As a fashion designer, and also a fashion editor celebrity stylist, Kithe Brewster has developed a loyal following among those who thirst for boldly creative designs and innovative thinking. Kithe’s varied experiences in Europe and America have shaped his unique sensibilities and provided a deep knowledge of what it takes to create and market edgy fashions.
You started as a major stylist. Share with us what lead you to design?
It was a culmination of many things, firstly I had accomplished everything I had wanted to as a stylist including getting a letter from you asking me to style your tribe of African beauties photographed by Annie Leibovitz. I began at a young age as a stylist and I knew right away that if i wanted to be successful I needed to go to Europe. At nineteen I abandoned my studies and with $500 in my pocket I went to Paris in search of becoming a fashion editor and some day a celebrity stylist. After a very very successful career in Europe having lived and worked all over as a fashion director for many European fashion bibles I returned to the United States as a success. In 1999 I did a cover for Flaunt Magazine with the beautiful and the most famous red head in the world: Julianne Moore. On Make-Up was my beloved and belated friend Kevyn Aucoin, at this time I still lived in England and it was my first time to work with Kevyn and we both fell madly in love with Julianne. That day was significant in my life because from that shoot Kevyn would tell everyone about me and Julianne wrote me to ask me to take her under my wing and to become her fashion guru. Later Kevyn would ask me to style the majority of the make overs, in what would become sadly become his last book, Face Forward. So to sum it up I have done so many magical things in my styling career and worked with the best and most talented Photographers, Hair Stylists, Make up Artists, Art directors, Set designers… the list goes on and on. You learn and experience so much being a top stylist, I guess I just realized I had a life time dream to be a fashion designer. I think it is ultimately what I was supposed to be. My world is about challenges and the ability to constantly learn and grow. Though it has been difficult it was the best decision i have ever made.
Who was your first celeb you styled and how did it come about?
I believe it was Liv Tyler but the details of the beginning are now so fuzzy because after styling the first few celebrity shoots, my charts skyrocketed! I know for sure that the piece on Liv was on, one of her first big roles. Whilst I was in New York for a business trip my agent rang to ask if I would be interested to stay for and extra day to do a shoot with an up and coming actress, Liv Tyler who I knew of as she had been a model before. I can’t remember the photographer but I know the legendary Bob Recine did the Hair, and it was shot in the Chelsea Hotel. I just really took off so fast, but really the first celebrity I took as a personal client was the amazing Julianne Moore. And the rest is history.
What are your biggest challenges when you started as a label?
The biggest challenge for me starting my own label was getting the industry to accept me in a completely new role. Also being one of the biggest stylists in the world leaves you in a vulnerable place now having to depend on being reviewed by stylists that I used to compete against for jobs. But ultimately the biggest challenge has been securing investment without losing control of my company. I struggle every day with trying to get the American press to cover the only American designer showing Haute Couture since the amazing Ralph Rucci. It is unbelievable to me considering what I have contributed to the American fashion and celebrity industries, the lack of coverage I have received in America!
Who are your mentors?
My mentors are Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Madame Grès, Azzedine Alaïa and Edith Head. But one of my biggest inspirations is the African-American Designer Patrick Kelly who I was fortunate enough to meet for a brief second as a teenager. Patrick as you know was the first American Designer to be admitted to the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, but honestly in terms of mentorship it was my time spent with Karl Lagerfeld in the late ’90. He sought me out as a young editor after seeing an editorial I did, using Chanel. He would later invite me to the next Chanel Show. At this time I was based in London and we became good friends for a short time. In 1998 he agreed to be photographed and do and interview with me for the magazine Scene. It would be a series on Haute Couture photographed by Andrew Macpherson and I chose a very young Caroline de Maigret as the muse of each of the couture designers photographed. Ironically some years later she is now the ambassador of Chanel, so maybe we influenced each other.
What is your design philosophy?
Simple elegance which is sometimes edgy but all times chic. It is to create stunning designs that are comfortable yet empowering. The ideology of the brand is multi-functionality which is intricate and requires enormous amounts of draping time. However, it provides my client with value as the garment can be worn many ways. It is also sustainable in its approach, and most things in my atelier are created by hand stitching, by natural light.
What is the one piece of your collection that every woman should have?
