There is a prevailing attitude today that to be avant-garde, one has to produce clothing that is ugly, shockingly sexual or otherwise uncomfortable to look at. Beauty is now relative, a standard that is always being redefined. Creating classically beautiful garments is regarded in some circles as quaint and old-fashioned. I disagree.
I maintain that the truly revolutionary stance in today’s climate is to produce clothing that is beautiful and beautifully made, enhances one’s appearance, and is both a joy to look at and a pleasure to wear. By combining 21st-century materials with traditional techniques, I create garments that clearly express this distinct vision of beauty.
Having lived in San Francisco has inspired my work. I have been deeply influenced by the Beaux Arts architecture of its civic buildings, a style that harkens from the Belle Epoque period in France. This pre-World War I period was a time when people enjoyed splendor in their daily lives. This attitude lies at the very heart of my designs.
The Belle Epoque saw the work of Mariano Fortuny, whose design aesthetic and fashion philosophy mirrors my own. Both artist and designer, Fortuny produced beautiful garments in an immediately recognizable style. Where many designers try to reinvent themselves twice a year, Fortuny adhered to a classical aesthetic that reflected few of the vagaries of fashion. His pieces could be worn and enjoyed by the original purchaser throughout her entire life.
I take Mariano Fortuny as a model for my creativity and business. I prefer to work at a more human pace, to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. My work functions outside of fashion, in that realm where timeless style dwells. Thus, my garments remain beautiful and viable, bringing pleasure to the wearer over a long period of time.
The events and special occasions associated with that particular garment add to the piece, and each wearing carries this pleasant history forward. Consequently, my work is painstakingly constructed to withstand years of wear and is conceived with the wearer in mind. Each piece is designed and built to perform as conceived, so it can be worn with ease.
Aside from expressing aesthetic influences, my pieces also answer a design question for me. These explorations usually involve a technical or engineering challenge that I’ve set for myself. To successfully meet my aesthetic concerns, the solution must have a construction so seamless, so carefully worked as to be utterly invisible. When the process is successful, the design transcends the process.
Modern fabric and construction technology make my proprietary construction techniques possible. Though my aesthetics arise from the Belle Epoque, the garments themselves are truly twenty-first-century inventions. As such, old-world beauty is translated into a garment that is easily worn in the modern world.
Interview on the
Sew & So podcast sponsored by Bernina
“My work functions outside of fashion,in that realm where timeless style dwells.”
Kenneth D. King
about kenneth d. king
Kenneth D. King Design is a small haute couture house that has a distinct aesthetic identity. King produces one-of-a-kind, made to measure pieces for women and men, as well as limited-edition pieces for boutiques.
What’s new in King’s creative output?
Click here to go to his new works page!
King’s customer wants clothes that set her apart from the crowd, but not in a shocking way. While wanting to look different, she also wants to look beautiful, and feel well in her clothes. She wears the clothes, instead of having the clothes wear her. The customer King serves is someone who knows what she likes. Usually she would be described as striking and beautiful, the beauty that is born of intelligence. To see a video about his work, click here.
In his studio, King has a variety of pieces for inspection. He makes things “on spec” to try out and show new ideas, fabrics, and silhouettes. You can view an assortment of his work in the gallery – click here.
These portfolio pieces are his collection, and include evening jackets, evening coats, capes, wraps, and the occasional handbag and hat. You can see examples of these in the gallery by clicking here. The portfolio pieces are available for purchase; or King can adapt the ideas represented in a particular piece, to better suit an individual customer.
King also produces limited-edition accessory pieces for sale in small boutiques. These pieces, like evening wraps and loose coats, don’t rely as much on fitting a specific figure, and so appeal to a broader audience.For those people who love King’s work, but don’t wish to wear something extravagant, King has produced one-off home furnishing pieces.
When Swarovski wanted to explore the potential of the home furnishings market, they commissioned King to create a fantasy chair slipcover, which is included in their publication Design Expressions from Brazil and Russia, published 2007, page 128 (shown right).
“It takes a great deal of panache, and sometimes a sense of humor to carry these pieces. King considers the engineering... as important as the design, so they can last for generations."
The New York Times
One of King’s footstools was featured in the book Elton John’s Flower Fantasies (Caroline Cass, Bullfinch Press, pages 52-53). You can see some examples of his home pieces in the gallery.
Also available to order is a range of evening skirts and dresses, which complete the ensemble. If these pieces are not to the customer’s taste, he will create something more to the client’s liking.
No mass production here! Each piece is hand-made, flawlessly constructed, and of the highest quality – the way haute couture is supposed to be. King blends time-honored sewing techniques with today’s fabrics to ensure that his pieces are not only striking and fit well, but will also endure the test of time.
When a client comes in, King will talk with her to determine what type of piece is desired, the kind of function the desired piece is intended for, color preferences, and so forth.
Together they will look at what he has on show, to see if an existing piece will be to her liking. Sometimes existing pieces in King’s collection serve as the starting point for an ensemble; other times clients have asked for him to create something completely new.
In these cases, instead of fashion sketches, King will make a half-scale model of the proposed design. This model is much more useful, as the client can look at a design from all angles, turn it inside and out, and more easily visualize what the finished product will look like.
The next step is the measurement of the figure, from which the master patterns are drafted. There are at least two fittings of the garment in muslin, and one fitting in the chosen fabric. The final fitting is where the client and King do a final check of the ensemble, making sure it is right in every detail.
King intends for his garments to have a useful life of at least thirty years. Consequently, the time invested in the creation of these exquisite garments (by both designer and customer) is time well spent, as the pieces King creates will provide pleasure to the wearer for decades.
King invites you to call or email him if you would like to visit his New York City studio, or are interested in commissioning a piece.