David Gensler – The Interview
To me the KDU epitimises how the streetwear and design communities best work… this is a difficult industry at times, with competition amongst the larger corporate companies often controlling bigger
aspects of the culture not allowing the real leaders, the independants, the shine through, or profit.. The KDU helps combine the efforts and talents of numerous in order to give people a chance to compete.. it works in a way that I personally agree strongly with not only in business but in life, whereby the phrase help others and others will help you plays the biggest role… this is what it means to me.. tell me why you started The KDU? Am I on the right track as far as what it means?
Exactly, and thanks for the good words. The KDU was started to create a foundation. At one point it was about fraternal brotherhood only, but like all pure things it became tainted with egos, so it evolved. It now still represents a strong fraternal union amongst creative talent, but we have expanded to offer our services to outside clients.
The KDU is a design collective, design emcompasses much more than what people see on the surface, and this is something you and the KDU take on board, tell us about the KDU’s philosophy around design and what you guys do?
The design philosophy is simple, take chances and be bold. The branding philosophy is simple too, give up 10% of what is there… the rest is private. We showcase what is appropriate to show. We have many fingers in many pies, some are no ones business but our own. The mission is simply as well, create gravity by uniting the best talent in the world.
For me the KDU is about the future and creating products, thought processes etc that will be used tomorrow, alot of design in fashion inparticular is about the past or if you’re lucky today, I once read an interview with Marc Jacobs where he openly said he was not a designer but a really good stylist who could take from the past and reinterpret, this is whats different about the KDU..its genuinely creative.. is this right?
Well we try. There is balance you have to find – you cant exist in the future all the time – you need to dig back into history when it is appropriate. BUt for the most part, personally I am more interested in what does not exist rather than repackaging history and reselling it. I think it is smart to look at history and the leaders to get an understanding of the future, one of my favorite quotes – Voltaire – "It is said that the present is pregnant with the future." To me this means that all the pieces are sitting right in front of us, how we put them together defines our future.
Streetwear has become more and more about tee shirt graphics.. it seems that if you mention design to most people this is what they assume we’re discussing.. this is a very shallow view on design.. how does design interact within street culture?
It is funny to think about design as it related to this particular industry and culture – you are right, the word "design" (in this culture) has come to mostly represent graphics, even as it relates to fashion. I have touched almost all forms of design over my career and the diversity and scope of the word is one of the reasons I love it. I view design as a process of creation, invention or reinvention, which can manifest in any form including language or thought itself. When we have a team in place to develop strategies for clients, we are doing in a very different way than most of our competitors – we are simply designing opportunities and angles of attack. I think since the street culture industry is young, you dont get a chance to see much industrial design or architecture or even real experimental fashion design. I am sure as things mature and the consumers begin to demand more than hats and toys and shoes, we are going to see some amazing design bubble to the surface. Even graphically speaking, there is so much borrowing from other cultures and aesthetics, we need to begin to see people breaking away and developing more signatures styles – I understand there are many unique styles in the culture, don’t get me wrong… but I think the next year is going to bring a wave of people exploring new looks.
Personally, you are involved in alot, tell us about what you’ve been working on over the last year, inparticular the amazing showroom.. but the theres also your magazine, brands, consultanting, lecturing, and more.. what does David Gensler do?
I keep the plates spinning. I try my best to manage the KDU and the other brands. I have to recruit new members, which is no easy task. The filter is myself, Lex and Messie. That is it. 5 other members can also strongly suggest admission, but ultimately the process goes through me. I just run the businesses, figure out where we go next and when I am lucky I get to sit down and design something or write something. I spend a lot of time making sure the next moves are the right moves… when I was younger I would react to things too quickly, now I just move slow and carefully. I think I have finally figured out how to see through all the data to the parts that will matter most to me.
People seem to hold strong opinions of you personally, even if they havent met you.. they seem to have an opinion.. one might even say your one of the most hated men in this culture haha.. why do you think this is?
What culture? this "culture" is broken, being hated by a sickness is a compliment. I have no idea how some people exert so much passion towards hating me, when I am not directly targeting anyone, their brands, their businesses, their bank accounts. But, when I do business I am not here to play games and sometimes you step on toes.
