Jesse Kamm is a delightfully peaceful and mindful person. She takes these qualities and applies them to the gorgeous womenswear collection she launched in 2005. Designed and produced in Los Angeles, where Kamm resides with her family, she spends nine months a year working on the collection and the other three in a house she built in Panama. This time is spent balancing her mind, inspiring her work, and surfing. Kamm spent five years traveling the world as a model before settling in California – this experience directly informed her next phase in life as a fashion designer. Kamm is one of a few very special, interesting, and conscious designers coming out of LA at the moment.
What inspired the Jesse Kamm collection?
I did not know it along the way, but I am fairly certain everything I have ever done has led up to me creating the collection. The collection was my path. I had been led down many roads before I found it, but it is the thing that has brought me the most creativity, health, peace of and overall joy. I started working when I was 12. I think I have held something like 35 different jobs. When I started making clothes, it no longer felt like work, everything just flowed. That’s a funny thing though, because I was working harder, and longer hours than I had ever worked before. Everything fit just right. I remember calling my father one day, and telling him how easily everything seemed to be clicking together, and he said in quite a nonchalant manner, “That is how you know you are doing what you are meant to be doing.” That was nine and a half years ago. I don’t know what inspired it. I think I really was just wanting to make clothes for myself. And then other people wanted what I was wearing,it was as simple as that.
How did your years modeling affect your point of view?
The time I spent working as a model afforded me the opportunity to travel the world, and exposed me to a great deal of visual wonder. I met creative people, and I always felt very drawn to work on the other side of the camera. The experience definitely pushed me in a direction.
When I started my company I decided that for the first time in a very long time, I alone was going to be in charge of all decisions. I had just come off of 5 years where someone else was in charge of where I went, what I ate, how I wore my hair, how thin I should be, how much I should sleep, and on and on. Ultimately it left me feeling out-of-control, because I was. In this new endeavor, I wanted to handle all of the production, press, and sales until I became comfortable in all of those roles. I wanted to understand what each area of the business required, and at a point I would then feel comfortable handing off that part of the job to another person. Every one of the great press-offices and showrooms have courted me over the years, and after nearly a decade, I still do it all myself.
I run my business like it is 1955. I travel to New York twice a year with a suitcase, a firm handshake, and a big Midwestern smile. It is very important to me to meet the people who will be carrying my brand, and essentially translating everything that I do to the customer. If you are wearing a piece of JK, I designed it, I told the story to your retailer, I oversaw the production of the piece, I drove it in my old Benz across town (burning recycled veggie oil all the way), I folded it and packed it into a box, and sealed it with a kiss. They tell me they can feel it (my customers email me with stories of their cult obsessions with their JK pieces), that the clothes carry a vibration. I believe that. I put a great deal of energy into my work. And I love it. And I think it shows. And that is all because of my modeling career, which I do not regret, because everything I have came bubbling up from that empty well.
In what ways does being based in California influence your work?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is my desert palate. It really doesn’t matter how much color I put into a collection, I am always told by everyone around me, “I love your desert palate.” I did not really know I was doing that, but as I look back I can see that I do use earth tones almost exclusively. I suppose it is because I live in the high desert. I live on the top of a mountain, and as I look across the canyons and valleys, I see the JK color palate. I am always at the seashore, so I think that also deeply effects the vibe as well. There is an airiness to the work, a lightness. Part of that comes from my laid-back California attitude, and much of that has to do with the sea.
How many collections do you release a year? Do you follow the traditional retail calendar?
I produce a Spring/Summer collection and a Fall/Winter collection. I only work 9-10 months out of the year, so this schedule allows for 2 collections, and a 2-3 months surf trip in Central America each summer. My family and surfing are a huge priority for me, and so giving 9 months to the collection, and dedicating 3 months to the other priorities feels like a good balance. It allows me to be the happy, well-adjusted individual that I want to be. My husband and I built a house in Panama, on an island in the Carribbean. It took us 6 years. I go down there each summer and get deeply rooted into really living. Working construction, gardening, homesteading, living off the grid. We are like pioneer people down there, and it is very balancing and good for the soul, especially when you live in a metropolis like Los Angeles. I need that contrast. I need that balance. It is my natural anti-anxiety remedy.
You said you source most of your fabric from a small mill in Japan – how did you discover this mill? Are you traveling often?
I found the vendor through another vendor of mine. They have a salesman who is in NYC whenever I am there for market, so we meet and he shows me the new range. It is very efficient. I have never traveled to Japan, it is not as romantic as that, unfortunately.
Your pieces have been featured on Net-a-Porter’s Finds category – is this a new audience for you? How did this partnership come about?
I suppose it could be a new market for me…They found me, and I do not know the story of how that came about. I appreciated the shout out though. I think one of the pieces sold through in 24 hours, so I feel pretty pleased about how it worked out.
What are the staples of your personal wardrobe?
Currently…The JK classic button down or the Chop top, sailor pants, and trench coat. Riudavets on my feet. Wool hat on my head, that I picked up in Panama a few years ago. And a pair of Kathleen Whitaker earrings that I put in 2 years ago, and have not taken them off.
Can you tell us what is currently inspiring you?
Joshua Tree, Winona Ryder, Linda Evangelista, 90’s Max Mara, Japanese Fisherwomen.
What is the most exciting fashion-related event to happen to you since launching?
There have been so many! Colette was the first store to order the collection, that was huge for me. The personal note Anna Wintour sent me after I had been in the December issue of Vogue 2009, (it is sitting in a little frame 10″ away, as I sit here typing). And the time I was on a billboard in Istanbul (Me and the JK collection). The other billboards in the campaign included Karl Lagerfeld, Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood… that was awfully cool.
How would you define success?
Freedom is Wealth!! That is the motto in my house. The more freedom I have, the more successful I feel. Financial security is important to me to a certain point. I want to feel comfortable, but I do not require a great deal to feel that way. I felt abundant even in the days when I was renting a house and driving a 30 year old car. I still drive a 30 year old car, and hope to drive it when I am 85 years old. I make all of my own clothes. When I have extra money, I just want to spend it on a surf trip. I grew up in a mindful household, and my parents motto was “We are rich in Love.” I never have had the feeling of wanting “more.”More stuff, faster car, newer shoes, bigger house.
Everything I have achieved in my life is so much more than I would have ever imagined, I just wake up every day and feel so thankful for all of the gifts I have been given. I think my greatest gift is my point of view, and I can only thank my parents for that!