The Rise of Kiko Kostadinov
Kiko Kostadinov graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2017. Soon after, he released his debut collection, which was received with acclaim and soon launched a vibrant career for the young Bulgarian designer. Since working with Asics and facilitating its resurgence, Kostadinov has quickly become one of fashion’s designers to watch, going on to pioneer his eponymous label and a series of innovative collections at Mackintosh. Here, we chart a few of his influences and provide an introduction to some of the themes that animate his work.
In his collections Kostadinov references film, television, art, history, and the lineage of designers before him. The montage of reference in a Kostadinov collection can be dizzying. But beneath this interpretive collage, there is a deep fascination with the weight, texture, and structure of materials. One of Kostadinov’s undeniable influences is workwear—from military to industrial factory garments, Kostadinov draws upon the thematics of functionality, and casts it into a strange, eerie suspense.
Arte Povera—a 60s Italian movement whose name literally means ‘poor art,’ is one of the influences Kostadinov has cited for his work at Mackintosh, which helped catapult the designer into his welcome position today. Arte Povera’s pioneers worked with ‘poor’ scavenged or discarded materials—incorporating trash, torn rags, and earth into their works.
In Kostadinov, the impulse has been reduced, sculpted into a more rigorous engagement with specific materials—their density, give, drape, and feel. In his 0001 collection for Mackintosh, the conceptual influence of Arte Povera is clear, as Kostadinov interlays rubberized details throughout stark, anonymous, black looks, drawing attention to the singularity of the material alone.
Designing Towards Industry
In an interview, Kostadinov described his approach to working at Mackintosh in these terms:
“To take some of their principles by repetition of materials, implementing more of an industrial approach that’s not so digital or technological.”
It is worth pausing on the interesting distinction Kostadinov draws between the ‘industrial’ and the ‘digital and technological.’ Technologies are tools that come between the artist and their materials, that mediate and augment the process of construction by providing inhuman capabilities. Technology is inevitable and inseparable from fashion, and some designers such as Issey Miyake and Iris Van Herpen have made critical engagement with technology integral to their creative projects. Kostadinov, though, turns his attention elsewhere.
The industrial, unlike the technological, involves the whole assemblage of constructed materials, their relational architecture and the way they fit together as a structural unity. Industry involves the functional totality of assembled materials.
Technologies are instrumental, they achieve ends. Kostadinov’s interest seems less focused on devices of construction, their unique and innovative processes, and focused more on understanding the outcome of construction as a unified structure for embodied experience. This turn to the handiwork of functional construction is revealing when considered in light of Kostadinov’s other influences, such as his abiding fascination with the late 20th century generation of Japanese designers.
Kostadinov and Yohji Yamamoto
Yohji Yamamoto once said of the color black that it is “modest and arrogant at the same time.” This fusion of modesty and arrogance can be seen in Kostadinov’s work, which harnesses subtlety and sparsity to communicate material intensities. In his monochromatically black Mackintosh 0001 collection, the simplicity of blackness is the occasion for an uncanny rupture in the structure for workwear that we have grown used to.
Indeed, this collection might be read as a tribute to the dramatic transfusion of black that designers like Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo introduced into the bloodstream of haute couture in the 1980s. Like the iconoclasm of those Japanese collections, Kostadinov’s disruptions mobilize the empty signifier of black to announce a new creative movement. Modesty and arrogance. History and youth.
Also resonant of Yamamoto’s influence is Kostadinov’s approach to garment construction. He maligns the ‘flat designing’ at stake in the process of sending digitized patterns to manufacturers, advocating for an intimate, hands-on relationship with the materiality of a garment and its elements. Likewise, Yamamoto was known to approach completed garments with his hands and deconstruct them—shearing, restitching, and tearing to reformat the meaning and feeling of the piece.
In a separate interview, Kostadinov expressed his appreciation for this quality of Yamamoto’s designs, saying,
When I first started wearing Yohji, it was a second-hand coat with lots of holes in...I like that when you wear Yohji you look strange. You don’t look expensive in it, you look scruffy. I like the idea of people misjudging you. I can feel it on the tube...they are confused, they can’t read me. ‘Is he homeless? Is he rich?’ They can’t read whether I’m wearing expensive clothes or not expensive clothes.
The strangeness and indeterminacy of this approach to artisanship is perhaps captured best in Yamamoto’s own poetic terms, “I like old clothes, clothes are like old friends.”
And while this emphasis on a felt relation with materials clearly bears the imprint of Yamamoto’s influence, Kostadinov’s artisanship acquires a colder, more surreal and uncanny dimension. This is no clearer than in his recent Spring/Summer 2021 collection, in which Kostadinov’s careful treatment of materials is calibrated by a landscape of artistic and architectural reference that recasts garments as characters in a kind of world-historic drama of political and aesthetic significance. Look out for our upcoming analysis of the Kiko Kostadinov SS21 runway show at the Gone Library.