For this week’s Time Well Spent, our new interview series exploring how Bulbul friends, partners and affiliates spend their time well, we’ve sat down for an in-depth chat with contemporary renaissance man of the cloth, Kevin Kafesu, the style-forward buyer at Norse Projects who landed on these weather-beaten, Danish shores by way of Birmingham some three years ago.
The first thing you’ll notice about Kevin when you talk to him is that he’s got a lot to say, not only in terms of his own job within cutting-edge fashion. He’s pretty much bursting at the seams with shareable information when it comes to the way we consume, sustainability, the crucial difference between fickle fashion/ timeless style and what he calls ‘deep design thinking.’ A fervent believer in quality over quantity who adheres to the Dieter Rams ‘Less but Better’ principle, Kevin remains perpetually ahead of the design game and if you hadn’t already guessed, he’s very much our kind of guy.
We caught up with Kevin at Din Nye Ven in Copenhagen and made him spill his insightful beans on style, zeitgeist, Copenhagen and how to keep your game on-point.
Hey Kevin, could you start out by telling us about what you have going on at the moment?
There’s a fair bit going on. I’m currently focusing most of my energy on publications right now and I recently discovered ‘The Skirt Chronicles’ founded by by Sarah de Mavaleix, Sofia Nebiolo and Haydée Touitou who is also the daughter of Jean Touitou(founder of A.P.C.) . It’s got a female tone to it, but it’s for everybody, which is quite dope. I stumbled upon it on Instagram on the popular feed where I saw this cap and I was like: ‘wow, that cap is dope.’ And then to discover that the photo was tied to a publication. We just took in shipment of this first issue and I cannot wait to work on some special projects with TSC. I strongly feel that print is not dead and it will never die. With technology now a lot of people just do their reading online, but there’s just something about the interaction with something physical when you sit down with a book or magazine. The smell, the tactility and tangibility. And then I’m trying to get into lecturing.
Wow, that sounds pretty interesting. Could you elaborate? Are you planning on becoming Professor Kafesu?
Ha, Professor Kafesu. That would be amazing. Yeah, I mean I think what I was missing in University was someone from the industry telling it like it is. We’d have some of these architects coming in wearing suits and for me what they were talking about was just so far-fetched, you know? Or far away from me at least. And what I always wanted or needed was someone who was just out of uni or someone who’d been 5-years in the industry and could tell me how they got to where they were. Because when I graduated, I was like: ’Okay…what do I do?’ I felt like there was nothing available for me in Spatial Architecture, and I had to work my way up. For me, working my way up was starting on the ground in a boutique, then I worked my way up to being E-commerce Manager, after that I became buyer and then I started for Norse.
Is that the career trajectory for most people in the fashion industry?
It is, actually. You can study retail and buying and all that stuff at university, but that actually makes it more difficult for you to get in. As much as people say that fashion is an industry you can just jump into, I’m here to say that it isn’t. It’s who you know, where you’ve been. It’s this weird combination of things that are not really connected to academia. It’s very network-based. What usually happens is that you meet someone at a fair or tradeshow and that person talks about you to someone else, and then you connect on Linkedin. It’s now the new customary way of getting a job.
Can you actually teach that stuff? It seems like it’s very organic and down to how you conduct yourself.
It is very organic. But when you come out of university and want to get into buying, it’s important to really get to know the product that you’re selling in every conceivable way. What it feels like and what it is. And you also really have to get to know the designer. As much as they’re selling a product, they’re also trying to tell a story. They also have personal goals, a drive, an ethos. They have a mission statement. And that’s another thing. Some people are trying to start writing about fashion without any sort of precedence. That’s just wrong. You have to have some sort of reference point and you have to be able to know how we got to where we are now. And some of these people get really excited, but then you’re like: ‘Yeah, but Margiela did that already. Helmut Lang did that already. So it’s not new. Instead, you should change the way you talk about things into reinterpretations of what’s already been done. So when people talk about Demna (Gvasalia from Vetements – ed.) they forget that he was actually working for Margiela. Because Margiela was the guy who had this very anti-fashion approach to design. He was making art more than he was making garments - and telling a story. I had this one wallet once and I’m so sad that I lost it. Over time in turned into gold. You were meant to love it, you know? In terms of sustainable fashion, Margiela was out there doing it a long time ago, and that’s what I feel neets to be reignited with the new wave of designers, wirters etc. That’s it’s not just about the hype. It’s about the craft and everything that goes into it, especially the history. If you look at someone like Apple and they way they’re referencing Dieter Rams’s work, it’s like, there you go. They understand where things are coming from. That’s what makes great design. And that can be applied to any industry.
