Imagine sitting down for an interview with a resort wear designer while the streets outside the coffee shop window are dusted with snow. Living in the South, we were both fully prepared to cancel our meeting, but instead we braved the winter weather and met up for coffee. Beyond her participation as a featured designer in the Redress 2015 Spring Fashion Show, I didn’t know much about Kim Kirchstein -- the master artist behind the Leopold Designs label.
Naturally, I did some investigative googling and came across a video of Kirchstein talking about her design process and aspirations as an artist and a maker.
Kim's work takes a lot of time and attention to detail as you can see in the video. She works with different color dyes, wax, and household objects to get the shapes and vibrant patterns she ends up with. The way she is able to create beautiful silk designs out of dyes, fabrics, and her Batik tools is truly amazing artistry.
Before I get to my interview with Kirchstein about her latest collection, I want to share more information about batik. Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth, or cloth made using this technique. This technique has been used throughout history in many parts of the world using a variety of materials. The applied wax resists dyes and thus allows the designer to color selectively. The tradition of batik design is most well known out of the country of Indonesia made in the island of Java.The Tjanting ("chanting") tools used for this type of Batik consists of a copper wax container with a small spout and bamboo handle.
Here’s a video showing how indonesian batiks are made:
You can find this eco-friendly fashion designer in her studio space preparing her next big inspiration -- Orchids. For the 2015 Redress Eco-Fashion and Textiles Conference, Kirchstein envisions this beautiful flower for capturing everything she wants the audience to feel about her new collection of sarongs and kimonos.
Aleena: When did you decide to become a fashion designer?
Kim: I became interested while I was in college at ECU and I got my degree in Surface Design. During this time, I also worked in upholostry and after getting laid off of my job, I sort of fell backwards back into surface design. I started my fashion career with designing scarves and ever since I've been trying to expand my designs.
Aleena: What do you enjoy the most about the design process and production process? Which of the two do you find more challenging , and why?
Kim: Working with the dyes and the beginning stages of inspiration are by far my favorite aspects of my daily process. My overall favorite parts of the design and production process are the color interactions during the applications of melted wax and the fact that there are never any crisp lines, but a free-flowing of vibrant colors. There is a never-ending challenge associated with my production process, but that's half the fun of the process--is overcoming that challenging of creating.
Aleena: What was the inspiration for your upcoming collection?
Kim: The orchid, a delicate, exotic, elegant, bold, feminine, strong, and luxurious flower-- these are the exact elements of the flower I wants to shine through my Silk designs. I want to recreate the orchid flower in my work to not only honor the memory of my father, the orchid being his favorite flower, and mother, but to inspire the audience on the day of the fashion show with beautiful Silk designs.
Aleena: How did you go about selecting the materials for your upcoming collection?
Kim: The dyes that I use in my designs takes extrememly well to the all natural silk fabric that I use. All natural silk is an awesome fabric to work and design with becuase its not only a beautul fabric, but easy for me to work with and manipulate.
Aleena: What do you hope people will take away from your collection?
Kim: I would really like to convey a message of pure luxury and elegance to my audience through my designs.
Aleena: How do you incorporate sustainble design practices into your process?
Kim: All the silk I use is all natural silk, the soy wax I use is extrememly environmentally friendly, I'm self-employed so it's a very small manufacturing process, and lastly, the dyes I use are very low-impact dyes.
Aleena: Who are the designers and makers you look up to?
Kim: I look up to many designers, but the one woman who stands out in my mind is Diane Von Furstenberg because of her iconic wrap dress design. She is known all over by everyone for this single design that made a huge impact on the fashion world. I hope one day people will be that aware and fond of my Batik designs.
Aleena: What kind of impact do you hope to make within the design world?
Kim: I want to produce very feminine, bold, strong, and lush designs that include lots of hand drawn and floral patterns. I'm very excited to debut my new line of vibrant colored kimonos and sarongs. Lastly, I would like to work toward using natural dyes instead of just low impact dyes for my designs.
Aleena: Why are you drawn to the batik technique?
Kim: Well, I studied the techinique during my time in college at East Carolina University, and I wound up trying batik again by circumstance. Before I knew it, scarf designs were emergining and soon I'll have a new line of silk kimonos and sarongs.
Aleena: Where do you see your designs being worn?
Kim: I imagine my very feminine, and orchid inspired line being worn for a "fancy night out" as evening wear and also resort wear as island attire.
Aleena: Five items you MUST have to create your designs?
- Soy Wax
- Tjanting tools
- Various objects to create shapes (bottom of egg crates)
Aleena: Name another batik artist you'd like to apprentice for
Kim: There is an artist named Mary Edna Fraser and her work is actually featured at the N.C. Museum of Sciences. Fraser has her own plance from where she flys over all parts of the world taking aerial photos of the landscapes she comes across. She creates original batik work from the aerial photots she takes and the resulting pieces are extraordinary.
Kim Kirchstein and her bold, lush and colorful all natural silk designs conveys s strong message to the world of sustainable textiles and fashion. The use of low impact, highly sustainble materials in her manufacturing process, Kim Kirchstein is the perfect example of what it means to be eco-conscious and designing through an environmentally friendly process . Her newest collection, that will be showcased at the 2015 REFTC, is sure to bring a unique and elegant flare to Batik design!