If you love quality denim, leather and rare vintage finds, then Kelly Cole is your get-up comrade for life. What began as a vintage connoisseur’s personal experiment is now a signature, fashion forward, all-American brand made for extraordinary people. Some of the best vintage we’ve seen; jackets, belts, boots, bags, can be found at Kelly’s flagship store on La Brea, along with the Kelly Cole collection (which is also available online.) A creator at heart, Kelly has managed to form an original label that emphasizes simplicity and craftsmanship, simultaneously stimulated by the underground aesthetic that the brand is notorious for. Check out this exclusive interview with the visionary behind it all, who modestly takes his past and uses it to propel himself into the future with chic ingenuity and a whole lot of style.
LF: Hi Kelly, what have you been up to lately?
KC: Hustling. Every day. It never stops! Just when I think I have a clear to-do list, it’s full again. I have to wear a lot of hats in my business at this point, so I end up focusing on a lot more than just the creative, which is what I enjoy the most.
LF: How did the Kelly Cole brand come to be?
KC: I was bored, and I’m not really qualified to do anything else. After I closed down my first brand, Lo-Fi, I took a short break, and then I started thinking that I should take everything I had learned from that experience and start something new. My friends were urging me to do something, and I felt like there seemed to be a void in the market for a brand that encompassed all of the things I wear and use on a daily basis under one umbrella, so I decided to do it. I like the idea that, within a brand, you can really try many different things. I have a short attention span, and am interested in so many different creative processes, that I feel it was almost where I was supposed to end up.
LF: Can you take us back a few years, tell us what you were doing before you started Kelly Cole…
KC: I’ve always had a pretty unconventional career. I feel lucky that I’ve sort of been able to go on these tangents in life. I see something that interests me creatively, and I pursue it. I started in the theatre in New York in the late 1980s, and then got into nightlife as a designer/promoter as an additional way to make money and be creative, I ended up owning my own club, and then a restaurant. I then started DJing seriously, which I had been doing for fun since I was a kid. I ended up having an amazing journey with that, and at the same time I built Lo-Fi and was doing interior design.
LF: Describe your personal style…
KC: I’ve gone through a lot of changes over the years, and have some regrettable photographs as a result. I experimented with a lot of things when I was younger, but I have always come back to this simple look that is really the core look that we are advancing as a brand. I don’t like to make much of an overt statement with what I wear. Personally, I believe that less is more if you have personality. Although some people with personality wear outrageous clothing well. I’ve always worn a lot of black. My daily uniform is KC jeans, KC T Shirt, KC belt, and engineer boots. If I’m going out, I have some Rick Owens that I like to add on to that, or if I’m dressing up, I have some Ann Demeulemeester and Commes Des Garcons, and Balenciaga. But I think all of it falls onto a very chic, simple line.
LF: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far about business?
KC: Patience. And to be teachable and not think I know everything. I’m learning to be thorough too.
LF: What do you love most about your job?
KC: Freedom. I’m really rather unemployable. And I’m a gambler. I love the idea that I will reap the rewards from my hard work and ideas. I also love the idea that I am on a journey, and I don’t know where it will lead. It’s all a big improvisation. Maybe I should have planned more, or been more linear, but I’ve learned to deal with instability, and I don’t know any other way. I like having problems to solve that I legitimately don’t know the solutions/answers to. It causes me to be creative and I end up learning about things I had often times never thought about. I like to always be discovering.
LF: What are your turn ons?
KC: Humility and Confidence in one package. Add intelligence, humor, and beauty (unconventional) to that combination…
LF: Turn offs?
KC: Attitude and ignorance in one package. Add beauty to that and I’m disgusted.
LF: If you could clear your schedule tomorrow and do anything you wanted, what would you do? KC: Visit my parents. LF: One person you couldn’t live without…
KC: Besides my Mom & Dad, I would say my BFF/Muse Guinevere Van Seenus. I don’t think anyone understands me like she does. She keeps me sane.
LF: (If you’ll share any of your secrets) Where the hell to do you find all your killer vintage pieces?
KC: ANCIENT CHINESE SECRRREEETTT! I work really hard to have a constant inventory. It took me years to build relationships with a few vendors who I see once a month and we are fair with each other. I’ve always tried to be a straight shooter with people on value, etc… and it has helped. I do a LOT of repairing of things and I have a great network of people who do that too.
LF: What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
KC: Turn the coffee maker on. I can’t figure out how to program it.
LF: Any cool projects in the works right now?
KC: We are starting to work on a limited edition of t shirts and denim washes for Summer, and some pieces to expand the collection for Fall, which I’m really excited about.
LF: What do you love about living in Los Angeles?
KC: I love the weather. I never thought it would be such a factor in my happiness before I lived here. I had always lived where there were 4 distinct seasons. Now there is no going back! I also love the access to lots of different topography here. The desert, the ocean, the mountains are all just a step away.
LF: What do you miss most about living in NYC?
KC: I guess I miss the constant communion with other people. It’s easy to feel isolated in LA. In NY you are going to deal with people no matter what. The street really does file the rough edges off of people and creates a different kind of humanity. A different spirit. Of course, it also drives people insane. I miss that feeling that I could just hit the street and that energy would always lift me up when I was down.
LF: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
KC: I love Prague. It’s just insane. I think it is really the only city that was totally unaffected by World War 2. So there is architecture from the 15th-21st centuries existing in perfect harmony. There is a fluidity to the bizarre juxtaposition of all of it. They seem to consider and respect what came before when adding a new building, etc… And the people are amazing looking.
LF: How fast do you live?
KC: I drive like a bat out of hell and I’m always on the move. I wish I could take Shakespeare’s advice to move “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” But that hasn’t been my path. I’ve stumbled a lot, but I’ve gotten a lot done and had a damn good time.
Photographs by Bryan Carr