Starbucks, the McQueen job and Taylor Swift – KidSuper’s Colm Dillane does real talk with HUNGER

HUNGER’s editorial director Devinder Bains catches up with the designer also known as Colm Dillane during his visit to London last week.

Colm Dillane might be the least ‘fashion’ person in fashion, and he would be the first to agree with that statement. Starting out in Brooklyn as an artist making t-shirts, the streetwear designer has risen through the echelons of high fashion in the most unconventional way. Being rejected from the official Paris Fashion Week listings three times didn’t stop him from putting on his own creatively eccentric shows in the capital ­– even though he had little to no understanding of how fashion shows work. His vibrant looks eventually caught the eye of fashion editors, and he nudged his way onto the official roster. Collabs with brands eager to tap into the arty looks loved by musicians, artists and sports stars alike culminated in Dillane being the first-ever guest runway designer for Louis Vuitton for their autumn/winter 2023 menswear collection.

KidSuper might not quite be a household name yet, although a recent link to Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce might have helped with that, but it is a brand that streetwear consumers are fiercely passionate about. The latest collaboration for the clothing line comes in the form of Pumpkin Spice Latte merch, specifically a fall-themed varsity jacket, for Starbucks – and it’s quite something to make a coffee brand look cool… Here, HUNGER catches up with the designer during his fleeting visit to London…

Tell us about KidSuper X Starbucks? We didn’t see that one coming…

When Starbucks reached out, I was in front of a lot of my friends and there were musicians and all different people there and I said, ‘Starbucks wants to collab, do you think this is like selling out?’ And they were like, ‘to be honest. I love Starbucks’ or ‘I drink Starbucks’, so I was like, alright, that’s kind of cool that they’re a company that everyone has a kind of personal relationship to. For me, my dad worked for an Irish company that does food ingredients, and one of the people they always worked for was Starbucks, so, that kind of helped his career, so I thought it’d be cool

I think there’s also elements when you know, brands want to be cool, and I want support. So, I think it’s a win-win. And, you know, I think the products pretty cool. What did you think? 

I agree with you, if it’s a brand that you’re aligned with anyway, why should you not take their money, right?

I also think, what people don’t realise is, my like freedom and independence and madness comes from a stability that I have financially, and that only comes with partners that are willing to support it. And so, I think my collaboration with Starbucks and other brands has allowed me to really be free and I think there’s nothing better than that.

Talking of collabs, you’ve done some wild ones from Louis Vuitton and UGGS to PUMA and Barnsley FC, and of course dressed some cool people…including Usher! He’s having a wild comeback; how did you get in on that?

It was crazy because we did the Usher thing kind of early in his resurrection or whatever you want to call it. I was like, you know, Usher was very big when I was younger and every song you’d have your first kiss to was Usher, I was gonna say ‘virginity’, but it was way earlier than that, no one was losing their virginity that early, or at least I wasn’t. I vividly remember slow dancing, or we call it grinding, as a 13-year-old and being like, this is the most magical moment of my life. And I’ll never reach this true happiness ever again. So I thought it was cool to dress him. But now, to see him getting the Super Bowl, at Fashion Week, it’s pretty awesome. I got to FaceTime with him earlier on this year before everything started moving – so that’s pretty cool.

Is there a dream brand or person that’s still on your list to collab with?

Well, I don’t know if you recently saw but I had lunch with Ronaldinho, the soccer player.

I did see! That’s your dream person, isn’t it? 

That was my dream person! But we haven’t collabed yet, but I’m getting closer! I loved him so much growing up, there used to be tags on my clothing that would just have a picture of Ronaldinho and say ‘can’t wait to meet Ronaldinho’ size small, and it was just completely unrelated to the KidSuper brand or maybe the only thing that matters in the KidSuper brand.

When it comes to a dream brand to work with, I think it’s pretty interesting because now that everyone thinks I’m kind of crazy, wild and different – that’s what brands want, so they’re allowing me so much creative freedom. I always used to push back and say ‘this is what I want, and this is what I don’t want’, and then their rules and criteria would kind of guide me. But now brands are hitting me up and I have so much freedom and they’re like you know, do whatever you’re thinking. So, it’s pretty cool to get that I’ve created the KidSuper brand and people are wanting me for my wild ideas. So, it’s inspired me to think bigger and bigger.

