Studio Visit: Jesse Kamm

Sam Wittwer & Tag Christof
Photography: Sara Clarken

October 23 2015

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the eponymous line of chic, everyday clothing from Jesse Kamm. Like the palm trees swaying along the winding roads to her Los Angeles home, California transplant has become an icon of her adopted state.

The breezy minimalism of Kamm’s pieces have earned her a position in the pantheon of cool – and her effortlessly inquisitive attitude made sure her position was firmly staked. We paid a visit to the designer’s home studio to chat about living her best life (and ours too, if we’re being honest.)

Jesse Kamm

Hometown:  Highland, Illinois
Current Location: Mt. Washington. Los Angeles, California
Coffee style: Iced.  1/2 and 1/2 and a touch of brown sugar
Your personal style in three words:  Minimal. Functional. Handsome.

Nice space. What about it is most you?

I like this house. I even love this house, but I don’t spend too much time thinking or talking about it.  Once someone said that this was the most honest home they had ever been in. I really liked that. This house is simple and modest. It is a dwelling in which we sleep, play, and work. It serves us well. The high knotty pine ceilings and giant windows remind me of growing up in the home that my parents built. I feel comfortable here. I have lived in Los Angeles for 17 years, and only when I moved into this house did I really feel like I was in my “home.”  To be able to look out on an expanse of space is a very good thing for my psyche. When I was a kid all we had was space, and I finally found a little piece of it here in this concrete jungle. And for that I am deeply grateful. This neighborhood is special. They say it has a positive energy vortex. I am into it. It feels super remote and rural, yet I can be at the workshop in 15 minutes. It suits our needs. I think we will stay for a while.

So, it’s been a decade since you launched your brand. How are you feeling about everything?

I feel great. I feel content. I feel happy. I feel proud that I have been able to build this little brand while remaining completely independent. I never had to borrow one dollar to make this work, and I have never had make a decision that did not feel good.  When I started this brand, I had two other jobs.  I worked my tail off. Within 6 months of launching I was able to quit the other two jobs, ( vintage store shopgirl and after school nanny.) Within a year I had paid off all of my college loans, and bought my parents a trip to Hawaii. That was the first time I ever had a little change in my pocket. I was a model before I was a designer. It blew. I didn’t have any control over my life, and I was always unhappy, and often broke. Now I make the rules, and I am content. If I am able create a few things that others appreciate, hang with my friends and family, travel and surf, then I am achieving everything I can possibly want. My desires are not for world fame or wealth. For me, freedom is wealth. Freedom is supreme. Supreme baby!  Supreme.

The Sailor Pant has certainly become something of an icon for you, and maybe even for fashion this decade. What do they mean to you?

I am just so thrilled that the world finally caught onto my jive. I have been pushing this high-wasited wide leg thing for as long as I remember. I think that the Sailor Pant looks so great on so many different body types, and they are so damn comfortable, they are hard not to love. Loving them hard is what I suggest. They are constructed to last a lifetime.  I love them so much, I wear them 7 days a week, and have done so for years.  I would say this for sure, in my career, I have never had so many letters from strangers confessing their love for an inanimate object. It is spectacular. It brings me joy to help ladies feel great. Long live looking good and feeling great.

Did you design them to be a wardrobe staple or were they more of a happy accident?

I simply made what I wanted to wear, which is how I approach the collection as a whole. The fabric has the perfect body and weight. You can wear them year round, which makes them quite useful. I wear mine in New York in the winter with a pair of wool tights underneath. There is room for 4 pairs of thighs if you want to go to Alaska. And in Panama in the summer, I wear them in the sweltering heat, because the only place they touch your body is on the top four inches of the waist. They are like a giant parasol for your lower half.  Utility. That is why women love them. That is why women invest in owning every color. They don’t just look good, they work.

We found it funny that the New York Times called your pieces “Annie Hallish,” since they’re generally a lot more feminine than that particular Diane Keaton character. Is there anyone you think personifies the brand better?

There is no one woman. I identify with Diane Keaton’s style on a pretty deep level, and in many respects she has been hugely influential on me as a woman who dresses in the morning. DK created Annie’s wardrobe, so it makes sense that there is a parallel. I loved the way all of Woody’s muses dressed back in the day. Charlotte Rampling, Mariel Hemingway, Woody himself had great style. I really love the way Lauren Hutton was put together in the 1970’s… Suiting with a heel and a hat. Homme with a hint of lady. I am into that.

Have you changed much in ten years?

Deeply. Change is the only constant in the universe, and I am constantly evolving. I think my work changed for the better when my son was born six years ago. My collection became more lean and restrictive in a very good way. I trimmed back everything that was non essential. It has molded me into a much more efficient worker, designer, and person. There is no more room for second guessing.  There is too little time in the day, when you have another person depending on you for everything. I have had to tune into my instinct, and listen to only that. It is a good way to live.

Tell us a little about your connection to California. Why did you choose to make Los Angeles home?

I love the sunshine! I went on vacation to Hawaii when I was 23, and realized for the first time that I did not have to live in the freezing cold in the winter. It just hit me… You can move if you want to.  So I left the land of Aloha, went home and saved up some scratch. I moved west 6 months later. I came out with a friend. We knew nothing about California, except that it was paradise compared to the cold grey midwest winter. We took a scouting trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and we picked LA. It felt right. I was 23 years old, and I was just getting started. I was sort of a late bloomer in all stages of my life, and it all sort of clicked at that point in my life. It was fun as hell then, and it is still.

Do you really drive a biodiesel Benz?

It is a veggie mobile. It runs on garbage. Like the DeLorean, but more my style. The car’s name is Big Blue, and she is like one of the family. She came from Texas, and was my dear friend Emma’s mother’s car in the 80’s. Two of my best friends grew up riding around in the back seat of that car, sun kissed from long days at barton springs, listening to Wham and talking about boys. Now my kid rides in the backseat, sun kissed by long days near the sea.  We listen to Wham and Jerry Garcia, and talk about girls. It is very special.

Big Blue is a bad jammer jammer, strong as an ox.  Once Steven Tyler’s daughter slammed into her going about 45 miles an hour, while I was stopped at a stop light. Big Blue was a champ. Her trunk buckled, but her frame was strong. We took her to the man with the golden hammers in the Valley, and in two weeks she was like new… except for that little tickle in her throat, which she wears like a badge of honor to this day. They say if you drive a Mercedes for 1 million miles, you can trade it in for a new car.  If I make it that far, I can assure you, I will not be trading her for anything. We are just about 250, 000 miles. I will let you know how we are doing in 40 years.

Can we come surf at your place in Panama?

Ha! If you can find it. I will be the one in the line up with a bikini and a wrestling mask.

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