A favorite of WWD and Style.com, this young designer is being hailed as a hot new talent to watch out for–with good reason. Kao’s tailoring is sharp, her cuts eye-grabbing. With her breakthrough sequin jackets, exquisite mini dresses and cult following among young stars, she’s rapidly building her own brand. Raised by a grandmother who instilled her with a sense of structure and attention to detail, Kao is a woman with a clear vision for every scrap of fabric she sees. But when Uinterview found Kao in her impressive studio in New York’s Fashion District, we were pleasantly surprised to meet not only a raw talent, but a refreshingly sweet, unjaded young woman from Kansas City.
- Q: What was the highlight of New York Fashion Week for you? - Jessica Cran
- A: I think as a whole this collection was a big thing for me because we achieved a lot: we got a lot more press, a lot more support from different sources and feedback from all different types of people, you know, celebrities, artists and so on. The whole thing was a big high for me!
- Q: How does it feel to have your name up in the fashion press as one to watch at such a young age? - JC
- A: Oh, it’s great! I know I’m not a world star, no way! But I’m kind of like a slow and steady designer. But it’s always good to get recognized in some way.
- Q: I hear actress Taylor Momsen is a huge fan of yours. - JC
- A: Yeah! She is a big fan, and that’s been great! She very quickly picked up on us, and began expressing an interest in the collection, and it’s been sort of steady since then. She’s been borrowing clothes every week, and you know, it’s always good to have support from someone who’s… well she’s really young, she’s fifteen, but she has a very clear sense of style, so it’s great to dress someone like her. But like I said, there are all different kinds of people that like the clothes, among my age group too, my Mom’s generation, many different types of people… and that makes me feel good, that’s a high for me because it makes me feel like I’m reaching so many different groups of people, but with the same sort of energy and spirit.
- Q: In twenty years time, for whom do you see yourself designing? - JC
- A: You know, there are artists and ordinary people who come in looking for clothes who are not in their teens, they’re in their twenties. Like I said, my Mom wears my clothes – it’s a diverse age group. I think even though a lot of younger people or celebs might come in to pull stuff [off the racks], there is something for everyone, you know? [giggles]
- Q: Your grandmother was a a big influence on your sense of style. She was born in Taiwan, right? - JC
- A: Yeah, she was born in Taiwan, and my parents were born in Taiwan. She grew up under Japanese influence during that time period, and my Grandmother was like my second Mom. She spent my entire childhood doing crafts all the time and passing on a lot of oral tradition to me that had a lot to do with attention to detail, you know, structuring, formation and what not.
- Q: So did she teach you the art of tailoring then? - JC
- A: She did teach me the art of tailoring with things like sewing and knitting, but in addition, hand crafts and stuff like that – all that kind of thing. All of the things you do when you’re younger, influence you when you’re older. And you always try to recapture it. But you know, some of the things that you try to return to as an adult – when you try to get back to the basics, things that were so simple can become so complicated.
- Q: So, whenever you’re thinking about your next collection, and drawing inspiration from various sources, is she still a big influence? How do you find inspiration for your line? - JC
- A: Well, you know, she also introduced me to Anime when I was younger, as well as old style stories and things like that. And my collections always start with me thinking of a story. Like, even before I draw anything or whatever, I’m thinking about a story, with a character or protagonist, a hero; someone who is doing something that everyone else wishes they were doing – doing something with their life. That’s what Anime is all about, a young person who is growing, and in a plot that is improving or changing. So that’s my approach, and I suppose my grandmother did introduce that to me, so I guess she is still a big influence, yes.
- Q: So, your clothes take on a character? - JC
- A: Well, people always ask designers who their muse is, I don’t really have a celebrity muse, or specific person [in mind]. It’s more like an attitude and a type of person that I would hope to be and hope that other people would want to be, you know? So it’s kind of character based, but more like… I look at the collection as being a set of certain uniforms for people who do what they want to do in life.
- Q: So when you design, you always have a specific kind of woman in mind and give her a story-line for that season? - JC
- A: Yeah, I mean it’s not always specifically a woman, but an individual you know? Someone who is unapologetically growing and changing things for the better for people around them.
- Q: With the whole economy unraveling, are you noticing if the fashion world is suffering? Have people cut back on the retail therapy a lot, or do you think people always find the funds for their fashion fix? - JC
- A: I feel like people are approaching it differently and for me, I’m not changing my approach with anything. I’m still making clothes, I’m still optimistic, and I think people still need clothes. It’s either choosing the basics that are really finely made and have some kind of twist that makes them special that you can keep forever. Or you can choose more glamorous items and just really make them special, you know. I feel like there’s always room for both of those things.
- Q: But what would you say to people who want to cut back on their spending, but who want to remain stylish, what would you suggest? - JC
- A: I would suggest investing in a good set of basics. I don’t think you need to buy anything that is lesser in quality. Just don’t be as frivolous with your money as you were before, you know? Don’t just go out and buy random stuff that you’ll wear once. I feel like there’s a tendency to go out and buy a bunch of really mediocre things, and at a good price, but I think it’s better to invest in things which are going to make you feel good and that will last a long time. I mean that’s the best thing to do: high quality, long-lasting basics which have something special or different about them, and then if you can, save up the rest and treat yourself to something really special.
- Q: I’m intrigued, what was it like growing up in Kansas city, and then coming to New York for college? - JC
- A: [Laughs] Kansas is as you would imagine it. It’s a suburb next to a small city. I mean, people are really grounded and friendly - we call one another by name in Kansas. Actually, I was talking to Taylor’s [Momsen] mom the other day, and they’re from St Louis, and we were talking about how growing up in the mid-west is kind of like a luxury, because you grow up really laid back, so that when you do get to the city you’re not jaded – you remain the same person.
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