I am only addressing the social or business issues that affect me personally, or that I find interesting to discuss. If you dont like what I have to say, dont read it. It you dont like what I am selling dont buy it. I am aware of the hand full of people talking… they are kids that worked for me at some point and were fired or people I interacted with earlier in my career, that watched me progress as they sat and did little with their careers. They have been saying the same exact thing for a decade… using the same arrows trying to bring me down. None of their attempts have ever worked or even slowed me down. They fuel me. Anytime you achieve success on any level you face resistance from those who have not or anytime you have a strong opinion you can bet someone is going to have something to say against it… but calling me a fraud, or attacking my work ethic is just a good way to humiliate yourself.
It is sad through when you have people attacking you personally or your family, and they do so from the shadows. I was raised by WW2 Grandparents in Baltimore, I would very much prefer that if you have something to say, you grow some balls and walk up to me and say it.
I actually believe in things… first off, I believe in myself. I guess that is such a crazy thing to say it pisses people off. I also believe designers and business innovators need to challenge almost everything in sight, including themselves to progress. Bottom line – I progress, the KDU members progress, our clients progress and profit… everything touched grows and seems quite happy.
For those who aren’t familiar with The KDU, can you break it down.. in its simplest form… who are some of the big players? what does it do?
Simplest form… we are a design collective. We find the worlds top talents in all the various disciplines of art, design and business and unite them. Although some members are more active than others, we dont put one higher than another. There are a core group of ten that help us in each region. The goal is simply to unite independent talent to great more gravity.
You also publish Royal, which is a great magazine, profiling independants again, tell me about Royal? When did it start? What does the future hold?
When I was about to start the KDU and still at the ROC, some young kids approached us about covering Native. To that point they had been strictly an online magazine and wanted to go into print… I like what they were saying and we helped them launch their first issue. People seemed to have a positive response for the most part and I thought it would be a great vehicle to promote the KDU, so we helped them build 3 or 4 additional issues. They never really wanted to run a magazine, it was more of a way for them to interact with the design market while they were in school. They had tried to cut a deal with a potential larger third party parter that ultimately did not work out, then decided to focus on their educations – after the first magazine "the Royal" closed, I had invested so much energy into the concept, I decided to continue with "Royal" – which carried on with the momentum, but greatly shifted direction in some areas to cover more cultural and business issues. The only similar is the name, the rest is a new vision, new team with new goals. In the near future, I am not sure if the Royal is even viable on a global scale – we might want to start fresh. I grew up reading National Geographic… I want to combine that with design and a touch of business and help uncover real culture and real innovation from around the world. Brands are my business, but they are hardly the only thing that gets me up in the morning. It is a big world with a lot of amazing things in it… most of what we will cover in the future issues is not for sale. Real life over just consumerism.
A question I often ask people in this culture is of their thoughts on print media vs web media, what do you think of this topic.. its an open question, but it holds many different facets…?
I think now and in the future the quality of media is going to begin to matter, more so than the speed. Youth culture needs a CNN and there is nothing close to filling this hole anywhere in the landscape.
Also the combination of web and print has not yet been worked out. We have yet to see a media model that is equally as strong in web and print.
The KDU has recently relaunched studios, with a new space? Tell me about this?
We have been looking for about a year and recently finished everything on our headquarters. We just completely a small apartment inside that allows us to have KDU members visit from all over the world. the studio is simply a great place to work and build things – very open and secluded… Brooklyn is nice like that, all the luxuries and none of the crowds.
What are The KDU consultancy services about? You’ve recently been heavily involved in Subscripts launch…rebranding, design consultancy,…break it down for me? Subscript as a project for example.. how did you approach this.. the finished product is great..what was The KDU’s role?
Our services change depending on the clients needs. In general we help accelerate businesses and brands. For the most part, this means we get involved in the marketing and communications elements – developing campaigns and marketing programs. Sometimes we are lucky to work with brands from the ground up. We get to see the entire brand be born, from naming to product development. This is always fun with fashion brands because things move so fast.
For Subscript we had a chance to work directly with Naghman, the Lead Designer, and Ben Velez the former VP of Marketing. We developed the campaign together, used KDU photographers and web programmers and designed the look book and campaign in-house. The system is fast and clean. In terms of what we formally offer, graphic design, naming, fashion design, industrial design, event planning, publication development and master strategies. Our clients want our help to become more competitive… so whatever the solution calls for, we provide, pulling talent from the KDU network. We recently completely projects for Samsung, GM and Hershey’s with a dozen new projects in develop now.
