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Kiminte Kimhekim, a rising star in the Seoul fashion scene, on how his passions for bows, hair and denim form his collections—and taking inspiration from his royal roots

Kimhēkim’s love for giant bows, pinned pearl buttons and exaggerated tailoring is captivating. Contrary to what you might imagine of a Korean fashion label, Kiminte Kimhekim’s fame is not necessarily linked to the rise of K-pop culture or dressing Korean celebrities. Instead, the designer, known professionally as Kimhēkim, gained his cult following of 200,000 Instagram fans because of his distinctive aesthetic: minimalist forms with maximalist details.

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A former intern at Balenciaga during the Nicolas Ghesquière era, Kimhekim is profoundly influenced by the craftsmanship, tailoring and archives of Cristóbal Balenciaga. He launched his label in 2014, debuting with a couture collection in a flower shop. “I spent ten years in Paris
and as a natural result, I had all the infrastructure needed there. There was really no reason for me to do the show in any other place than Paris,” says Kimhekim. He was invited to join La Federation de Haute Couture et de la Mode, the French fashion industry’s governing body, in 2019, and has shown regularly at Paris Fashion Week since.

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This doesn’t mean he has turned his back on his Korean identity. He tells us that Kimhekim is an ancient royal family name in South Korea. The family, which is descended from the Gimhae Kim clan, “is famous for producing decorative art such as golden crowns, jewellery and celadons [the main type of ceramics produced in Korea during the Goryeo dynasty of 918–1392]”, he says. “I want to continue this heritage through my brand.” His passion for fashion can be traced back to dressing up dolls in hanbok [traditional Korean costumes] with his grandmother, who taught him the sewing skills needed for the national dress.

His understanding of ancient outfits combined with his Parisian training result in a modern, chic aesthetic: think the shirt and tulle dress ensemble inspired by chima jeogori, a form of hanbok, or the heart motif that celebrates self-love. Despite his pride in his country, he doesn’t subscribe to the idea that he’s creating “Korean fashion”. “I don’t differentiate design by region. I think it’s a kind of illusion created by some major media sources,” he says. “I personally think it’s something global and very interchangeable.”

These days, a design can instantly blow up on Instagram; Kimhēkim is accustomed to both praise and criticism on the platform, where
his avant-garde bow-, heart- and hair-covered designs are frequently reposted and shared. “Every time I start a collection, I always start with a light heart and simply have fun with the process. Then I try to make the ideas more shareable, and it naturally develops into something more commercial,” Kimhekim says of his approach to his craft. But the challenging part is how to sustain people’s awareness of a brand, and convert online popularity into commercial success. The visual impact of Kimhēkim’s work is such that you are compelled to stop and look when you see it in person. And yet, despite its quirk, it is easy to envisage the sharply tailored staples in your daily wardrobe.

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This year, he launched a new series called Obsession, in which he “takes the time to concentrate on each of the decorative elements to study its beauty and sublimate this through the collection”. His visit to an old wig store in Seoul inspired the autumn-winter 2022 collection featuring ties, jackets and even structured corsets crafted from hair, conjuring memories of braiding his cousins’ hair when they were all children.

The fifth iteration of his Obsession series, presented in June, focuses on denim; he upcycled Levi’s jackets and Dickies overalls discovered at vintage shops. While his interest in textiles and symbolism continue to develop, it’s clear that one of his obsessions is unlikely to change: the blend of heritage with modernity. “I like to mix the past with the future,” he says. “Even though we are living in the present, we are always dreaming about both, so they effortlessly mix into and unfold in my collection”.

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