Eugenia Kim is a world-renowned accessories designer. Studying millinery at Parsons School of Design, she was wearing her own design when discovered shopping in Soho and the rest is history. Kim is known for designing original shapes in luxurious fabrications and has collaborated with Diane Von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, and Ralph Lauren. She has also done limited-edition collaborations for Opening Ceremony, Coach, and Stetson.
After you graduated from Dartmouth with ambitions of becoming a doctor you set your degree in psychology aside and enrolled part-time at Parson’s. As a first generation Korean-American, were your parents supportive of your career switch?
I think they were a little surprised at first. I actually took classes at Parsons while I was freelancing at Condé Nast, so I think they weren’t so surprised to see me end up in fashion. I had actually lost my job at Allure when I started making and selling my hats, but didn’t want to tell my parents because I was scared of their reaction, so I said I was still working there. Around the same time, I decided to cut my hair myself one night; the result was not what I expected, so I decided to shave my head. The winters in NYC are so cold, so I put my millinery skills that I learned at Parsons to use and created my own hats that would keep my head warm and also match my style. One day, I was shopping in SoHo while wearing one of my hats and one of the buyers at the store asked to see my collection. I went home and worked on a collection of styles similar to the one that I was wearing. A week later, my hats were picked up at two boutiques in Soho and soon thereafter, Barneys New York also bought my collection! My parents ultimately found out that I was no longer at Allure, but they were eventually supportive of my newfound career as a hat designer!
What were some of the earlier challenges launching an accessories brand?
For me, it was the logistics of it all. When I first started it happened so fast; I went from making hats for myself to making full orders for Barneys. I used to have a shop downtown when my brand first started and I lived in the back of the shop. It was great in a way, because I was so connected with my work. I used to have people stop by at all hours of the night ringing the shop bell for hats because everyone knew that I lived there as well. It was funny at first when people rang my bell at 11PM for a hat, but eventually, I realized that I had to separate my work and my personal life.
You won the CFDA/Perry Ellis award for accessory design in 2004, how has the industry changed since then?
Blogs and street style are more important now than ever. To get your product shot on an important blogger can be almost the same value as getting a major magazine cover. The industry has definitely evolved into a great mixture of high and low. It’s constantly evolving with changes in the economy, trends, and the democracy of the industry over all. I think it’s such an exciting time in fashion right now, especially in accessories!
How do you stay inspired season after season?
New York City is such an inspiring city. The energy and the people here constantly inspire me.
Nearly every single one of our style icons has been photographed in one of your hats. How does it make you feel seeing Anya Ziourova or Diane Kruger in one of your styles?
I definitely still get excited when I see style icons and celebrities wear my hats. I love seeing the different spectrum of “it” girls wearing my hats and I love the different way that they style them into their wardrobe!
What happens in the summer months? Does business slow down?
Not at all! Summer has become one of our popular seasons. Not only do people want hats for sun protection during the warmer months, it’s also a style necessity for summer.
Do you plan to evolve the line beyond accessories?
I think there is a lot of evolving within accessories that I can branch out to within the next few seasons, stay tuned…!
At what point did you incorporate men’s hats? How is the design process different for you?
I started my men’s line in 2007. It is a bit different, I find that guys are into different elements than women. It’s still about function and fashion for men. Last year, we re-launched the men’s line under the moniker Mr. Kim. The Mr. Kim brand has really established itself as masculine, but still very fun and fresh.
If you weren’t designing hats, what would do for a living?
I’m really into healthy cooking, so maybe a chef or a nutritionist!
Beanie or fedora?
That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! These days since it’s colder, I’ve been leaning towards beanie. Our felix cat beanie has been spotted on every fashionable girl for New York Fashion Week!
Is there anyone else you’re dying to collaborate with?
I’ve collaborated with so many designers and each time, I get something new out of the experience. I think collaborating with a celebrity like Katy Perry would be a fun change or maybe a blogger like Susie Lau!