A man of many hats, you have also just released Savant, a subbrand of SVSV, SVSV is fantastic and well ahead of its time, I have always had strong feelings, coming from a fashion background myself, that the streetwear industry and consumer doesnt appreciate construction and design as much as they do branding and culture this isnt always a bad thing, but I can imagine this would affect SVSV heavily… what are your thoughts?
We make clothing for people that dont want garments off the racks. You cant sell Bespoke,through traditional channels. As the brand grows (we are coming up on 4 years) we will continue to venture into ways to expand that are right for us. Savant is a way that we can interact with traditional retail… we are just beginning to figure this out, but the first steps have proven successful. In Feb 2008, we will debut more ready to wear extensions of SVSV. The focus in pace and quality – the brand is developed with longevity in mind, not trends and fads. At the end of the day, the brand is less about fashion and more about creating objects that are special to their owners.
And what about Savant, its from a similar design approach, but a ready to wear collection rather than the bespoke principles that SVSV follows…Tell me about Savant?
Savant is just that, SVSV ready to wear. You cant custom cut a jacket for everyone interested in the brand… so we offered something that made sense. This will continue with more collections next season. We are also launching several more surprises in Feb 2008. stay tuned.
On a larger scale.. what do you think of Streetwear today, thats a stupid question, that I get asked often and refuse to answer, so,… what I mean is… recent movements within our culture seem to be
following patterns that have occured in earlier years, with the wider distribution of labels, ending in a loss of ‘cool’, is this a cycle that occurs periodically, and is merely meant to bleed out the commercially viable brands from the others, and make room for the new, or is this a result of mainstream media’s recent fascination with street culture?
Well I have no idea how it actually ended up being called "street culture"… think about it, what the hell is "street" about it. I have never met a street hustler slinging tee shirts wearing neon. I think you take all these various elements that make up the culture, blend them together and the one common element is design. Cycles in trends and markets are part of the nature of business, we are facing a sudden shift in the near future as the smaller brands run out of ambition and capital. The mid size brands now have to compete with larger brands creating sub division to feed off of lower price point markets. In the future, we need to see less brands and more innovative products… more brands just means more of the same. i.e. skulls, daggers, drugs and stolen rap lyrics.
Its a common frame of thought that quality has lost its importance within our culture, personally this is something I find hard to fathom… what are your thoughts on marketing vs design vs production
quality? I remember speaking to you some time back and you mentioned alternatives to Chinese manufacturing, you had plans that I know you’ve developed, tell me about this…?
Well, first off, there is nothing wrong with Chinese production. China produces some amazing quality, but we were searching for alternative and began to discover some great things. There are regions of the world, like Africa that are rich with a deep cultural and craft heritage. Skill sets that have been developed over centuries. In terms of the culture, again it is hard for me to comment directly because I dont see myself directly interacting too deeply with the streetwear culture, we are focused more on design.
From my interaction I have noticed a decline in the overall innovation coming from the brands. I think it might be partly to the fact that there are so many more brands cluttering the market right now. Everything is moving so fast, the brands are forced to compete within an accelerated time frame. It is clear to see what is about to happen – it does not take a crystal ball – the market is demanding innovation and quality. The age of fake hyped brands is coming to an abrupt end. The bigger brands can continue to push forward because they have the resources, but the smaller brands need to quickly
figure things out. You can either fade or challenge the conventions that currently exist. I think a wave of super quality is coming.
Quality that is so over the top that is will rival anything we are seeing now. I think this will even effect the large brands, especially luxury brands. The age of the brand is simply going to be over run by the age of the consumer. I think the consumer finally figured out who has the real power. Our personal response to this is a new partnership called Future Craft. It is a company we are doing with Otabo Footwear and several other key players. It is the resurgence of craft in luxury. It will focus on the production methods, materials and individuals responsible for producing truly high quality objects. the initial movement of this brand will focus on a factory and innovation center in south africa. In the modern age, you cant consume a luxury good and not know where it is made or how it is made. the future of luxury is disclosure, craft and individualism, not mass market branding. It is also about finding a balance of utility and style, something that used to be the foundation of super high quality goods and services before the plague of branding devoured reality. The goal is to use consumerism to help
people… we understand that telling people not to buy things is simply not going to work, so to help people you have to attack the problem of over consumption and waste from a new angle. The innovation center will basically be a magnet to attack the best minds in design to help develop wiki solutions to help the region, the people and the brand itself.