Menswear inspired by chemsex and the Russian Orthodox church

After his mother ‘sold literally everything’ to send him to CSM, designer Timur Kim is set on creating narrative-focussed fashion

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Timur Kim SS16 Lookbook
Photography Mehdi Lacoste, Styling Andrew Davis

London-based designer Timur Kim creates fragmented and incredibly personal fashion narratives, free from gender norms and the concept of seasons. The moodboard for his latest collection combined old grainy pictures of Orthodox priests, archival photographs of the Russian aristocracy, and images of a young boy with a shaved head and stairs covered with crumbling ice. The combination was odd, and yet it worked, creating a story for a collection where religious aesthetics coexist with themes of sexual liberation.

Originally from Saint Petersburg, Russia, Kim graduated from Central Saint Martins before beginning his career as a womenswear designer. After switching to menswear in 2015, his eponymous brand’s narrative and aesthetic shifted to the exploration of more complex, dark stories. Kim’s current collection – titled “Chapter 1. Ice rink” – was inspired by his love affair with a Russian Orthodox priest, a story which traverses the personal and political. 

When did you start the label?

Timur Kim: To be honest, the label started back in 2006 in my native Saint Petersburg when I was 17 and still at school, living in a block building at the outskirts of the city. It was a time of trial and error, failing and starting again – but it was always a dream to take it to London one day. I was fortunate to have my mother who always pushed me to follow my dreams. She sold literally everything to send me to Saint Martins to study and once I graduated there was no other option but to start my label. I’m stubborn with my decisions.

You call your collections chapters as if they are part of one big story. Are they not seasonal at all?

Timur Kim: I don’t want to think about the brand as a rail of merchandise but more as a book with its own chapters and characters where the clothing will help to tell a story. I don’t think seasons exist anymore. Look outside, do you think people bother what kind of season they wear? Some pieces people buy and then lose the next day, some they cherish and wear for ages. It’s all about what you like. Designers’ clothes must live longer than several months – the amount of craft and labour you put in it costs much more than fast fashion and there is always a story behind each piece.

Could you tell the story behind the current collection?

Timur Kim: “Chapter 1. Ice Rink” continues the story that begun with “Prologue. Medical School”. The new chapter is dedicated to my personal love story with an Orthodox priest. The ice rink is the birthplace of the story as well as a major point of reference: I was exploring the similarly themed works by Wolfgang Tillmans entitled “Tableau” (2001) and “Snow/Ice Grid” (1999). These gave the collection its colours – shades of navy, white and black – as well as the geometry for the patchworking and knitwear embossing. The collection has three characters: it’s a patchwork of royals, priests and peasants. 

Could you elaborate on the influence of Wolfgang Tillmans’ work?

Timur Kim: His constant re-contextualisation inspires me. He continually rearranges and repositions his work so you can’t come to any conclusions. I feel it’s closely related to what is happening in fashion now. Also Tillmans’ studies of unconventional love forms, the photographs of the “Snow/Ice Grid” series and my personal experience of the gay H&H (Horny and High, aka ‘chemsex’) scene inspired the collection’s velvet flocked footprint of a skinhead boot. The choice of the soft and light materials reflects the idea that love and tenderness can be found even in the seemingly brutal forms of fetishes.

Is gay culture important for you?

Timur Kim: Yes. I am openly gay and I proud of it. I was lucky to never experience any bullying for my sexual orientation, however I was bullied back at school in Russia for my race. So I know how it feels and I understand what the majority of LGBQT people have gone through and are still facing, for instance, back in Russia.

What about in terms of London gay culture?

Timur Kim: We live in a time of acceptance and there is a sense of freedom in London. But with all this joy, there is something dark happening here right now. This freedom came with the rise of chemsex and H&H sex culture, which, to be honest with you, I was, and maybe still am a part of. I have seen so many people who lost themselves and paid with their family, relationships and even their lives. For me, it turned into a form of study – why did certain people end up there? In my opinion, it’s an ultimate search for love, trying to find peace and love even in the darkest places. But can you find love in the shadows of drug abuse, group sex and self-destruction? I am still looking for the answer…

“My collections are about people that I love, the moments and things I cherish – I am not here to protest or subvert anything” – Timur Kim

How much did you think about the politics of the Russian Orthodox Church when designing? 

Timur Kim: We should not forget that religion and the church as an institution are different things. The church is a business, and the Russian Orthodox Church is a good example of how you can turn something pure and beautiful into the tool to control the masses. It horrifies me. Did I think of it when I designed? No, not particularly, otherwise I would’ve ended up with a crusade outfit. My collections are about people that I love, the moments and things I cherish – I am not here to protest or subvert anything. I am not a religious person but the religion and particularly Orthodox Church is a part of my past, my relationships. Religion fascinates me – when I was a little kid I was constantly drawing the bell towers and churches, I still remember the domes of Spaso-Prilutsky Monastery in Vologda, the town I was born in. Nearly 20 years later the man the collection was dedicated to, whom I met in London, was tonsured in the same monastery.

Your clothes are practically gender neutral. Do you still design with men in mind?

Timur Kim: I have two very important people in my life who are with me nearly every day: Tigran – my business partner and Tunde – designer, who spends all her time with us. They are my family now and I always have them in mind when I design. Both of them do not conform to the so-called gender norms. I think the future is when everybody will be free to choose whichever clothes they want, feel absolutely comfortable about it and not think whether it's menswear or womenswear. I think about the young generation, how they dress every day or to the clubs. We no longer live in a world where gay relationships are taboo and we all urge for freedom of expression of our inner selves. Fashion must follow and will follow – it’s the most basic but fundamental mirror to a constantly changing society.

@timurkimstudio

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