The Chinese accessories brand inspired by sci-fi and Mongolian rituals
KVK co-founder and creative director Nahiya Su explains how 'Dune', spiders and her upbringing all shaped the new Hunting Collection.
All images courtesy of KVK
Nahiya Su’s Mongolian background means she has a thing for nature and ancient rituals, yet her obsession with sci-fi instills in her a deep curiosity around the future of human life. It’s this complex duality of tribal order and extraterrestrial imagination that resulted in the birth of her accessories label, KVK (Kill Via Kindness), one of the most popular in China right now. “The name is inspired by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s quote, ‘Cunning kindness has its way of killing’,” she explains, describing how it encapsulates the label’s interpretations of the fluidity of femininity. It can be dangerous and unsettling, yet it can be gentle and kind at the same time.
The brand’s ambitious new film — part of the campaign for the new Hunting Collection, which combines ritualistic aesthetics with futuristic metals -- drew inspiration from both Su’s upbringing and her favourite classic sci-fi movies. The visual tells the story of an interstellar tribe from the future returning to their human roots as they encounter a human baby. For the project, KVK teamed up with director Jeremy Z. Qin, who transported an alien-like cast of characters to outer space. Complementing the set design and breathtaking desert background are accessory pieces that are, much like the film itself, intricate and futuristic.
i-D chats with Nahiya Su to discover more about her creative process and inspiration, her love of spiders, and how the past and future collide in her designs.
How would you describe KVK and what message are you trying to convey with the brand?
KVK stands for KILL VIA KINDNESS. The name is inspired by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s quote, “Cunning kindness has its way of killing,” which gives birth to KVK’s design and creative philosophy: an unsettling, dangerous femininity. It’s much like spiders’ spinning, making threads that are thin but lethal. We started with the Spider Sequence Collection to construct the brand’s interpretations of femininity and to differentiate ourselves from others.
From Spider Sequence to Hunting, each collection has a strong core concept. Can you tell us about your creative process when conceiving a collection concept?
My inspiration comes from my interest in the moment, and my intuition from observing strange, unconventional beauty and abstract consciousness. I like to write down all of my ideas and thoughts.
The notion of ‘free recombination’ — of separating and reassembling different parts of accessories to make new ones — has long been a touchstone of the brand. Can you share some of your favourite examples?
This is actually not a planned concept or marketing strategy. In fact, it came naturally from the creative process of making the Speed Racer and Spider Sequence Collections, which were all about DIY and playing with our products. So far, only parts of our accessories can be broken down and reassembled into something new, and this is far from enough.
Why did you choose spiders to be a symbol of the brand? How will that symbol be presented differently in this collection and in the future?
Spiders are aggressive, elegant and born with an innate talent. Nothing fits into our narrative better. In popular culture, spiders are given this dark and negative stereotype, which really prompts me to create. I hope through KVK we can bring new implications of spiders to people -- tough, strong, and the power of modern women. The giant spider “Maman” by Louis Bourgeois is associated with the artist’s love for her mother. I was deeply inspired and this artist in particular has given me a lot of confidence. Our Hunting Collection is built upon a near-futuristic image of spider hunters. Instead of using symbols explicitly, I took a rather conceptual approach. It’s about spiders but also the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
What did you choose to collaborate with 3D artist Harriet Davey?
Harriet Davey is a member of DIGI-GXL, a creative community of women, trans, intersex and non-binary 3D artists. I’ve been a huge fan of this group. I love Harriet’s style — a powerful hybrid of surrealism and cult, with a touch of elegance. Each piece of their work is incredibly beautiful and never boring. Their unconventional, cliché-free approach to creating virtual characters matches with the strong personality and silhouette of the Hunting Collection.
This collection tells the story of a tribe from the future revisiting ancient rituals. Please tell us about the inspiration behind this collision of future and past.
I was inspired by the ancient rituals of the Mongols. I’m Mongolian and before moving to Beijing, growing up we had traditional rituals and celebrations like bonfires, archery, horse racing and wrestling among shepherds and hunters. We believe that everything has a soul. On the other hand, I was curious about the future of human life. Therefore you will see this collection interprets the collision of ancient rituals and futuristic metals from a design perspective.
We created a whole sci-fi plot: A group of bounty hunters belongs to a secret organisation. They travel across galaxies and among species, living a nomadic life on bail bonds and commission. At the same time, they go through rigorous training of the body and soul to enhance their physical strengths and intellectual capabilities. Their goal is to become the power of politics and order of the universe. Through training they would have a chance to become Hunting Mother, the leader of the organisation. As the annual coronation of the Hunting Mother begins, this futuristic tribe returns to their distant homeland, the Earth, and encounters a human infant.
This story makes reference to many sci-fi movies: Star Wars, Dune and Prometheus, to name just a few. In terms of execution, we worked with this amazing team, the director Jeremy, art director Majima, and lookbook creative director YH, and we were in close contact for three months. I’m very grateful for their ambition and patience for this project.
And how does this story tie in with the brand philosophy?
In terms of brand philosophy, I would say this collection is a trial of near-future aesthetics. I hope this collection will withstand the test of time. We leave the audience an open ending: will this human infant be accepted by the tribe? I think it captures a spirit of the moment: can we respect all creatures and return to the most natural, synergistic relationship with others and with humans ourselves? I’ve always thought of KVK as a collision between nature and future.
Why is it important for you to stress the fluidity of femininity?
Femininity has always been my biggest inspiration. I think everyone has a feminine side, just like yin and yang are indivisible within each individual. The general understanding of femininity might be too one-sided, which leads to the portrayal of women being too gentle, docile, forgiving and passive. I want to explore the appeal of femininity at a deeper level; designing accessories from a new point of view. I want to show people femininity shouldn't be limited, that it could be powerful, cunning, sharp and androgynous. For the Hunting Collection campaign, we invited model Liu Hao to be the leading role of Hunting Mother, to amplify the unique femininity in him. I’ve always preferred to voice radical opinions in a subtler way.
Lastly, please share the music, films or art that shape you personally and your brand creatively.
The sci-fi world created by Arthur Clarke; Kanye West’s music and some of his radical ideas; Elon Musk and his Mars immigration mission, SpaceX, and Neuralink; I Ching’s interpretations of the essence, philosophy of religion, the study of history and military strategy.