Chic Women With Punk Hearts, This Is The Brand For You

I've reached that time in my life when the jeans I’ve had since I was 18 — despite stretching ever-so-politely over the years — are now, undeniably, 700% too small. I need a new pair of jeans, one perhaps with a cut that makes me look more like a grown-up and less like an over-grown Blink 182 fan (although, if possible, I’d still like to be both). Enter: Kéji, the small-but-perfectly formed brand designed by Katie Green for chic women with punk hearts — a.k.a. everything I could want in a clothing line and more. Having worked first as a pattern cutter, then closely with Katie Grand at Love magazine, then as a buyer at Net-A-Porter, Green finally launched her own label in 2015, offering a concise collection of 11 styles of denim. Kéji has since evolved with skill and precision into a full ready-to-wear collection worn by skaters (a direct reference for her most recent offering) and high-flying women, alike. But her fall/winter 2016 selection (pictured here and currently available for purchase) is what particularly stands out, with its velvet jumpsuits, satin skirts, and what Green refers to as the most flattering jean shape: high-waisted and seriously wide-legged. In the way that Céline predicted exactly what every woman wanted to wear in 2012, Kéji — whose acute accent sits in the same place — provides its customers with wearable and desirable looks that are similarly quietly iconic. Below, Green talks about dressing down while still dressing up, life as a London-based designer post-Brexit, and how the right pair of jeans can make the woman.
You’ve worked in many areas of the industry, as a buyer and as a stylist. Why did you start Kéji? What was it a reaction to?
"My background very early on was in design and pattern-cutting, but I didn’t feel ready or confident enough to start my own thing because I hadn’t been down the traditional route of going to fashion college. So, I carved out my own path in the industry." Was design always the end goal?
"I felt ready to start my label when I saw a gap in elevated daywear. There’s a really strong market of cocktail and occasion wear, but when you look at everyday clothes, there’s a jump down into a lower section of the market. Being a woman designer, you realize how much we have to deal with during the day, running around...there’s no time to go home and change. Kéji is the ethos of clothes that can carry you through your day. There’s no such thing as ‘off-duty’ — just because we’re dressing casually doesn’t mean we’re not doing it in an elevated way. Then there’s the nod towards slower fashion — I bring back shapes every season, tweaked or with a different fabrication, because I think women like to know that they can come back to you for something they know works for them. I often get repeat customers asking ‘Can I get that jacket in a different color?’ or who have four pairs of our classic jeans. It’s about building a wardrobe."

What are your classic jeans?
"The cigarette jean. It has an Italian pocket. It’s not skinny and it’s not boyfriend-style, it’s a cigarette trouser. That’s a style we launched with for fall/winter '15, and people still come back to it, asking for that style. It looks and feels like a trouser that happens to be in denim. We’ve also introduced a wider jean that I think is becoming a classic as women get their head around a non-stretch jean. The bright blue on the denim is a chemical-free indigo dye, so it washes to this true blue. But we’re very much not just a denim brand anymore."

Tell me about that departure.
"We never intended to be a denim brand exclusively, but I thought it was a really nice way to make a clear statement for the first season. I love that denim never goes out of style and isn’t trend-driven, and that the fabric is so hard-wearing. Our jeans can last 10 years or more."

How do women relate to your clothes?
"One example is our flocking that we developed for fall/winter '16; it's heavy velvet, but flocked onto a waterproof base. So, you’re wearing this beautiful piece, but if it starts raining, it’s fully waterproof. "Everything I do has something that nods to our real life. You can shove it in the washing machine, you can get it wet; there’s always that attitude. All the clothes I make actually get put to work and will see you through your day. I wear trainers every day, but I like to look smart and be able to go into a meeting or to a nice restaurant and not feel underdressed. Tailoring is a huge part of what we do so that all elements fit the body beautifully."
As a tailor, what shapes do you find flattering?
"Generally speaking, if the waistline goes up a bit to be tailored around the body, you get the illusion of a flatter stomach (if that’s the look you’re into). Then I lengthen the leg and maybe make it wider to show off the contour of the bum. I also think a lot about where I put pockets and seams. I think about where I’m drawing the attention to with those details."

Tell me about your latest collection.
"It started with this one photograph from the late ‘80s of Christian Hosoi, who’s a brilliant street skater, doing this very graceful aerial jump. The skate reference is super cliché, everyone’s done it, but this photograph got me thinking about how I could do it in our way. Print was a heavy part in the collection. I wanted to incorporate skate decals into the print, like biro or Sharpie artwork, so we did that, but in a delicate way. I think it’s so beautiful how these kids hang out in these sculptural landscapes. There’s so much beauty in those references."

What’s your definition of fast-fashion, and how can designers and consumers help to slow it down?
"We talk to women’s everyday lifestyle and we hope that once you buy a piece, it’s with you for a long time; it’s not throwaway. We have an emphasis on quality and fabrication. There’s this demand to see complete newness from designers every season, and now consumers are already bored of what’s in store. The cycles are off, and we’re trying to combat that by making pieces that women will love and wear forever. That’s my small contribution to slowing down the pace. We’re not trying to be a flash in the pan; what we’re doing is a bit quieter and longer term."

How do you find the post-Brexit market, as a young British brand?
"It’s a tough time. People are a bit unsure about what the future holds and don’t really feel in the mood to shop. All we can count on is retailers taking a chance on us and believing in what we do. That’s what the fashion industry is lacking in a little bit, because it’s all about making money with sure-fire bets, and buyers are becoming more and more safe with what they want because the industry is struggling. They’re betting on things they know have worked in the past, as opposed to introducing something fresh. So it’s tough. But you have to stick to what you stand for and hope you attract people who genuinely support your brand."

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