My ¾ multi-function kimono, worn by Arabian socialite Anika Boži ć Al Saraj. It has been featured in many magazines amongst them Italian Vogue and the new Arabian Vogue. It has been so popular, it has been re-released for AW18.
What are the 3 pieces every woman should have in her wardrobe this spring/summer?
Definitely my Kimono, dresses in incredible colors like fuchsia, yellow and royal blue and thirdly a beautiful flowing kaftan.
Why Europe and not USA for your brand?
I decided to move to Europe after not getting the coverage from american journalists, retailers and the CFDA. After eight seasons showing at New York Fashion Week and two brilliant features in WWD, and the Washington Post Final Day NYFW Roundup. I knew it was time to move my brand to Europe. Just as I had done when I set out to become a stylist at age 19. I am not sure why exactly I have been ignored by mainstream journalism in America. Even after styling covers for black magazines like Essence and Ebony, and many others, not even they have written a feature about my success as a fashion designer. It is now my believe that this has to do with the fact that I was a very successful fashion entity independent in my own right. Secondly, the fact that I am an African-American designer has contributed largely to my not being covered. Thirdly, I believe that if a caucasian designer was the first American designer in fifteen years to attempt to show Haute Couture in Paris, he would be a household name in American journalism.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in many many places. I am deeply inspired by architecture, art, interior design, music, theater, ballet and even culinary can be inspirational because of the colors and textures. I am inspired mostly by travel and experiencing other cultures and places. I have travelled extensively all over the world through out my career and maintain many inspirations from those travels, but ultimately my biggest inspiration is the time spent dressing some of the most magnificent talented beautiful woman in the world. Amongst those are of course yourself, Julianne Moore, Eva Mendes, Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Diane Lane, Liv Tyler and sittings with literally hundreds more. It is these inspirations and experiences behind the scenes at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, covers for the biggest magazines in the world that is my ultimate and truest inspiration.
What are your fave websites and resources?
I can’t say there is a specific website or blog that I use for resources. Resourcing for me is looking at old films and discovering great things from the past that influence my future.
What is next for the brand?
There are many things and for a small american company based in Paris I am extremely proud of the response to my défilés in Paris. My launch at Haute Couture has gained me the reputation of being a new modern master in town. With four shows in Paris in a little over a year, I am extremely proud of the reaction that we have received. Spending one year in Vienna where I was guest of honor for Vienna Fashion Week, my designs were featured in the windows in one of the best stores in Vienna and articles featured in all the most prominent newspapers and magazines. Der Standard wrote that I raised the bar at Vienna Fashion Week, and brazilian Vogue said american Designer Kithe Brewster showed a collection that was modern and fluid. This success gave me the confidence to take on Paris. After showing my first Prêt-à-porter in Paris February 2017, I was told by many that I must show at Haute Couture. I am a small private house making made to meassure couture pieces for my beautiful clients and muses who come to me from all over the world. We are excited to relaunch Prêt- à-porter as we did a AW18 presentation just a few weeks after our Haute Couture Show January, because we received great interest, finally from american and european retail. This season, for the first season, I saw great representatives from some of the biggest retailers in America. I even got to meet one of me sheros the legendary Linda Fargo of Bergdorf Goodman. Someone I had been wanting to meet since I began to design. Her response to my work has left me even further inspired. We hope to launch in great stores across America for AW18 and I hope to launch a less expensive component to my Brand, which will be available online. I am extremely thrilled to announce the addition of costume design to my atelier and I am doubly thrilled to announce the acceptance of my first short film to the Tribeca Film Festival. The Film titled „U I – Soon we all be one“ was shot in Arlberg in the Austrian Alps in freezing and arctic temperatures. It was an extremely challenging shoot but with an amazing A-List creative team and the acceptance at Tribeca has made every bit of it worthwhile I am extremely proud of my original costume and the director Johannes Mücke has been quoted saying that my decision to use gold lame for the costume is one of the films greatest strengths. If this film wins at Tribeca we will be included in the Oscar Selection for next year. It is an incredible start to a new career that combines my talent for draping and design to my knowledge of styling and direction. It is also my desire to become creative director of a European house. I think with my background in styling, art direction and celebrities, I would be the perfect designer to lead a European house. This and so much more is what is coming next for Kithe Brewster Atelier.