A Brief History of Kiko Kostadinov
A Brief History of Kiko Kostadinov
- Words Tristen Harwood
- Date June 07, 2019
Kiko Kostadinov is a Bulgarian born, London based designer who has rapidly risen to prominence since his Central Saint Martins’ (CSM) MA Fashion graduate show in 2016. He’s received support from the prestigious British talent spotting scheme NEWGEN MEN, attracted attention for his meticulous approach to cut and silhouette in his eponymous mainline label and has created sensation through his collaborations, with Stüssy early in his career and more recently with his hyped Asics sneaker—now in its fourth iteration. Fostering Kostadinov’s success is his willingness to take risks with his collections and a polyvalent brand strategy that engages broad audiences.
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In 2013, he debuted the first of his two collaborations with legendary street wear label Stüssy in partnership with the reputed fashion website SHOWstudio. The collection was stocked at its progressive London boutique Machine-A and comprised of sweatshirts and bucket hats. The collection, titled “Displacement”, references an artist book by heavyweight American minimalist artist Richard Serra, an artist whose attention to process, materiality and industrial fabrication has been emulated by Kostadinov in his own designs. The title also indicates the process by which the garments were created: Kostadinov cut-up Stüssy pieces and reconstructed them by literally displacing fabric panels, making the design process visible in the final garment.
These earlier works set the scene for Kostadinov’s two follow-up collections with Stüssy in 2015. The now-coveted collections for Stüssy’s 35th anniversary and major in-store collaboration between Stüssy and Dover Street Market expanded on the process-driven 2013 work and included a range of one-off reconstructed sweaters, sweatpants, hoodies and hats, featuring overlocked seams, raw hems and fraying.
Kostadinov’s 2016 CSM graduate collection marked a departure from the cut-up aesthetic of his work with Stüssy. His graduate collection looked away from streetwear’s romantic fascination with rugged Fordist work attire, such as the heavy denim and duck canvas garments of brands like Carhartt—even while referencing contemporary workwear silhouettes. Kostadinov’s early garments looked even more nondescript lacking the logos of the aforementioned workwear brands—like what you might see hospital or cleaning staff wearing. The collection featured minimalist jackets and pants in a restricted palette of navy, pale blue and grey, with a number of monotone looks all styled with hyper-tech Hoka One One runners that offered a highly-embellished contrast to the simple garments.
Although Kostadinov’s graduate collection is still heavily process-driven, with a focus on meticulous pattern cutting—there were seven pant cuts for a 10-look show—Kostadinov’s mainline moves away from obviously exposed construction methods to complex research-driven detailing. Kostadinov subtly layers references to art, design and film through his work—rather than using them for purely thematic reasons—allowing audiences to interpret his collections at their own will.
Kostadinov draws on a range of influences, some personal, like his parents’ manual labor-based professions (his father works in construction and his mother in childcare and cleaning). Beyond the references to work uniforms and utilitarian accents in his garments, including smock cuffs that nod to Japanese cleaner’s uniforms, Kostadinov inflects his process with industrial techniques acquired from his family. He adapted a soundproofing technique his father taught him—stapling fabric to wooden frames—to tie-dye one of his ‘hospital shirts,’ and a long-sleeve utilitarian pullover featured in his sophomore Spring/Summer 2017 collection “00022017” in London. The tie-dyed top is a standout in the collection, which, like his 2016 CSM show, featured monotone looks in hues of black, navy and khaki.
The Ventile cotton—a British-developed performance fabric with medical, military and workwear applications—used for jackets, pants and boiler suits throughout the collection deepens Kostadinov’s material engagement. His references to industrial uniform are built into the tactility of his clothing rather than just represented visually.
Kostadinov ventured further into British sartorial heritage in 2017 with his first collection for the iconic British brand Mackintosh, simply titled 0001. The collection is a line of 10 unisex looks that eschew brand sentimentality. Rather than build on the iconic imagery of Mackintosh, Kostadinov turned to the process and materiality of the brand’s designs. Mackintosh 0001 takes influence from Arte Povera, a 1960s, Italian art movement that embraced simplicity, repetition and readily available materials like concrete, clothing and hair to produce a more immediate relationship between art objects and the bodies of audiences. However, unlike Vetements’ 2017 pile of clothes installation in the Saks Fifth Avenue window display—which basically reproduces Arte Povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags (1967)—Kostadinov draws on the principles of Arte Povera, rather than the spectacle.