Do you think it’s because there’s not enough work like yours, that is fun, cheeky and mischievous in the fashion world?

Yeah, but I guess from my perspective, I thought it wasn’t there because it wasn’t supported. Like when someone did it, they bashed it, so when I did it, I was expecting to get bashed, but when I was supported and kind of heralded, well, I guess I realised that I can keep doing this. It’s funny because a lot of people think I work so hard to be like this or go viral and in actuality I was kind of just working to my strengths and with the resources I had – that’s what fed the ideas, and in actuality I was doing it because it was like the thing I could do best.

Your work is also synonymous with colour and joy – is it hard to be happy all the time and make clothes that have that same energy?

 It’s all an act. Actually, it’s so much not an act, I have one emotion and it’s just happy, and when I’m not happy, I’m working hard to be happy and so when people are like, ‘oh the brand’s childish, but do you think you have to be childish?’ I really am like a 13-year-old in this 15-year-old body. The brand is a true reflection of me, maybe the thing that’s not true to who I am, is that I am more mischievous and competitive and I’m a big roaster, but I don’t know how to really show that on the Internet, I’m trying to give it off a little bit, I’m glad you got the mischievous bit.  

 Yeah, it’s tricky to go around roasting people, I guess you need to be a bit careful when you’re in the public eye…

 Now, you have to be very careful. You can’t be too outspoken there’s some things that might backfire. I’ll be talking as friends like: ‘I hate that brand’ and then I meet the person who started the brand and I’m like, ‘fuck, they’re awesome’. So, wait, maybe the brand doesn’t suck, because it probably took a lot to get the brand to be somewhat successful. So, no matter who they are, you gotta respect everyone doing it. But there’s a little bit of me where I’m like, ‘fuck that guy’, and then I meet him and I’m like: Oh, I wish I never said that. So yeah, I don’t say.

 What else do you find challenging about the fashion industry?

 I think people don’t understand how tiring fashion is because it never ends. You do something amazing and everyone’s like: ‘cool, what’s next’ then you do it and again ‘cool. What’s next?’ You can’t have a one hit wonder really, I mean maybe you can like making the Vans or Converse shoe. I need to make Chuck Taylor – so, yeah, that’s my goal. I need my one hit wonder product! But again, I also love that idea that you’re like constantly reinventing yourself and constantly forcing yourself to come up with new ideas and amazing creative challenges. Yeah, I mean, not too much to complain about this.

I know you’ve always been very varied in your casting of models, but is enough being done in the fashion industry as a whole?

 I think Vogue or someone did an article showing the percentage of models that were plus sized in shows and three years in a row we have been the number one with the highest percentage of plus size models. I didn’t do it as a political statement or making a stance for plus sized models, I did a lot of shows that were based around the humans being talented. So, I had stand-up comedians, or I had an artist, the size of them wasn’t something I wasn’t concerned with. I tried to use the fashion shows as ways to open up opportunities or to meet new people, or meet heroes of mine and you know, some of those heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

The appointment of Seán McGirr at McQueen has spotlighted the lack of diversity at Kering when it comes to the list of creative directors – do you think there should be more attention paid to elevate designers from minority groups?

I don’t know much about the guy who got the McQueen gig. I don’t know how talented he is. I think there should be an open-mindedness to new ideas and new people and new things, being someone of different diversity but also maybe not the traditional by-the-book upbringing in terms of fashion. 

When I got the LV thing, I was a straight white male but I was as unexpected a choice as possible in my mind, it was pretty cool to give someone like myself an opportunity. And so, I think that’s what they should also be open to: giving people that might be an unexpected choice but given the opportunities with that platform they might make amazing things as there’s only so much you can do alone. And I think what LV did that with me by giving me a shot, it was pretty amazing and maybe that kind of thing can continue where you’re giving people a shot or a collaboration and testing the waters and see how good they do. But yeah, I mean, I don’t know much about the guy who got the role. So, is he talented?

