for me to find what direction I want to take. Maybe other designers do it differently by sketching it in their head and gathering materials later.
FC: One of my favorite dresses is from your fall line. It was a black studded dress with a heart shape design. Can you tell me the scoop behind this dress?
KB: That’s funny. There really was no story or inspiration behind it. It was an older design for my first fashion show last fall before the collection was completed. I pulled a student dress to complete it. When I was in college, there was a student fashion show and I only had one piece ready for show but wanted to show a mini collection. I used the dress to add more variety.
FC: Wow, I really fell in love that dress. It is very feminine. In addition to that sweetheart dress, there is an eagle design created by studs to complete a leather look. How did this piece came together?
KB: The source of the studded eagle jacket comes from an inspiration back home. I grew up in a smaller town where there were a lot of Harley Davidsons. I came from the land of mullets. I always wanted to leave my town. There was a woman who I ended up seeing there and she was wearing a studded eagle jean jacket with a banner on the back. Well, it was kinda of white trash but since then, I always wanted to do one so I did but, I made it fashion forward.
FC: Fantastic!! Did you ever call her to tell her?
KB: Haha, no. She was a random person.
FC: What are your sources of inspiration?
KB: I really like the rock and roll chick look and it has an influential part of my work. I lived in L.A. for a long time and it is more of a rock and roll feel and that kind of stuck with me. And, I love fashion history and look at what people wore in medieval times. Let’s see what else? Art museums, old paintings and I feel like stuff just comes to me randomly. I will be jogging or on an elliptical and will get an amazing idea. When you open your mind, stuff just comes to you.
“I want people to see my clothing and feel inspired.”
FC: How would you define your brand? Let’s talk particularly about the fur.
KB: I wanted it to be edgy and rocker looking but, more conscious and animal rights driven. I love leather and fur coats and could not make stuff like that. I wanted to offer an alternative to the real thing but have it look just as fashionable. I did a couple coats for the fall 2012 collection and I’ve gotten really good response to it. I feel it’s just me. I found the fabrics and I love it. I love the old 60′s Anita Pallenberg in their fur coats. I wanted to do something like that but more modern.
FC:What are the coats made of?
KB: Acrylic faux fur and polyurethane. It’s made so amazing. I did the research and it is more eco- friendly. It takes 20-60 times more energy to create a real fur coat than using these materials.
FC: Who are your style icons?
KB: I would say Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenburg, and Nico. The 60′s was such an exciting time in fashion, when things really changed. I love Blondie, and my modern icons are Allison Mossheart of the Kills, and Kate Moss.
FC: Such a fascination for rockers and music. Do you play?
KB: I don’t play anything. I hung out with musicians in L.A. but sadly, I can’t play.
FC: What is your take on trendsetting and forecasting to the creative process?
KB: Forecasting is actually a very small part of my process. I have been blessed for natural gift of liking and doing what becomes popular. But I do some trend research and light forecasting. I just like to do what I want to do.
FC: In viewing women and style, who would you say your design and line would appeal most to?
KB: A lot of young girls are into art and music especially in their 20′s and 30′s. I am still trying to find my demographic and reach them in selling. I am selling on my site and my Etsy page. It’s a way to start off. I have avoided going through a middleman because I want to keep the designs unique, and keep the prices lower. I hope that girls will look for something unique. I can’t make stuff too cheap. To create an ethical clothing line is costly, but it’s unique.
FC: So do you wear your designs mostly?
KB: I wear all my clothes in part to test things out. I want to make sure the fabric is durable. But yes, I design for myself and other people!
FC: What’s in your closet?
KB: OMG, I am looking at it and it’s a disaster packed with vintage dresses. I collect if I see interesting vintage pieces. My clothes that I have designed are in my closet in addition to some Forever 21 and Topshop…you name it!
Kelly was kind enough to allow us to take a behind the scenes look at her closet and wear some of her favorite styles and brands!
Below: “This is me with my cat and messy closet, wearing a vintage dress from Trash Can Annie in Iowa. Someone apparently got married in that dress.”
Above: “These are some of my favorite shoes, a mix of vintage and new.”
Above & Below: “I am wearing the ‘Festival Jacket’ from my collection with my favorite vintage dress purchased 7 years ago at Squaresville in L.A. I still wear it! On my feet, Jeffrey Campbell boots.”
Below: “I am wearing the ‘Moto’ jacket from my collection with tiger pants from Kokorokoko Vintage in Chicago.”
Below: “I am wearing a ‘Vintage Gunne Sax’ dress from Trash Can Annie in Iowa.”
Below: “The jacket and shorts are from my collection with a Topshop t-shirt and Jeffrey Campbell boots.”
KB: At the moment, my festival jacket that I made for my fall 2012 collection. It is a cropped jacket with fringe. It popped into my head and I had to make it. It is a statement piece and you can wear the collar different ways. You can throw it on with a white t-shirt and jeans or a flower dress to make your outfit more interesting.
FC: What would be your personal style out the door?
KB: Kind of rocker/hippie. I will wear crazy stuff like tigers! I love it and I like leopard prints. In cooler weather, I will wear jeans t-shirts and studded boots. In summer, I will wear shorts, tank tops and boots.
FC: How to see your business evolving?
KB: I am really working to get my name out and find my demographic working so that they will find me. I want to start selling a lot of pieces and hopefully it can turn into something more and I can make a comfortable and creative living.
FC: Any plans to relocate or expand?
KB: I am enjoying Chicago. I am friends with other designers and we are more supportive and helpful to eachother. Life is hard enough. I do miss L.A. and I would be open moving. I am just waiting to see what happens. I would be open to NYC or L.A.
FC: How do you want people to envision your brand?
KB: I want people to see my clothing and feel inspired. It is still evolving. I want people to like and incorporate it and like the fact that it is animal and eco- friendly and fashion forward.
FC: Thank you so much Kelly for sharing a behind the scenes look at your work! It is inspiring to hear your personal story and success.
KB: Thank you FC!
Visit Kelly Brinn designs @ http://www.kellybrinn.com/
© 2012 Fashioncouch.com. All Rights Reserved.