Nine years after quitting fashion, the former designer talks to Calum Gordon about his departure, his new role and whether he’d ever resurrect his eponymous line
- TextCalum Gordon
Adam Kimmel is in a hurry. For our allotted 30-minute phone call, a Skype failure has already cost us three minutes, leaving just 27 on which to quiz the design polymath. In his role of creative chief at WeWork, the company he joined last year, Kimmel oversees a team of 50 artists who create works (often over 1,000 a month) to adorn the walls of the ever-multiplying office spaces of the company. He also guides the design of each space that the company opens, adding flourishes such as booth seating upholstered in Kvadrat/Raf Simons fabric. It’s his job to give each space a considered, personal touch – despite the fact that WeWork, currently valued at $47 billion, has 485 locations in more than 100 cities, and there’s several more on the way. Last December alone, WeWork opened 79 locations.
As it turns out, Kimmel loves speed. Being in a hurry is his natural state. But let’s slow down a second, take a deep breath and recount why Adam Kimmel even matters in the first place. WeWork is a remarkable change of scale from Kimmel’s previous venture. Between 2005 and 2012, Kimmel ran an eponymous menswear brand, which even today on Japanese action sites and the likes of Grailed is still relevant. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Kimmel’s blend of New York art world-adjacent presentations (calling on the likes of George Condo and Gerard Malanga), coupled with his deft ability to cross menswear genres (he showed at Paris Fashion Week, but also collaborated with Supreme and Carhartt WIP) would place his label at the very apex of contemporary menswear today. And it wasn’t just a keen understanding for marketing and an early adoption of collaboration which made Adam Kimmel special, but, as I have written for this website before, the clothes themselves were beautiful too. They weren’t showy, but they gave you a presence when you wore them and, despite their work- and sports-wear inspiration bent, exuded a quiet sense of luxury.
It’s easy to wonder about what might have been, had this brand that was so comfortably ahead of the curve continued to exist. But practically overnight, it was gone. Kimmel placed his brand on hiatus on the eve of his S/S13 fashion show. Initially, the plan was to return after a year out spending time with his family, but one year has since become nine.
When a designer steps away in such a fashion, it’s usually because they are burnt out. The demanding schedule of perpetual creation, culminating in frenzied days and sleepless nights before a show every six months, often takes its toll. For Kimmel, this was not the case. “Was that the reason I stepped away? No. I think the speed is what kept me interested. The speed is great. I love the speed,” he says. Instead, he embraced it, describing the shows as “a bright point,” and revelling in “the chaos of that and putting it all together. Contextualising the clothing in a nice way and bringing it to life.”
“Was that the reason I stepped away? No. I think the speed is what kept me interested. The speed is great. I love the speed” – Adam Kimmel
Perhaps the fact that Kimmel now finds himself in a role somewhere between interior design and venture capital, rather than as a fashion designer, should come as little surprise. Initially, he planned on becoming an architect, before he decided to launch his menswear brand. In the interim of shuttering the brand and joining WeWork, he worked on various film, art and architecture projects. He has always flitted from one discipline to the next. His upbringing perhaps allowed for this, you suspect. His mother is the artist Claudia Aronow, and Kimmel remembers her taking him antiquing as a kid, at the Brimfield antique markets upstate. His father, meanwhile, is Martin Kimmel, an American real estate developer who co-founded the largest builder of strip malls in the US.
His latest conquest is one which is even more intense than anything he previously experienced, says Kimmel. “When I was in fashion, right before a show, it would be insane work. You have to fire on all cylinders right before a show. Then after the show, it could be a more chilled out time. But here at WeWork it’s like, every single day you’re about to have a show tomorrow.”
At WeWork, Kimmel is responsible for the small design touches that set the company apart from its competitors, those that transform it from just another co-working space to something that gives the illusion of being bespoke. And these spaces are all unique and “bespoke” to some extent, but on such a scale that to use that word seems almost paradoxical. “We have these menus of all the local touches and making sure those go into every WeWork. Just the other day I was reviewing Latin America,” Kimmel explains. “The Northern Latin American team sources all these local artisans from different countries, who do baskets and side tables and chairs and it’s all super native and indigenous to the country. What’s made in Colombia really works in Colombia. The nuances are subtle to us. But [over] there, the cultural differences are very clear.”
To Kimmel, the scale, the pace and the brand’s constant evolution excites him (its founder, Adam Neumann, has plans for a global WeWork empire that includes living and fitness spaces). The former fashion designer is reluctant to dwell on the past, you sense – or perhaps he simply doesn’t have the time. But fashion has crossed his mind in his period away from the industry. “It was very difficult for me to make the decision not to return. I probably would’ve come back to fashion and done more of a sportswear thing,” he says. “I’m more intrigued in creating things that touch more people and are not limited. I’ve always admired artists that were able to do something new and something rad and yet manage to touch everybody’s life in an instant. That’s a very ambitious goal, but there is something about designing for the ‘everyperson’ that I find really cool.”
“I have it in me to design clothes. I love designing clothes and I’d love to once again make clothes for myself, for friends. It’s just in my veins or something” – Adam Kimmel
While fashion for the ‘everyperson’ may as well be a tagline for J Crew, it is an interesting proposition when in the hands of someone like Kimmel. His previous Carhartt WIP collaborations were about as everyman as you could get, comprising of work jackets, jeans, and flannel shirts. But it was elevated through fabrics and fit. He shifted from these garments away from their workwear origins for a consumer base that’s perhaps not dissimilar to what the average WeWork hotdesker might wear. It is a fine line between imperceptible touches of luxury, particularly when applied to workwear, and pretentiousness, but Kimmel has always erred towards the former. I own two pairs of navy wool work pants of his that are unassuming, boring even, but that have a lining that can only be described as “heavenly” – which you’ll just need to trust me on. That so many of his garments are unassuming but deeply satisfying to wear makes you feel like you’re part of a clandestine menswear club.
As a PR person chimes in, indicating that our allotted time is almost up, there seems to be only one obvious question to press him on: will we see a return of Adam Kimmel the brand? “I have it in me to design clothes. I love designing clothes and I’d love to once again make clothes for myself, for friends. It’s just in my veins or something,” says Kimmel with an enthusiasm that accompanies all of his answers. “I love that idea. Who knows what life will bring. Maybe in ten years, you never know.”