Kinfolk is a brand that has been on our radar for a while now. Nothing less than a totally intriguing offering, the store / café / music venue, based on Wythe Avenue in New York City’s oh-so-hip Williamsburg, has been making some steady inroads, culminating in a strong SS16 collection, inclusive of some classic menswear that features some pretty unconventional touches.
We caught up with Jey Perie, Creative Director at Kinfolk, to discuss the brand’s journey and how his nomadic tendencies run parallel with Kinfolk’s influences and ethos thus far.
I’m quite interested in your own identity and how it has influenced Kinfolk as a brand; Brooklyn via Tokyo via France. Can we talk about at that?
Vast topic. I am the result of a pretty normal childhood in the South of France. Three intense party years in Barcelona, Spain. One year break living between Hong Kong and Bangkok and five formative years in the fashion industry in Tokyo. Now I am in New York, it’s been three years and I am still learning and absorbing a lot of culture here. The truth is, when I visit France, people congratulate me for how well I can speak French and see me as a visitor. I don’t mind it. I’ve learned to appreciate life as a guest. I like being an immigrant. The Kinfolk line and the Kinfolk Store is, I hope, the result of all the foreign influences I am bringing with me, mixed with current and past NY culture. It’s a unique mix, and our DNA is sometime hard to pin down, but I believe in the long term it will all make sense for people sharing this journey with us.
The brand was originally born out of a bicycle shop in Tokyo, right?
Maceo, Salah and Ryan, the 3 original founders where going back and forth from Tokyo to NY selling Japanese Keirin bike frames here in the US. After meeting Kusaka-san, a master builder based in Kobe, they decided to work together to make a KINFOLK custom bike. They opened a space in Nakameguro, Tokyo to use as a showroom by day and a bar at night. The bar quickly became a hub for local artist and long term expats. Besides all the fun nights, the booze and the romance witnessed in our Nakameguro lounge, Kinfolk also won a Wallpaper Magazine design award for our bike and work on a collaboration with Nike Tokyo Design Studio.
So how did everything evolve into a store, café and venue in Brooklyn?
In 2010, two of the founders moved back to NY and scored this amazing studio on the corner of Wythe Avenue and N.11th street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The design studio became a café, the café turned into a cocktail lounge. Almost accidently Kinfolk became known for the nightlife. When I moved to NY in November 2012, I join the team with the mission to develop the KINFOLK clothing line and open a Kinfolk retail store next door to our first venue. That’s exactly what we did. Now Kinfolk has a bar in Nakameguro, a café / cocktail lounge, a retail store and a nightclub.
94 Wythe has become a big part of the brand identity as well. What are your thoughts on that?
The energy going on around our Brooklyn compound is such a big part of our DNA, I wanted to make it visible in our branding as well. What’s currently happening on Wythe Avenue is the foundation of what Kinfolk is right now.
It’s a pretty bold move to open a brick and mortar retail location these days, but it seems to have worked out in your favour.
As a collective, Kinfolk is very good at creating experiences; we’re from a generation of going out and meeting people in physical places. That’s what we enjoy doing. We are currently putting a lot of effort into our website and online presence and I think we are getting close to something good. That being said, if you want to really understand what Kinfolk is about, you’ll have to come see us in Brooklyn or Tokyo.
And has it been difficult creating a new brand in a place as busy and competitive as NYC?
Nowadays, not only NY but the entire world is filled with very cool labels. I have been working in menswear for ten years and I see the industry getting much more competitive. As far as Kinfolk goes, we are making product that we want to wear, trying to pay homage to cultural movements that have influenced us. By nature of where we live, and the cultural mix we are always trying to generate, Kinfolk is a very “NY” experience. New York is the base, it’s home, but as far as I am concerned I want to bring as much cool stuff from outside and introduce them to our fellow New Yorker, but also bring the best of NY with us when we travel the world.
It seems like Brooklyn has really started to develop its own unique design and fashion identity in recent years. Would you agree?
Brooklyn is such a big city, the character and diversity of our residence is what make this place special. Every neighborhood in Brooklyn has its own style and identity. There is definitely a certain style that defines Brooklynites, but the nuance within that style is endless.
I know you’ve worked closely with Masafumi Watanabe of Bedwin & the Heartbreakers. What was it like working with him?
Masafumi Watanabe is a real gentleman. I have been learning so much from him over the last 8 years. He is really an amazing clothing maker. I still help him on different projects and continue to learn from him as time goes on.
Bedwin have always come through with really strong themes in each of their collections. I feel like this is something that Kinfolk does really well also. Can we talk about the themes for the latest collection? I get a really strong late-80s Miami Vice type of vibe.
My goal over the next few seasons is to create those iconic KINFOLK pieces with our own aesthetic and silhouette. It’s a work in progress, but in my opinion I have managed to elevate 2-3 styles of garment and make them very Kinfolk. Within the next 4 seasons I want to have 4 solid looks, with 12-16 pieces that are signature Kinfolk pieces.
Consistency is key when it comes to building a new brand. On top of the foundations that we’re laying, I enjoy playing around strong themes, new colorways and fabrics that bring new influences into the brand. Our SS16 season has a “retro future” spirit with lots of pastel colors. We also collaborated with Portuguese label La Paz on a number of pieces inspired by 80’s Miami. Music is a big part of the creative process for Bedwin and Masafumi; for me, I am much more influenced by films and the visual arts.
For me this collection feels like classic menswear but with a totally left-field touch; pink trench coats, mint-coloured suits, wild graphics. What’s your take on this?
When it comes to silhouettes and pattern, I want to stay true to my long term vision for the brand, but this season I added more flashy color to the collection. Everybody else is doing black, navy and ecru. I wanted to bring more pastel colors that I couldn’t really find anywhere else in the market. During the design process last year, I took a trip to India. The way they use colors really inspired me. Upon my return, I stumbled across an interview with M.I.A. in a Glenn O’Brien for Converse book, and she was quoting Diana Vreeland – “Pink is the navy blue of India”. That really inspired me to bring more lights in the collection and take more risk when it comes to colors.
What’s the working partnership like within Kinfolk?
Between the café, club and retail store we have now over 40 employees including front staff. I am in charge of the creative direction for The Kinfolk Store and label, my partner Keith Abrams leads the business side of it, and Jeremiah Mandel, our brand director, takes the lead in nightlife and everything art-related at Kinfolk. The three of us work closely together pushing the culture forward.
You were over in London recently. How did you find the city? Any favourite spots?
London is the realest city in the world in my opinion – much more international than NY or Paris. I love seeing kids from immigrant parents mixing their style with original British culture. I love the music scene and the DIY spirit of London. I love London’s Lebanese restaurants, I love London pub culture. I love the British sense of humour. I will definitely be back very soon.