ABOVE: KESH IN HER OWN DESIGNS. PHOTO BY KATIE FISCHER
British-born, L.A.-based artist Kesh has been stirring up a commotion with her latest collaboration, this time with American Apparel. You may have seen a recent influx of graphic black-and-white clothing, featuring striking, angular eyes, sweeping through the past week. Cara Delevingne has been rocking it. So has K-Pop girl group 2NE1. And from recent reports, Justin Bieber just bought a tee and tank. The success of this collection can be attributed to KESH’s distinctive artwork featuring her signature peepers, framed in a monochromatic palette—a look that translates easily from the New York downtown set to the East London kids. The 26-year-old is familiar with both scenes, having spent her youth in East London dabbling in fashion design, styling, and music before focusing solely on her art and moving to the U.S. Interview caught up with Kesh in New York just after her launch.
PAUL BUI: Were you happy with the response from the launch the other night?
KESH: The launch was insane. I loved it. I got to meet so many fans and got to display my work and get everyone to come and be together. It’s so crazy seeing all these people wearing your stuff at once. Looking at pictures, there’s a sea of people wearing it, which was really cool.
BUI: Your fans seem very devoted. Have they been following your work for a long time?
KESH: I started out 10 years ago, and I got some recognition from MySpace, so I had a big fan base from there. And from social networking, it’s been growing and growing. So every time I have something new it draws in more fans. It’s a mixture of fashion fans, art fans, and generally people that are interested in something different.
BUI: What power does social media hold in launching an artist these days?
KESH: I think it is easier to have your artwork seen out there, but back in the day, it was all about whoever was featured in a magazine. You had to go through many systems before you reached the public. Nowadays anyone can show their art to anybody via the Internet. It’s definitely easier, but it doesn’t necessarily make the work better. There’s a lot more stuff to sift through. It totally worked for me, but I’ve seen it not work for other people. The artwork still has to resonate.
BUI: What’s your earliest memory of being interested in art or fashion?
KESH: From the age of five, I said to my parents that I wanted to live in New York and be a fashion designer. So they bought me a little fashion set for Christmas. And from nine or 10, I started drawing a lot, and around 12, I was customizing my own clothes. And from my early teen years, I was sewing clothes and customizing them for kids in my town. That’s how I got interested in fashion. But the predominant thing for me is art. This is the best collaboration for me, because I get to apply my artwork to clothing.
BUI: You lived in East London for a while. It seemed like there was a bit of a movement happening back then. Do you feel like you were a part of something special?
KESH: I definitely feel like there was a movement back then. It was called Nu Rave, and it was very colorful and wild, and we were just young kids in London having fun. I used to work for SuperSuper Magazine, where I was a fashion editor, and they were a part of this movement. It was definitely a crazy time, and it was really good to be a part of something like that. We were getting featured in every magazine like i-D, Dazed, and the big newspapers. You could feel that something was happening. It was all about SuperSuper, Cassette Playa, and other emerging artists.
BUI: You’ve worked across music as well as fashion. Do you think the two art forms can inspire each other?
KESH: Of course! I’m extremely inspired by music. I have a lot of friends that are musicians, and I think if you’re a creative person, whether you’re a writer or artist or musician, as long as you’re in the creative scene, you’re going to influence each other.
BUI: Tell me about your artwork, your process, and what you’re influenced by?
KESH: I’m a digital artist, so I make all my work with technology. In terms of influence and inspiration, it is work that grows and builds on top of what I’ve already been doing. I started when I was 16 on Microsoft Paint on the oldest PC. Everything was very pixelated, but it still had the same elements. It was extremely angular, and it still had all the facial features. I think what I’ve been doing is building on top of that and perfecting my craft. So every time I make a new piece, I look at my old work, and that often influences me. I know it sounds narcissistic, but right now I’m at a stage where I’m still evolving. With my show, I collected all of my work together and pinned it up on a huge wall and I just looked at everything, tore down what I didn’t like and kept all the things that I loved. I produced this show, which I’m still in love with now.
BUI: Tell me about the American Apparel collaboration? How did it come about?
KESH: They actually attended my first show. That was on November 14, 2012. It was my 26th birthday, and I did an independent show called “Me Me Me.” It was basically 14 self-portraits, and the show was a show about myself making a show about myself. So there were pieces that related in there—final pieces, and pieces showing me making the final piece. So I guess they came to that show, they saw the work and they loved it. They showed pictures of it to Dov [Charney, American Apparel CEO] and once he said he loved it, they wanted to collaborate, which was super cool!
BUI: You’ve done other collaborations with big brands like Topman before, as well, is that correct?
KESH: In 2008, when I was still doing fashion, Topman selected me as a young designer to show a collection at their Man show. I put together a Fall collection and had it go down the runway, and after that, I realized that although it was such a huge opportunity, it wasn’t the fashion that I was into, it was the art that was going on the clothing. And even though I enjoyed constructing the clothing, I didn’t have any of my own patterns or artwork on the fabric. At that point, it really wasn’t popular and was so expensive to do and I didn’t have much money so I couldn’t produce the clothes that I wanted to. So then I realized that I didn’t really want to do fashion and have this timeline and follow trends. I wanted to do my own thing. So I took away the fabric and replaced it with paper, basically.
BUI: When you work with a big company like American Apparel, are there a lot of restrictions? Or do you have a lot of creative control?
KESH: They gave me a lot of creative control with this, otherwise I wasn’t really going to do it. I’m not going to work with a company that uses my artwork, which is precious to me, and not allow me to do certain things. From the beginning I said, I’m only going to do this if I have control. I was there on the campaign shoot, I did the editing on the images, I shot some of the campaign images, I changed the structure of some of the leggings to make them highwaisted. I changed the placement on dresses. I was there throughout the whole process and worked closely with their team. We worked super hard. I was in the factory all of the time, I was super involved. I’m really happy with the end result.
BUI: Any upcoming projects or gigs you can tell us about?
KESH: I have a talk at Soho House on July 30. I’m going to be talking about my work and have a Q&A with a private guest list. And then my next big show is going to be at Art Basel in December. So I’m going to be working on that for the next six months.