Toronto talent Kathryn Bowen talks to FASHION about designing three dresses for Kim Kardashian West in only two weeks, plus her take on slow fashion, dream collaborations and the environmental impact of social media micro trends.
Coming from five generations of seamstresses, did you always know you wanted to be in fashion?
No, actually. My mom was a very practical woman, so my sister and I were never exposed to the exciting side of fashion. It wasn’t until we started secretly collecting magazines and watching television that everything changed. I was amazed by fashion, and it eventually became my creative outlet.
What was the best lesson you learned from UK-based designer Yang Li?
Working with Yang Li in London had a huge impact on me as a designer because I was so involved in his process. I essentially learned how to make a collection by being exposed to Yang’s research-and-development methods. His focus is always on how to make a piece fit perfectly. When I finally set up my own studio, I brought that same mentality with me.
Why is it important for Kathryn Bowen to be a slow-fashion brand?
In order for the industry to evolve, a complete mindset change must happen in the consumer. There’s no need to buy 25 new pieces every season! What I try to focus on for my own label is creating items that are made well and patterns that are unique so my customers can keep my clothes in their wardrobes for decades.
How did the opportunity to dress Kim Kardashian for her new KKW fragrance come about?
Apparently, my brand Kathryn Bowen had been on her radar for a while, but it wasn’t until November 2021 that Kim’s team reached out over Instagram and asked if I could create three looks for her upcoming fragrance campaign. I only had two weeks to pull it off! From that moment, it was just a crazy whirlwind of sketching, developing and collaborating with her team.
What surprised you the most about working with her?
Definitely that a small designer like me was on her radar for a project that big. About a week in, her team called me and asked if I could come to L.A. in case anything needed alterations. While working with Kim, I discovered that she is so polite and humble and truly works hard for all that she has achieved. She’s a smart woman, and to get to work with someone like that is pretty incredible.
Who are three celebrities you hope to dress one day?
I really want to dress FKA Twigs, Hunter Schafer and Grimes. FKA Twigs and Grimes both support emerging designers and have their own unique, ethereal look. I think some of my garments would fit into their aesthetics really well. They’re both incredibly talented, and I’m always inspired by their originality. As a trans actor with a supercool sense of style, Hunter Schafer is bringing so much inclusion to the industry and making a huge impact in the fashion world. These women stand out as style icons to me because of the amazing work they’re producing.
How do you think social media has changed the fashion industry?
It’s definitely made fashion more mainstream — but not necessarily in a good way. There are so many new trends each season — and so many fast-fashion brands that directly fuel those trends — that social media has really contributed to the industry’s waste problem. But on the flip side, for smaller brands like mine, it’s a lot easier to promote yourself and get a wider audience. So, in a way, these platforms can make newer brands more accessible, but it’s also become more difficult to stand out because of all the clutter.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s May issue. Find out more here.
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