I think so, he was at JW Anderson but maybe a bit of a surprise choice. I love the fact that you don’t know who he is, you’re just not entrenched in the fashion industry like so many other designers are you? 

I couldn’t know less to be honest. I was pretending I know more. I didn’t even hear about the thing. I was gonna say I would have loved the Alexander McQueen job. The woman who was creative director was doing an amazing job, and she was using a lot of art and the blending art with fashion, well I mean, they should have signed me, but I don’t help too much with the diversity thing, but different perspective – yes. I do think there’s a risk with taking a wild card like me, but there can be positives too. I just didn’t think people would be open minded to me enough and now that they are it’s changing my perspective completely.

In that respect, do you think the embracing of streetwear by high fashion and consumers has contributed to that open-mindedness from the industry, do you think that’s helped you?

Yeah, it’s helped me more than anything possible. But I did also try quite hard to get the respect of the likes of Paris Fashion Week. I did it three times before I got accepted. I got rejected three times, which like no one really does. Usually, you get rejected and you go back home but I was like, I’m gonna make it. I remember being so happy about the rejection because I was like, ‘wait, they looked at me?’ Because. I was more concerned with never even being judged because I was so outside. Once they were looking at me. I was like, ‘okay, this is a competition of effort and talent’, which I think eventually I will win. I can work hard enough. and I think I’m good enough to prove to these people. I mean, the reason I was even looking at Paris was because of the streetwear movement with Virgil and Kanye and all these musicians that were going over during Paris Fashion Week. So, I just had to make it happen.

Remind us of that first show, it was held in a circus venue and not on the official fashion week roster…

My first Paris Fashion Week show, the models are, well my mom’s number one, my dad’s number two, the third person’s wearing the (Paris Fashion Week) rejection letter printed on a jacket, the fourth person and so are the rappers who were wearing my clothes at the time, I was just texting everyone around me like: ‘Hey, dude, do you want to walk?’ I remember wondering how many models do runways have? Is it five or 100? So, I looked at Vogue and I just calculated the medium and I was like, alright, I’ll do 30. I went to five KidSuper fashion shows before I’ve ever been to another person’s fashion show. And so now I go to fashion shows and I’m like, Oh, they’re so boring.

It also showed my naivety about the fashion world too. I remember doing Paris and then saying ‘do we now go to Milan? And then I’ll do New York, is there an Australian one?’ I thought you did a different place every season. (laughs). At one point I did Paris in June and then did a brand-new collection for New York in September and no one wrote about it and I’m like, ‘What the fuck guys, like I tried so hard. This one was like an amazing show about recycled goods and community’, and they’re like – ‘Colm it’s the same season – you’ve already shown this season’ (laughs).

Ok, before we finish, let’s talk about Taylor Swift and the 1989 jacket, it was a real cultural moment that you kind of manufactured, how important is popular culture and even celebrity for the brand?

So, you know, the story that I just changed the name? Full Joke! In my group chat with my friends, not even businesspeople, we’re like: ‘Taylor Swift is dating Travis Kelce, Travis Kelce is wearing KidSuper, holy shit there’s pictures, what do we do?’ I said we’ll change the name (to 1989) then we move on to chat about other stuff. We’re not thinking this is like some monumental idea. I try so hard on so many things to go viral that don’t, and this silly name change becomes my fucking biggest thing. And everyone’s calling, like the New York Times call, people work their whole lives to get written about in The New York Times and we’re writing about this? I was like, why aren’t we talking about my whole life story, my everything, but no, it’s Taylor Swift being close to my clothes.

I thought you knew exactly what you were doing when I first read about it. I thought, oh yeah, this will get the Swifties, they’re going to lose their minds…

We thought it would be funny if the Swifties get this, but we were not thinking it would happen, I remember the first people to find about out about it were the ‘Swifties of Cleveland, Ohio’ and they have their own Twitter and they tweeted like, ‘Oh my god, Travis Kelce was wearing this suit because it was an homage to Taylor Swift”. And I did send to the group chat like oh my god, they’re believing it. It was hilarious. I mean, we meant it, but we just didn’t think it would work. And to the extent that it worked, it’s crazy but fun!

WriterDevinder Bains