Women We Love: Jesse Kamm
Jesse Kamm’s eponymous label celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, marking a decade of making our lives more beautiful with the designer’s highly selective, exquisitely simple approach to modern dressing. A former model and avid surfer, she launched her brand with the desire to make strong clothes for strong women; clothes that, as her bio states, are “minimal, clean and handsome, constructed so they will last until you are old, grey and still very chic.” Now that’s a mission we love almost as much as her super gorgeous, super easy fall collection.
We love the beautiful simplicity and superior quality of your clothes. How did your line get started?
To get to where I am, you have to go back to where I came from. I was raised in rural Illinois. I grew up in a household that valued balance and self-made success: My father built our home with two library books and his own two hands; my mother was a potter, cooked macrobiotic food and taught us about nature. I lived abroad after college, and after working as both a therapist and as a model, I settled in Southern California. I founded my namesake line around a back-to-basics desire to arrange and curate the way people got dressed. Today I design and run my company out of my Mount Washington studio.
What’s your design process?
I’m constantly searching, constantly looking. Watching old films; pouring over old printed materials; looking for fonts, shapes, colors. The idea for a collection usually hits me in the middle of a sleepless night. The next 10 days I go on a tear. I feel possessed, I can't sleep. I pull fabrics, reference materials and old pieces from the archive to revisit. I get all of the drawings, fabrics and concepts together in those 10 days. Then we move into pattern making, samples and editing carefully what I have created.
What were your inspirations for the fall collection?
I was inspired by photographs of my grandfather, Andy Bruns. He owned a filling station by day, and was a dapper dresser by night and weekend. He was often seen in a black turtleneck layered under an ivory two-piece suit or one-piece jumpsuit. It was an excellent look, and bold for a man living in a town of 250 in rural Illinois. The photos reminded me of dark wood paneling and a crystal glass of bourbon. They also made me think of Whit Stillman and the way he styles his films, specifically “Barcelona.” Stylistically, I wanted to convey 1996 does 1969. I used windowpane, checks, high necks, tweeds and twills. I created exactly what I had in my mind.
Do you have a daily uniform? How do you dress it up for a night out?
Sailor pants every day, and a bikini under my top. It’s my attempt to stay close to the sea, even when working in downtown LA, and it kind of works. It has the same affect as drinking Kombucha out of a champagne glass -- it makes daily life a little more cinematic. For night I add a trench coat and some lipstick.
Describe a typical day.
Every day is different, but generally it’s something like this: Wake up at 7 and have coffee with the boys. Then I go into the office and start emails, communicating with customers, buyers and press. Around 9:30 I head out into the world and check in at workshop downtown. At 3 p.m. I put on the mom hat. Jules and I eat, talk, play, go to karate, do homework. Around 4:30, Jules watches a cartoon and I answer emails for 45 minutes. We make dinner and do bath and bed for him by 7:30. I go back to the office and finish up until Luke gets home at 9. We have a glass of wine and watch a show, or I read the New Yorker while he reads The Surfer’s Journal. I call it a day at 10:30.
One or two mornings a week, Luke and I surf. I treat it like other people treat church: I go to meditate, and get my head straight. Luke drives while I catch up on email. We listen to podcasts to try to get smarter. I do not see my friends enough, and I do not socialize enough. I am working on this but, damn, there is only so much energy in this vessel of mine!
Credit: @jessekamm Instagram
You split your time between LA and Panama. How do you make that happen and what are your favorite parts about each place?
I decided early on that my family and passion for surfing would be just as important as working. I take summers off, and we head to Central America to get off the grid and reconnect with nature. I do it for my mental health, and because life is too short to not commit to what you love. I am able to accomplish all of my goals by being incredibly organized. I always work ahead of schedule, and I never take on more than I can handle. On the weekends you will find me at the beach. On a rare occasion my girlfriends and I sneak off to a very adult-contemporary restaurant in Silverlake for drinks and salads. It’s not cool, but we like the food and the people watching.
It’s Friday night and you blew off your plans to stay in. What are you eating, drinking and watching?
Well, I didn't blow off my plans, because I didn't have plans ... I never have the energy to remember to hire a babysitter! We eat grilled steaks and a big salad. We drink Aperol spritzes, and when the kid goes to bed we watch the World Surf League tour or an old film, which I watch for research, and my husband falls asleep within 12 minutes. Sound boring? It’s not. It’s lovely.
Name a favorite recent discovery.
I love Sophie Buhai's new collection of wearable objects. Her aesthetic is so specific. I love when someone has a point of view of their very own, and hers is very fresh. It also reminds me of my aunt Janna, who wore jewelry just like it in the '80s.
What’s your favorite thing about fall?
I live in California, where we have very little in the way of seasons. The water in the ocean is warmest in fall, which I like a lot. I love my September trip to New York. It is there that I feel the autumn breezes I remember from my childhood. It is there that I get to see the leaves start to turn. It is there that I don't have to remember to book a babysitter, because my baby is 3,000 miles away and I am free ... for like 5 days.
What’s next for your label? Any exciting upcoming projects you can share?
Well, it is the 10-year anniversary of the Jesse Kamm brand this season. I made a rad little film with Kate Barker Froyland, which will be coming out soon. I am excited to bring the SS16 collection to NYC next month. It has just a touch of the '70s glamour that originally informed my design. It’s a nod to where I came from, in the collection and as a human. The '70s ruled.
Interviewed and edited by Kat Johnson; words by Jesse Kamm by way of Leigh Patterson.
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