For Mackintosh 0001, the material at hand was rubber, which is integral to the history and design of Mackintosh. It’s used to seal and waterproof seams on garments, like its iconic Mac coats, affecting how the garment functions and sits on the body. Kostadinov inverts the rubberised tape’s place on the garment, situating it on the outside of garments, revealing how the garment is given structure. Now in its fourth iteration, Kostadinov’s work with Mackintosh subtly reworks the brand’s classic silhouettes and fabrics.
One of Kostadinov’s most important collections to date is his Spring/Summer 2018, “00042018”/“Funny how Secrets Travel”, which launched his ongoing collaboration with sportswear giant Asics and introduced his ongoing references to film through styling. The models all wear a stocking pulled over their nose and eyes, an allusion to the villain Francis Dolarhyde (Kostadinov also used the character’s name for a number of his garments) from the 1986 film Manhunter.
The massively popular Gel-Burz 1 sneaker designed by Kostadinov created massive sensation and has made his collaboration with Asics the work he is best known for. Moreover, the collection saw Kostadinov solidify his design language, harmonizing his engagement with technical garments and fabrics, clean sartorial lines, asymmetric pleating and precise patterns. His references are subtle, the palette is monotone and a methodically restrained sensibility pervades each look, styled by notable London stylist and Kostadinov collaborator, Stephen Mann.
Reluctant to be bound to a workwear aesthetic, Kostadinov’s Fall/Winter 2018 adds warmth and texture to the designer’s visual lexicon. While predominantly drawing on trusted hues of black, navy and grey, “00042018”/ “Obscured by Clouds” includes earth tones like forest green and ochre. Although subtle, there is also a willingness to embellish garments that was not present in earlier collections—there is a beaded, crocheted cross-front sling bag and a knit sweater featuring a pink, white, green and blue pattern resembling a topographic map render.
“Obscured by Clouds” also launched Kostadinov’s footwear collaboration with Camper, a second Asics sneaker and Asics clothing items and debuted his first attempt at womenswear. His first shoes for Camper were vastly different from his Asics collaboration. Recalling chunky 1990s hiking shoes, they feature Gore-tex, rubber and leather construction in hiking-style silhouettes with voluminous soles. The Asics Gel-Burz 2 in this collection, however, still retain a running silhouette and are delivered in earth tones; the sneaker added to a deeper Asics collaboration with leggings and body-con tops. All aspects of Asics partnership were nonchalantly worked into the runway show.
In 2018, Kostadinov launched an additional collaborative endeavour, a conceptual workwear label named AFFIX, with creatives Taro Ray, Stephen Mann and Michael Kopelman. Initially a radio program on the popular pirate radio station Know-Wave, the brand offers an accessible range of visibly branded menswear, like T-shirts, hoodies and caps, along with workwear-styled pants and jackets that epitomize the brand’s concept of “new utility”. AFFIX is a very accessible, conceptually driven streetwear label, especially when compared to Kostadinov’s mainline.
Kostadinov’s 2019 collections are his most daring so far. He debuted a rigorous womenswear line, designed by recent Central Saint Martin’s graduates, Deanna and Laura Fanning. Meanwhile, his menswear line stepped into new territory, proving the designer is adept at drawing on sartorial influences well beyond workwear.
The distinctly Kostadinov elements are still there—asymmetric seams, intricate patterns and attention to subtle details—in his Spring/Summer 2019 men’s collection “Interviews by the River”, but the restricted palette has been blown away and replaced by pastille greens, lavender and apricot, along with other brighter—a hi-vis orange Asics tracksuit—and starker colors selected from Martin Kippenberger’s installation The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika (1994). The richly textured collection is tranquil, with tunic like shapes, billowing bottoms, soft fabrics layered over tech-wear and patterns that reference Bulgarian carpets.
One of Kostadinov strengths as a designer has been his ability to market his brand image to multiple audiences from its conception. He’s produced a hype sneaker, worked with a British heritage label, launched streetwear and maintained a rigorously designed cutting-edge mainline. Yet, none of these ventures feel like detours or side ventures. Whether it’s simply the desire to own his sought after Asics sneakers or Stüssy collaboration, an interest in his materials or curiosity for the layers of sartorial and artistic references he embeds in his collections Kostadoniv offers something for everyone while maintaining his distinct design language.