I met Kelvin Keng in 2015 the fall I started at FIT. He was wearing a leather jacket, black skinny jeans, and converse. I remember this fondly because Kelvin, like a lot of us, does not look even close to the same as he did 6 years ago. Kelvin has, since our first meeting, become one of my closest friends. We talk about a lot of things, but one of our binding mutual loves is fashion. While Kelvin and I have completely different style, we still harp on the trends we don’t like, the runways shows we love, and the ridiculous things we used to wear. I thought sitting down with him and talking about the art of personal style was a no brainer. In a personal interest, fashion is art to me. What you wear is a conscious choice that expresses who you are. A lot of people use fashion as an outlet in this way. To me it has always been a sort of unacknowledged art form that we utilize every morning. In the times of trends, social media, and tiktok famous dresses, personal style seems a little lost. If I were ever to talk with people in fashion for this newsletter, I felt I had to talk first with someone who makes getting dressed their own sort of art. Kelvin is the master of personal style, in this newsletter we discuss what that really means to him.
Ava Williams: Please state your name and maybe a little bit about you.
Kelvin Keng: My name is Kelvin, I work at Maison Margiela, and I’ve known Ava Williams for about 6 years now. I work in fashion I don’t know. I’ve worked in many sectors of fashion but now I work in retail
AW: You're just in fashion, no matter what you're in the middle of it, which is funny to me because you were just talking about how you don't like fashion anymore. But I feel like you've always just….you know all the models and everything, you’re just in it.
KK: I've always been obsessed with aesthetics as a child.
AW: When did you first get into fashion?
KK: When I was 13 and I saw a fashion advertisement. It was a Gucci campaign and it was for spring 2007. It was after Tom Ford, so it's like 2007 and I just saw this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful male model. His name was Mathias Lauridsen. He’s Danish. He was just like a beautiful elf in this campaign and I was Googling looking for more pictures of this campaign I was Googling male models or something blah blah. Then I went, I traveled abroad to the Philippines where my parents are from. I was in a mall and I saw a Lacoste ad in one of the store windows and it was the same model that I saw in the Gucci ad. I was like what the fuck I need to find out who this is. So I researched for an hour and I found out who this model was and then that kind of opened the floodgates in terms of my obsession of beauty. So it wasn't necessarily fashion that came in my life first it was more models and the idea of beauty. Then, looking at all these models and I don't know, just seeing who they worked for and then being exposed to the clothes. It was always more the models first and then the clothes. Hence, going back to me always being obsessive over aesthetics. Yeah, and so it kind of just started from there and then I just knew more and more male models and then that's how I knew more brands. I bought a lot of men’s fashion magazines like European fashion magazines when I had my first job as an intern at this nonprofit. I remember I would just spend all my money on these amazing fashion magazines and just collect them and look through them analyze them. Just kind of see what I liked and what I didn't like. Then I got exposed to certain photographers, and then again more designers. So just kind of just like a cycle of figures in the industry that are constantly working that I recognize. It's just a hobby that kind of grew into more.
AW: Why does fashion excite you?
KK: I think why fashion excites me personally… It's hard to kind of consolidate in like one short answer.
AW: It doesn’t have to be short
KK: Rebellious oh if it's rebellious. I don't go for anything that's traditionally sexy. That's why a lot of the designers that I like have always been part of the whole anti fashion aesthetic slash movement. Whatever you want to call it. But basically, I always liked kind of undermining and challenging those traditional norms of beauty, like what you see in Balmain or Versace. That overtly, obvious traditional idea of what sex appeal is. I've always gravitated towards Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto or Haider Ackermann because it was much more poetic. It was much more ethereal and beautiful. It is a lot of oversized silhouettes and kind of drapey, disheveled, deteriorating, and frayed edges, and wrinkled fabrics. There's a sexiness in not trying but still looking good. You know I find that sexy when it's more of an intellectual look, when it’s more than just the obvious. I feel like that's a reflection of who that person is. I feel like the person who likes those traditionally sexy items have a specific personality.
AW: I feel like it feels very easy. They don’t think about it they just put it on.
KK: Right, kind of like, oh I was taught to dress like this or look like this, so this is what I am doing. I think as I get older I slowly just have become less interested. Especially since the pandemic, I still love beautiful things and I'll still buy beautiful things. But are they as important to me as they were before? Absolutely not. I've sold half my wardrobe, which I never thought I would have done.
AW: Fashion really changed especially after pandemic which I think you can see with the rise of tiktok. I think that's the thing that bothers me about so many influencers, maybe not all but a lot. They just sort of go with whatever is trendy at the time, which means they don’t appear to have personal style. Nothing wrong with being trendy but I value personal style more. Fashion is fun and to me that makes it really boring and inauthentic.