I think what you’re talking about relates to the KiBiSi/Kilo concept of aesthetic sustainability. But you’re adding the physical, material dimension to it as well. Sounds like an idea that’s worth passing onto the next generations – as well as your future students?
Totally. That’s what I’m working on at the moment. I believe that establishing a principal structure of how we can come from conceiving an idea to actually delivering it, it will make sense. Taking broader perspective, it would be nice to talk to everyone from consumers and retailers to designers about this. Because making good products is expensive, you know? It would be nice to get everyone aligned on this, so that we create and consume products that are not as detrimental to the environment as the throwaway fashion of some bigger high street chains. I’m trying to get people into this deeper way of thinking about design.
‘Deep Design Thinking by Kevin Kafesu’ – would make a nice title for a book?
(laughs) I guess so. I think it’s a way of thinking that’s ingrained into the mentality of the real firstmovers. I feel they’re not the ones with all the extravagant stuff that go to all the fashion shows. They get it for free most of the time, anyway or on a good discount. But the person who can’t afford expensive clothing, but can make something out of it, that’s what you need to be looking at. Because making something out of a little. That’s quite special. it’s thinking on the pennies. It’s thinking responsibly because in life we have wants and needs.. If you have a lot of money then you can just buy a new Chanel dress every season. But if you can’t do that, then you have to factor in what looks good on you, what you feel comfortable in? All these things.
As a buyer, do you get inspired by the scene in Copenhagen?
You know what, the thing is that when I go to all these places, like Paris or Florence or Milan or Tokyo, I see so much stuff, but when I come back, I can actually filter it. Because it’s calm here. I think that Scandinavian people spend more on their homes than they do on clothing or atleast act responsibly, this is of course the mid 20’s + in my opinion.. But I think that people shop smart. It’s very minimal and straight to the point. In many respects probably one of the most sustainable places in the world.
You don’t think it gets a bit boring?
Oh, it’s super boring. But the thing is that when I start my research and get in the zone looking at old and new reference points – as soon as I come out of that, I don’t get clouded by too much. Buying for online, Copenhagen is a nice, monotonous escape, if you live in the inner city (laughs). But I have to say this: Living in Nørrebro: quite inspiring. The whole boom with bands like LISS and Iceage created a look I feel you don’t see anywhere else in the city. On the weekends, I take these long walks. And when you take the long walk around Nørrebro and Nordvest, it’s so multicultural, diverse, so much you see how much they rub off on each other - and that’s another thing: that whole Gosha Rubchinskiy chav vibe? That’s not new. People dress like that in Nordvest, it is a uniform for some. When I say uniform, I mean utility, form after function. This style has been going on for longer than some people have been on this planet. Especially the core consumer of this trend.
How does Copenhagen compare to other big cities like London – or Birmingham where you’re from?
Yes, that’s a good question. The thing about Copenhagen is that it does feel like a big city, but without the big buildings. What stands out to me is the fact that you have a beach, a forest, and lakes all in one city. That’s insane. That’s what gives the city its calm. Copenhagen does have that big city feel, but it also has the calm…which might be a bit of an oxymoron, but there you go.
Who’s the most stylish person in Copenhagen?
Hmmmm, that’s a hard one. I’d actually say my friend Mark Wingco. He’s from London. Don’t know if you’ve met him – he’s a friend of mine and Mish’s. He only wears vintage and he’s is the kind of guy who can wear a 50s undergarment with rips in it and make it look good. Because he’s just comfortable in his own thing. Also, he doesn’t feel the need to blend in. He is himself. To me, that’s a great sign of style: comfort. And confidence. And attitude. Certainty and being sure by going: ‘This is me.’ He inspires me. He wears a lot of vintage Americana from the 50’s onwards, maybe before that too?
What’s the difference between fashion and style?
That’s a very interesting question. I’m always discussing this with my colleagues. I think fashion is the now and style is forever. To put it bluntly, I think that having style is just putting on whatever you want in the morning and looking good. It’s about attitude. Fashion is just that shoe or that dress that everyone is wearing. It’s not sustainable. So in answer to your question: style is timeless fashion is now. I hate to say this, but an example is Steve McQueen. He represents an attitude and a lifestyle. When you look at his old pictures you go: ‘Ah, I could rock that now.’.