It was back in the spring of 2013 when American designer Adam Kimmel announced going on sabbatical after delivering a ten years and 18 menswear collections. On this #tbt we look back at this uber talented American designer re-visiting his interview for Hercules 7 together with a portfolio of iconic photographer Jim Krantz.

Adam Kimmel resembles what one might imagine his biblical namesake to have looked like: dark, unkempt hair framing the tanned, unshaven face of a thirty-something medium-built man. There’s nothing obviously remarkable about the man or his clothes – they seem normal, the paradigm of the everyman. But in life, as in art (and Kimmel cares deeply about art), the simplest surfaces betray the most complex inner workings; or, as country western singer and cowboy favorite (Kimmel also cares deeply about cowboys) Lynn Anderson sung, “Still waters run deep.”

Kimmel’s references are thoughtful, his clothes exquisitely detailed and constructed yet refreshingly un-hackneyed for a designer with his type of conceptual bent and his academic roots.
As the recession prompts brands to explain their fundamental identities to a confused consumer, Adam Kimmel did just that by heavily referencing the cowboy, the archetypal American everyman whose nature consists of being both an outcast whilst being fundamentally ‘normal’. Who more than the Marlboro Man better epitomizes the paradox of a singular, instantly recognizable style and a sense of generic masculinity? The cowboy has a consistent novelty despite embodying the type of mythology that comes from a seemingly unchanging tradition – one imagines a cowboy in Kimmel’s “contemporary west” much as one would one hundred years ago, give or take the homoerotic subtext.
But it wasn’t all Brokeback Mountain, as Kimmel says, though “that movie seems to capture the idea of the tough masculinity of the Marlboro Man juxtaposed with the dandy sensibility of Roy Rogers. Having Brokeback Mountain and other pop culture cowboy media bolsters my attempt at campaigning for the western aesthetic. I didn’t draw inspiration from the film but it definitely was a confidence booster to know that cowboy lifestyle is reaching more people.”
Until his Spring Summer 2010 collection (his thirteenth), Kimmel never touched upon an iconography as popular as the cowboy. “New York and the world needs more cowboy,” he says, adding, “I’ve also found that in dressing a lot of artists, they all want to be cowboys. I think it would be great to see more guys wearing suits with western yolks and shirts with snap buttons. Also it’s really hard to find western clothing made with beautiful soft fabrics. I love the idea of luxurious cowboy.”
Having studied architecture at New York University, Kimmel never strays far from what he knows best, namely American subculture and functional design. In the past he has referenced the abstract expressionists of the American art scene in the late fifties and early sixties with, for instance, a lab-coat inspired piece that Willem de Kooning could easily have worn in his studio. Kimmel also looked at Wallace Berman and the other Californian Beatniks of the ‘Semina’ era and then the dandies that revolved around Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in LA. All this suggests complicated ideas, histories and narratives that make for easy, wearable clothes. There are no obnoxious twists or colors; Kimmel’s signature colour is “navy blue because it attracts good energy.” Surprises, such as a reversible coat, are practical, not there for shock-value.

Before one delves into the socio-philosophical mechanics of Adam Kimmel’s brand, one must note the man’s mission statement: “the key to menswear is comfort and quality and soft beautiful fabrics help achieve both.”
Drawing from the past means a certain amount of reinventing and revision of already existing garments and styles. So when does reference become imitation and how have you been able to avoid this in your creation of garments that reference the past so closely? Kimmel explains, “I try to make each piece of clothing to be one of a kind. I do draw silhouettes or fabric styles from my inspirations that I feel resonate with my contemporaries. In order to reach my contemporaries, I need to tell them a story that feels familiar. Men like to shop for clothing they can relate to. I tell a story with the collection that my customer can relate to.”
Along with narrative come characters. Kimmel animates the clothes in his shows and lookbooks by using rough-and-ready ‘non-models’ of dramatically varying ages and body-types. The seemingly average looking men make a statement. Since the turn of this century, we’ve seen Hedi Slimane’s rocker waifs and a new healthy, slightly toned, almost preppy look. “I like to use real men to show the versatility of the fit of my clothes,” Kimmel says pragmatically, “I am not opposed to using professional male models though. I think I started by inviting friends over and i t just became a fun challenging way to do it.” It all made for a good way of relating to the customer, who is more like the American contemporary artists Kimmel works with on various installations than the club-hopping models from the Eastern block. “That could be me,” one pleasantly thinks when browsing through Kimmel’s award-winning slip-cased look books, rather than “I wish that were me.”
Kimmel’s references are recent enough for him to work with the original source of his inspiration, mixing his fashion with someone else’s art to create a multimedia spectacle. “It’s more acceptable today to be a multimedia artist or designer and I think that’s a great thing. Multimedia artists are the future,” says Kimmel. So for his Ferus-inspired collection of spring 2009, Dennis Hopper collaborated as Jim Krantz, the original Marlboro Man photographer did for Spring 2010. The novelty of all this is that the results can and have looked at home in both clothing stores and contemporary art museums.
“I design for men who want their clothes to feel classic but that have an updated fit and look,” explains Kimmel, who has not gone for the tighter silhouette in recent years. The fit of Kimmel’s clothes has remained, in his eyes, “American.” The honest ‘I am what I am’ sensibility of the clothes has charmed both sides of the Atlantic, aided by the fact that the clothes, though of American conception, are made by skilled European tailors with luxury fabrics. Thom Browne created an American brand with a European sensibility; Kimmel’s American brand is for the optimistic American man (and one day also woman) who is just that, through and through.

Words Benjamin Seidler
Portrait Giampaolo Sgura