Jesse Kamm’s “Ladies of the Canyon”
I think of Jesse Kamm as my local fashion gateway drug. Back in 2007 the LA-based fashion designer approached me about having her spring/summer presentation at my then gallery Taylor De Cordoba. We hit it off immediately and I fell in love with her collection. Back then the clothes were fun and flirty – lots of dresses printed with bows and butterflies. Perfect for a cute girl in her twenties. Ten years since the line’s inception, the Jesse Kamm girl has grown up and the clothes have evolved alongside us. To commemorate her decade of design, Jesse pulled together a group of her friends, customers and collaborators (including photographer Todd Cole) to pose for a group portrait in one of LA’s canyons. I was honored to be included and decided to check in with Jesse about her LA community and life as a designer. Interview below, pics above:
HEATHER TAYLOR: Who are the girls in this photo?
JESSE KAMM: Hilary Walsh (photographer, textile designer), Louise Bonnet (artist), Kathleen Whitaker (jewelry designer), Claire Cotrell (director, owner BOOKSTAND), Bo Carney (owner Mohawk General Store), Rachel Craven (textile designer), Lauren Soloff (interior designer), Eliza Kenan (quilter, Co-founder HOPEWELL), Jennifer Pitt (makeup artist), Ingrid Sophie Schram (model, Lover of the Natural World), Heather Taylor (textile designer, writer), Kayten Schmidt (artist), Claire Oswalt (artist, co-founder HOPEWELL), Jeana Sohn (artist, photographer), Annie Costello Brown (jewelry designer), Victoria Morris (potter), Katrina Dickson (photographer), Beatrice Valenzuela (shoe designer) and Jesse Kamm (clothing designer).
HT: What was the motivation for brining everyone together?
JK: In February I was working in my studio, packing up the SS14 collection for delivery. Over the course of a few days, a lot of ladies were coming in to collect the pieces they had ordered from the collection. I was watching these beautiful women standing in front of the mirror, and I was really very moved. These are incredibly talented and successful young women. Most of them run their own companies, and many of them are able to do this while raising a family as well. I was really taken aback by how amazing the pieces looked on each and every one of them. It just hit me then and there, that after nearly a decade, I am totally and whole-heartedly in love with everything that I am making. It felt like such a great honor to be dressing these particular girls. There is something really magical that happens when you see someone you admire, admiring something that you yourself created. I wished that I could have a portrait of all of them together looking so stunning, and then it occurred to me, that I could do that.
HT: Why did you choose Todd Cole as the photographer?
JK: I met Todd eleven years ago. I was a model, and he used me for his very first fashion-test shoot. Todd has become a huge fashion photographer since that time, and does amazing work. He shoots little brands like Rodarte, Hermes, Dior, and Margiela. I would have normally asked my friends Katrina Dickson or Hilary Walsh to shoot the portrait, but I wanted them in it. It felt very fitting to use Todd, because he and I have both come so far since the day we first met, and we have each realized a part of our creativity that had not yet been accessed at the time. Having him there felt really important, like it was marking time.
HT: How do you think your collection has grown in the last ten years?
JK: I think the brand has really become a great deal more sophisticated over time. Most of that metamorphosis happened after I had my son Julien. I think who I am as a person became so much more clear, and therefore the brand’s point of view has become more clear. When I started making clothes, I was just goofing around. All of a sudden people wanted to buy what I was making but I had no formal training. I saw the opportunity and I took it, but I was learning as I went. The first 3 years were trial and error and some of the time I felt like a fraud because I did not go to RISDI or parsons. I was just the daughter of an engineer and a potter, and they happened to instill in me an understanding of shape and perspective.
I no longer have those doubts. I feel like I have put myself through undergraduate, graduate school, and am now finishing up my PHD in design. I have worked super hard on all aspect of the business for ten years, and really feel like it has brought me to a place where I can now just get into the flow. There is a theory about how when you work on something for 10,000 hours, you cross over into a new level of understanding in your creative work. I think I am there and it feels really good.
HT: Who is the JK girl?
JK: I design for a girl who wants to look sharp but wants to feel at ease. I make clothes for a woman who is unafraid to wear a uniform. My girl knows what she wants. She is willing to not only invest in it, but is comfortable enough to wear it endlessly. I think my customer cares about where her goods are coming from and I respect that.
HT: How do you juggle the work/life/mom balance?
JK: I work from my studio in my home in Mt. Washington. I like to keep my life very simple. I like to spend as much time with my friends and family as I can. I consider my work my “Jobby,” part job, part hobby. Some people take fashion very seriously. I do not. Getting dressed should be fun. I like to make people look beautiful and comfortable. I love being apart women’s lives. That part makes me really happy. In a typical week: I do the rounds downtown three days a week. Everything I make is made right here in Los Angeles. I work very closely with everyone who takes any part in building the clothes. The other days I have clients come to the studio, I draw, I ponder, I wonder through the hills, I make lists, I look at imagery. I like to be organized and efficient. I get everything done by 4pm, so that I can enjoy the rest of the day with my boys. Being a parent is very hard in general, and it takes a real effort to unplug from work when you are with your family. I don’t always do it gracefully but I always strive to!
HT: What about living in Los Angeles informs your process and your style?
JK: My good friend John Reineck describes West Coasters as having “A laid-back take-it-as-it-comes California Attitude. I think that informs me, and has been doing so for the fifteen years that I have lived here. I feel best when I am at ease, so I try to be easy… on myself and on others. I love California. I love being warm. I love the sea. I love the quality of life I have here. I love surfing. I think all of those things support happiness and ease. Living in Mt. Washington is like living in Topanga. I feel like I live in the country but I can pounce on the city if need be. All of these things inform the way I dress, and the way I work.
HT: What’s next for JK?
JK: I live in Los Angeles for nine months of the year, and on Isla Carenero, Panama for three months each summer. We are heading down on June 5. I am really looking forward to stepping away for a bit. I need to clear my head. I am super sensitive to my surroundings, and I feel like unplugging from all of the phones, computers and Instagram feeds is important for my state-of-mind. I am looking forward to spending as much time in the sea as I can. I feel like life has been super intense for the last two years, and I need to wash it all off and start fresh. I think life might be super intense for all of us in this time of fast-paced information sharing. I recommend washing it off once in a while.
When I get back I will bring the SS15 collection to New York. I am predicting a deeply serene Jesse Kamm (the girl) and Jesse Kamm the collection. I will see you there. I’ll be the one a mellow smile and even deeper lines around my eyes. It is bright out there in the tropical sunshine.
Bonus: Read more on Vogue.com!