Interview: Knitwear Designer Kim Haller
Insight on an eponymous second collection inspired by a letter of heartbreak
When you enter knitwear designer Kim Haller’s Brooklyn studio, you are also entering her home. A career consultant for international luxury brands like Calvin Klein and Derek Lam, Haller transformed the ground floor of her charming townhouse into a cozy workspace. This space acted as the incubator for Haller’s first eponymous collection, which she launched last February at stores like Opening Ceremony. Practical and comfortable, much like her designs, Haller’s studio speaks volumes about the way she mixes her advanced technical knowledge with her personal experiences. After a successful debut, Haller decided to focus her energies on dreaming up a second fall collection rather than splitting the year into two. Before revealing her forthcoming capsule, Haller invited us to Brooklyn for a glimpse into her rich web of inspiration.
What was the catalyst behind launching your own line?
My kids were old enough, so I could finally set aside some time for a personal project. I really felt like I had something to say and I did not have a place to say it. I love the people I work for—but I felt like I’d gotten to the point where I’d learned enough and it was time to see what I was made of.
What is it like designing for yourself?
It was interesting to start my own collection because the last time I designed for myself was in college. I’ve been doing sweaters for other people for 26 years, so it was just a big open space. I do think about "my woman," but I feel like "my woman" is an extension of the glorified version of myself. So, it feels very luxurious to have my own collection and get to do what I want. When I work for other people, it’s a completely different skill set because the challenge is to challenge what that designer wants. It’s fun to do my own collection because I don’t have to think about what anyone else wants.
How does your design process begin?
I do a lot of testing because so much of knitwear design is the actual creation of the stitch. And, that is why I like knitwear so much: you get to create the fabric. With wovens, you have the fabrics and you can do whatever you want with them, but with knitwear you have to create. It’s so technical and mathematical—and infamously geeky. The silhouettes then follow the fabric.
Do you have any hang-ups when it comes to using natural fibers verses synthetic ones?
I used to. When I was design director at Michael Kors, everything was cashmere. We would never use anything that was synthetic. But right now in knitwear, the most modern things are the most synthetic ones. Now, I go to the yarn shows and I look for the most polyester, most synthetic yarn that I can find. There is something high-tech about them that adds an edginess that you can’t get with soft yarns. I laugh at myself when I pull the yarns because they generally feel pretty scratchy. Of course, I do like to be comfortable in my clothes, but it’s more important to me that visually they hit the mark. I also like to take very luxurious yarns and mix them with very synthetic yarns.
Where do you find inspiration?
I pour through books and see what speaks to me the most. I love vintage textiles. I start pulling whatever I can, and certain things will speak to me more than others. This season I was really lucky because I found a poem that was cross-stitched onto a textile and it just spurred the whole inspiration for the collection. The poem is from 2005. It is a break-up note from a husband to a wife, which the wife took two years to cross-stitch onto the fabric. When I read it, I was blown away by it. It’s full of love and sadness. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the reason the husband was leaving her was to become a woman—and that really struck a cord with me. The couple stayed together and I was very moved by the purity of this need to be oneself. The author was nice enough to let me use parts of the poem in my fall collection, and I let that dual sense of romance and darkness inform my line. A beautiful kind of mourning.
Images by Karen Day