KK: No, absolutely, and I agree, and that's the reason why I hate fashion. I've said this multiple times before that trends are for people who can't think for themselves, and the fact that you have someone on this pedestal, basically…that's what's considered fashion today? That's really sad. That's why I can't take it seriously.
AW: Influencers are great to the degree that they have a huge audience but in general I don’t think they are fashion icons per se.
KK: Which begs the question, why are they influencers in the first place if there's nothing individualistic about this person?
AW: How do you describe your personal style?
KK: This sounds pretentious but I don’t know. I mean I will say I've always been attracted to, like Japanese designers. I think there's something about Japanese design that just has this through line that is timeless. You know, my manager from Comme des Garçons said one of the reasons why [he] loves Comme des Garçon is because it's never in fashion, so it's never out of fashion. You know it's very conceptual, it's not traditional. It's not easy clothes to wear and they're not trendy in the very least, so it's kind of hard to define. There's something effortless about it and you can't take yourself too seriously when you wear it. A lot of times you look like a clown. I feel like a lot of people who say they are those fashion people take themselves way too seriously. Yet people are wearing fucking hoodies and biker shorts.
AW: I feel like fashion is supposed to be fun and when you take yourself too seriously it takes all the fun out of it.
KK: Yes! But not like Moschino, Moschino is trash.
AW: I think also feel like the best part about getting dresses is getting dressed for yourself.
AW: Then you can have fun with it and I think like any art form, it is obviously better when you’re excited to do it. But then fashion now is sort of like “here's all the things you don't have in your closet that you need right now”. So then you're getting dressed for someone else because they're telling you the things you have to have to be stylish. People are somewhat blindly listening instead of thinking about if they actually like pieces and if they will wear them again.
KK: Exactly exactly.
AW: That’s why tiktok makes dresses sell out in seconds because someone is telling someone to buy something and they just do.
KK: Well, and I hate to say this, but it's true that sex sells, you know. I feel like the reason why those companies are utilizing these kids as basically pawns for their brands is because they're traditional and they're attractive. There's no doubt about that. All these influencers are beautiful.
AW: They are but also now anyone can be beautiful on Instagram, but I get what you’re saying they are beautiful.
KK: Exactly exactly, but just to get back on track, a lot of my personal style I would describe…I like more of the avant-garde Japanese designers like Yohji and Comme des Garçons. I like very loose kind of romantic, almost like poetic slash, I don't know like old worldy.
AW: You always have a good silhouette in the sense that it is a unique silhouette.
KK: Right, there's like a slight historicism to it. More romantic I would say.
AW: That one suit I took a picture of you in outside St. Dymphnas feels romantic to me.
KK: Yeah, I feel like to me that's rebellious. I'm sorry I meant to say I think my style is a little rebellious in that sense because I feel like we've lost a lot of romanticism. I feel like a lot of things are trying to be sleek.
AW: When someone says something is “modern” it makes me think of an iPhone sleek or like Calvin Klein and granite counter tops.
KK: Boring. Very boring.
AW: What makes it boring to you?
KK: There's a lot of talking, but no thinking and that makes me sad. It's very easy. That's a great word, because of social media. I'm not saying social media is evil or anything but because of social media we’re exposed to constant images and constant identities and aesthetics and styles and genres and blah blah blah but then also along alongside having all these fast fashion e-commerce websites mixing those two, it's very easy to recreate a specific style. I feel like people don't really appreciate it because it's so easily disposable so you can change your mind. What's considered cool at that specific moment in time, because the speed of fast fashion, is just so insane that I could totally get a whole new wardrobe tomorrow and be a completely different person.
AW: Are there any designers that you really love right now? Designers doing what you think is supposed to be done.
KK: Yohji Yamamoto
KK: I think his integrity has been consistent since he started. I love Comme des Garçons, but I think Dover St was a big mistake. You created a very niche brand when you initially started and I get it, it's a business, business needs to make money whatever. Some people don't give a fuck, but I think the past few Comme des Garçons collections were just vapid and trash. I feel like Rei Kawakubo knows that she can do whatever she wants and people just eat it up. What I love about Yohji Yamamoto is that he's always been consistent with his integrity and keeping his aesthetic very him. It's still beautiful. It's still romantic, but not many people feel brave enough to wear it. I get turned off when a brand gets worn by a lot of fashion people. I see a bunch of kids in Soho wearing Comme des Garçons poorly which is half the reason why I got rid of a lot of my Comme des Garçons pieces. I didn’t want to be grouped in with people I don’t identify with.
