linder is an androgynous brand finding beauty in the fantastical
Designer Kirk Millar tells i-D about reimagining boyish, prep school styles.
Photos by Kirk Millar.
Of late, it would appear that most fashion houses are looking anywhere but at design itself when crafting each collection. For Kirk Millar, co-founder of New York-based label, Linder, he's more concerned with the character focus, the subtlety of skill, than making a statement about climate change or doing a music collaboration. "The industry from my view is in a mania," explains Millar. "There’s this question of how we restructure and challenge, rather than foster good work; it’s very antagonistic. I would love to see the aesthetic volume turned down and more attention given to nuance, which is imperative to chic and long-lasting design."
The Arizona-raised designer started the brand with partner Sam Linder back in 2016. Initially, with an androgynous lean, it catered to both men and women, but for fall/winter 18, the two split up and Millar took over solely designing menswear (Linder, the womenswear). "My work always depicts a narrative which revolves around a sensitive person trying to make sense of the world around them," he describes. Growing up gay in a small town, Millar found refuge and a conduit for expression in fashion. And the wonder and innocence with which he approaches design remains apparent. His latest collection is composed of boyish prep-school attire, with updated detailing and a slight 90s/00s turn-of-the-century nod.
Tell me about growing up in Arizona and what your creative outlets were in your youth.
As a child, I was always drawing. It was one of my favorite things to do. I would tell people I was going to be an animator at Disney when I grew up. My grandparents had so much stuff in their house and a junkyard behind it. From a very young age, I would get lost digging, and they graciously let me rearrange the “nice china” or picture frames until I was pleased with the composition. I remember sewing a dress onto a Barbie at around six or seven. It was certainly no masterpiece — even then I was disappointed it didn’t look how I’d imagined. I loved playing with my sister’s hair and trying out different hairstyles on her. When I was 11, I did her hair for prom. These were obvious outlets for someone growing up gay, so I kept them hidden from my peers. There was too much criticism attached to the things I was drawn to, so the fantasies in my head became a refuge. It’s taken me a lot of my adulthood to reprogram myself to embrace the power of creative choice.
What was your style like and how has it changed since moving to New York? Or has it?
My style is always in evolution. I dressed very simply in Arizona, usually just tees and jeans. I never had any exposure to fashion growing up. My first memory of designer clothing was a school trip to Italy. I was pushed by my teacher at the time to participate. I was lucky to have teachers who knew I would benefit from exposure to the world outside my small town. I remember seeing all the designer stores tucked around corners in Venice. I felt intimidated but fascinated. After that trip, I started looking at fashion magazines, one of the only ways to access the fashion world in my town. By the end of high school I was enamored with James Dean and his sensitive, yet masculine style. In my 20s, after moving to New York, I started that dreaded (yet crucial) experimental phase where you’re trying on all sorts of identities and influences from friends and idols. In some ways I have returned to a very simple style for myself, which speaks to the environment I grew up in. These days, I usually just wear jeans with a ribbed tank (which I used to think were so cool when I was 10). For me, this represents a paring back of the various masks I’ve tried on throughout my life.
You've said before that you're concerned with the role of fantasy in fashion. What does that mean to you exactly?
The common notion is that fantasy is a lower “genre” art-form and the high value that’s often placed on creative work, which adheres to a mundane, deglamorized version of reality can be inhibiting for creatives. The idea of intellectualism as the highest priority in art is something I would even consider corrupt. It dismisses the human spirit, which is an essential component of a meaningful life. The establishment sees this as overly sentimental and pandering to our emotions. I find beauty and wisdom in the magical, archetypal, spiritual and fantastical. I think often the idea that realism has a higher value than other types of art stems from an envy of those who are willing to expose that vulnerability in their work. Fantasy is inexplicable and can only be accessed when we live with an openhearted curiosity. My own fantasy life has provided a needed refuge during some of the most difficult times I have gone through, and I think we shouldn’t discount the need for that in people’s lives. We accept this escapism in other art forms such as film, music and literature, so why not fashion?
When you set out to create a collection, what guides you? Do you think you have a certain responsibility to move culture or ideas in any particular direction?
My work is a cathartic process. It always deals with whatever I am frustrated with or going through at the time. I start with a character who’s learning something about themselves or the world that I and hopefully others can relate to. It’s also important to me to create a collection that I would like to see and wear. Again, there’s a vulnerability to that approach, but I don’t know any other way to create something that connects with people. I’m not sure if you can always predict the effect something will have on the culture at large. The audience views the work themselves, and I have very little control on how it’s interpreted. I do, however, use my work to try to communicate a universal truth that can speak to everyone.
Linder's men's collections have always been pretty androgynous. Was this intentional? What do you make of this shift in fashion? Do you think the gender-neutral trend is fleeting?
I don’t view what I do as gender-neutral, but rather as androgynous. I deal with male sensitivity in my work, but with regard to who will ultimately wear the garments I create, I have no agenda. Consumers make up their own minds about what they want to wear, how they want to wear it and what it means to their identity. The industry is going through such an intense identity crisis. I create what I know and I applaud anybody that chooses to use clothes in interesting or unconventional ways to express their identity.
How do you see the fashion industry shifting, and where do you see your place within that change?
I am hopeful for change. There’s very little I look at right now and relate to or am interested in visually or intellectually. There is a tendency right now toward “more is more,” which is presented under the guise of eccentricity and boundary-pushing. Busyness does not equate to depth or merit, as subtlety often takes more skill. The industry from my view is in a mania. There’s this question of how we restructure and challenge, rather than foster good work; it’s very antagonistic. I would love to see the aesthetic volume turned down and more attention given to nuance, which is imperative to chic and long-lasting design.
Your personal narrative is that of a gay man; how does this manifest in your collections?
The question of how men process and express emotion permeates my work because it is one that I, and those around me, struggle with every day. I cast models based on temperament and a personality that reflects this idea. My work always depicts a narrative which revolves around a sensitive person trying to make sense of the world around them. I see the harshness of our culture’s expectations and the detrimental effect that this has on one’s interior. It’s difficult to find a comfortable place within this discrepancy, so that’s what I’m exploring with my work. My experience as a gay man is an opportunity for one “outsider” perspective on the conversation of masculinity.