Gemma Kahng: Back in the Spotlight

You may or may not know the name Gemma Kahng, but either way, you get to witness part of a rare fashion phenomenon: a designer getting a second chance. In part, Kahng exemplifies Heidi Klum's famous Project Runway quote: "One minute you're in and the next, you're out." Except that her moment was a decade: the 1990's. When she debuted her first line, which consisted of exclusively of ivory and black pieces, thirty stores picked bought it right away. Then the next moment (the 2000's), she was out (of the spotlight). But now, she's back. She showed at New York Fashion Week and stocks at several key Neiman Marcus locations. She talks to The Fashion Law about GenArt, being spontaneous, and Chanel. 

The Fashion Law - Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business, now more than ever, is focused on branding. What do you think sets your brand apart from others? 

Gemma Kahng – My brand right now is like a rough diamond. After polishing, it will shine like a star. The difference between my brand and others in the luxury market is that mine is completely home grown and that makes it unique and special.

The Fashion Law – Do you ever worry about others copying your designs, and is this something you have encountered? 

Gemma Kahn - I don’t worry about someone copying my designs but I think I should. Many years ago, I saw an advertisement in a magazine that was showing a skirt that was exactly like mine. It was for a big mass market low price line. They copy everything they sell.

The Fashion Law - You were a huge star for years and now you're back in the spotlight. Your designs speak for themselves but how has your business changed?

Gemma Kahng – I take my business more seriously compared to the first time. I am more careful with my decision making process and I am more grateful for anything good comes my way.

The Fashion Law - How are you different? 

Gemma Kahng - I am more thoughtful designer and at the same time I am more spontaneous. What I mean is…I am serious about the theme or the mood of the collection and once the decision is made and the research is done, I let myself go free. It’s about following my instinct and having fun.

The Fashion Law - What is the story behind your hiatus?

Gemma Kahng - I never stopped working and designed a collection every season but it was more for recreating myself than putting out there. For years, I was in a loft in SOHO experimenting and searching for new ideas. I needed that time to find my new direction and come back strong. 

The Fashion Law – Do you feel like the fashion industry is different today than it was 10 years ago?

Gemma Kahng – The fashion industry is different in a sense that competition is more fierce. It is same in a way that the store wants to carry the name that’s hot and every store carries the same brand. 

The Fashion Law - You showed for NYFW F/W 2011 with GenArt. What has your involvement with GenArt been like?

Gemma Kahng - They came to me at the perfect time. I was pondering how I was going to participate the fashion week without any budget. GenArt was the answer. It was great to be involved with an organization that was very supportive and generous.

The Fashion Law - What designers or brands do you admire?

Gemma Kahng - I admire companies that are hugely successful but not necessarily the products they design. First names come to my mind are Ralph Lauren and Chanel for their strong identity and presence in the market.