AW: I used to like tying a scarf around my head like a waspy thing, but it became a tiktok trend for high schoolers so I stopped wearing it. Nothing against them but I just don’t want people to think I am doing something because it’s trendy. I am not even trying to say I did it first because it’s a reference to something else but I don’t want people misunderstanding what I am referencing I guess. What I am referencing says a lot about my personal style.
KK: Exactly, when it becomes trendy it’s a turn off
AW: Who do you think at the moment is the best dressed celebs then?
KK: The Olsen twins, oh my god the Olsen twins. They have been consistent from the beginning too. And they don’t have fucking stylists.
AW: If you have a stylist you have someone doing all the work for you not literally but you know!? That’s what it feels like at least.
KK: Exactly the Olsen twins do everything by themselves. And they go along the same aesthetic that I love. The kind of like crushed burnt velvet with a black blazer and dark eye makeup, just kind of like brooding, romantic, witchy. I love a witchy look. I follow so many Olsen instagram pages.
AW: They always come up on my explore page. Probably because I click on every photo I see of them.
KK: Is always “anonymous Olsen vibes” yeah. The Olsen twins are the only celebrities I considered actual fashion icons.
AW: I know we talked about this already, but I want you to put it into words right now your thoughts on the Met Gala this year.
KK: In terms of…?
AW: Who went, the fashion, the theme, it’s supposed to be fashion’s biggest night so I’d love to hear your take on it because every fashion person seems to have an opinion on the Met Gala.
KK: I don't really pay attention to it, you know? I think it’s boring, I just think it’s boring. None of those people were even inspiring, and this year was really gross because it was just like no one really important went.
AW: They’re doing two this year
KK: So the better people are going to the next one? Yeah, oh I'm sorry also I’m so sorry to go back…Oh actually no. I'm gonna respond to this question first. I don’t find anyone at the Met Gala interesting nor dressed well, but everyone at Cannes Film Festival always looks impeccable and beautiful.
AW: So good, that’s my dream fashion event to go to.
KK: Yeah, it's so funny no one at the Met Gala looks good but I everyone at Cannes looks fantastic and perfect. Just polished, chic, effortless like those people are sexy to me, but going back to best dressed celebs, Tilda Swinton… I also love Julianne Moore she’s fantastic. Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman. Also Angelina Jolie in her older years.
AW: I personally like Alexa Chung, as we all know. I always felt like she just dressed like herself. Also because I was just saying this the other day, I can tell when I look at street style shots of her, what outfits were her in her 20s vs her 30s which I think fashion is important to evolve as you get older. I like a uniform thing going you know? But I like things to evolve.
KK: Of course! I mean, Ava you're one witness that's seen my evolution. From converse to… Jesus Christ how I looked, how I dressed and had my hair or my makeup in 2015 to now.
AW: How do you think you became stylish then? That sounds so pretentious when I say it, but that is a question I get asked. For me I just say I wear what I like not what other people tell me to like. So how do you think people get personal style?
KK:I have no idea. I have no idea because I don't know how people think right? I only know how I think and a lot of things I like is just instinct, yeah? If something's pretty to me because I think it's pretty I’ll buy it. And I'm not trying to sound narcissistic, but it's like I know how to put shit together. Even if it's the most basic outfit I know what looks good together. It’s crazy to me how people have good taste but no style. People who have great taste where they will pick out the most amazing pieces. But they don't know jackshit about styling all their pieces together. That's the thing that I learned about male models or just models in general. I learned style is also about grooming. Yeah, you could wear whatever $20,000 outfit, but if you look like trash, if your hair is not cut you know you don’t take care of yourself, obviously with controllable reasons, you know what I mean. But if you don’t take care of your personal grooming you're not going to look good in the clothes no matter what. That’s why I love models because they are just so beautiful on their own. Clothes should be an accent, not the main focal point, and I feel like a lot of people get lost in where fashion is the main focal point where it takes over their personality.
AW: You need to compliment yourself.
AW: That’s why I said to someone recently confidence is 95 percent of being stylish. You make an outfit look good, not the other way around.
KK: We live with ourselves everyday we should know what works for us. But I feel like there’s also a lot of delusion.
AW: My last question is, do you have faith that fashion will make a comeback? Do you think that social media has ruined fashion? Or do you think that we can come back from this?
KK: Until social media dies I don’t think we can ever come back. It’s just going to get worse. Maybe we will hit rockbottom where it’s so bad it’ll start to get good again but…it’s not good. But i’ll end on a bright note. The fact that there’s so many things that are bad, it’s easier to find your group…that shares the same values that you have.
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