When I asked my friend Kit Scarbo (you know her as Kit Pistol from Project Runway) her thoughts on contemporary Japanese design, she said, “You have to meet my friend Esther!”. Esther Kim is a Korean American who spent much of her childhood living in Japan. Her amazing drawings have been featured in several magazines and she has collaborated with many Japanese companies.
Esther also works at the super fun girlie-girl haven Betsey Johnson store on Melrose here in LA. Kit and I headed to the Betsey Johnson store to meet Esther and find out more about her work and what she calls the ‘Japanification’ of Los Angeles.
JW: How long did you live in Japan?
EK: I have lived there for about 10 years on and off. I was there for middle school and high school, then I went back after college and taught english and was honing my illustration skill while I was working there.
JW: Your family is Korean. How do you feel that Japanese culture has influence your work?
EK: I think it is my 3rd culture because I never grew up in Korea. I am Korean American. I was born in Los Angeles, then I spent my teenage years in Japan. I absorbed all of the amazing Japanese fashion all around me. I feel like I benefitted so much from living in Japan. I feel very lucky to have been able to witness it first hand, that wabi-sabi aesthetic. It’s very ephemeral, the way they look at things. Even though I am very American, I always try to think of it in the context of what a Japanese girl would like and mix it together.
JW: You have done a lot of drawings for magazine and other illustration projects. Do you feel like the time you spent in Japan influences your style?
EK: My first big break, my first big job, was with Nylon Japan. I get a lot of support from Japanese companies. And even this shirt that I am wearing for the Kid Dangerous line. The Japanese buyers and the Japanese press get very excited about it. It is very much their idea of LA. I think with Tokyo and LA there is a little bit of a crush going on.
This is Esther’s new collaboration with Kid Dangerous.
Illustrations by Esther Kim
this image appeared in Nylon Japan July 2007
Kit Scarbo visiting Esther Kim in Tokyo.
Kit and Esther at the Betsey Johnson store on Melrose in LA
These days Kit Scarbo is busy designing and working as a stylist for fashion shoots, ad campaigns, and more. She is the stylist Samantha Harris on E! and Dancing With the Stars too. I’ll be visiting Kit on the set of DWTS. This week on DWTS Kit is dressing Samantha in a gown designed by fellow Project Runway designer Nick Verreos. (My daughter even has the My Scene Barbie that wears Nick’s winning Project Runway design.)
Thanks Kit for introducing me to Esther. Now I need some recommendations from both of you for my next trip to Tokyo!