[Off-the-Wall] Abstract Expressionism Takes “The Fore”: How the Movement Inspired the Kim Jones-Ken Samudio Collaboration

Accessories designer Ken Samudio and The Fore founder Kim Jones, designers of the first collaboration, SERIES. Jones wears her favourite–The Oscar–in white. Photograph courtesy of The Fore.

Earlier this year, digital creative Kim Jones launched The Fore, a digital retail space focused specifically on collaborations between Jones and emerging artists. 

Before The Fore’s second collection launches this month (The Apeiron, with bag label Bagasáo), The Art Report takes a closer look at the first collection’s artistic influences and the collaborative process with celebrated accessories designer, Ken Samudio.  Inspired by abstract expressionism, the duo designed a collection of sinuous, beautiful, and decidedly modern earrings.

Mixing and matching. Even the pieces invite a collaboration between The Fore and its customer. Each set includes a main pair of earrings, called Primary, and a pair of clip-on Forms, which can be attached to the Primary earrings in different ways.  Each piece is named after various artists Jones and Samudio took inspiration from:  Jean Arp, Oscar Schlemmer, Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra. Image courtesy of The Fore.

The creative process and its execution in the art world is mostly a solitary process, and collaborations can sometimes mean compromise, which a lot of artists aren’t willing to embark on. Looking back at your collaboration, do you somehow relate to this? 

Kim Jones:  I can absolutely relate, but at The Fore, I wanted to highlight those similarities and differences. I wanted to highlight the process just as much as the end product. The digital world is cacophonous with so many of us reacting first and thinking second. Collaboration at The Fore opens up a constructive space for focused conflict and differences in opinion. It’s not about celebrating only the similarities, it’s not about finding like-minded individuals. It’s about working together and finding solutions to design problems that we feel benefit our customer and yes, that involves a great deal of humility and compromise.

Typically, I work independently.  I’ve built my entire career on creating this digital presence of a multi-discipline solo entity. Throughout this process of the first collaboration it was incredibly refreshing and humbling to have a secondary voice contribute ideas that made so much sense to the end product, yet I had completely missed in my periphery. I approached this, quite inadvertently, with a very abstract, obscure and idealistic mindset. I had heavily romanticised the concept and the collection.  Ken was able to take that and mould it into something we knew had commercial potential. It’s that dichotomy in the design approach that I look forward to witnessing in the succeeding collaborations.

The Arp in white (Primary); attached is a Form in black. Image courtesy of The Fore.

Throughout this process of the first collaboration it was incredibly refreshing and humbling to have a secondary voice contribute ideas that made so much sense to the end product, yet I had completely missed in my periphery. – Kim

The pieces very cleverly hearken to the works of the artists they’re named after and who you say the pieces were inspired by; was this the intention, to be slightly literal? Or, were you more concerned about the philosophies behind their body of work?

Jones:  The artists’ work we referenced was evocative and indicative of a certain time which I felt was an apt choice for the first collection. We understood the artists’ philosophy of marrying shape and form and it influenced us not only in the more literal sense but also with the introduction of something much more tactile  – where these pieces could be sculpted or configured and changed in a way that a painting or sculpture can not. [Ellsworth] Kelly, for instance, wanted his work to inspire an instinctive response in his audience. There was no esoteric analysis expected of the viewer. We wanted that immersive experience to shine through the product itself without needing instruction or a cue.  Injecting that into a fashion accessory was incredibly fun and our own interpretation of his artwork.  When customers pick up the pieces and instinctively start to fashion their own configurations and different forms – it’s incredibly fulfilling.

Apart from this collaboration, how has visual art inspired or enriched your perspective? 

Jones:  I love that you asked this question. (You’re the first.)  When I was initially brainstorming the visual and brand identity of The Fore, I visited and revisited different galleries and museums to learn how people behave within those spaces. I discovered it really is still one of the only places in today’s hyper-connected world where one will voluntarily hide away our ubiquitous handheld devices and stop and fully consume whatever is in front of us. We took that idea and that became one of our references. The blank canvas and the impermanent works – it all made sense to our DNA at The Fore. Even our favicon is that iconic red circle placed under a purchased piece. We provide uniquely designed posters outlining the inspiration and the timeline of the collection, inspired by museum maps, with every purchase.  I wanted The Fore to provide something new to to the retail space – this crazy idea of a collaborative space that encouraged everyone to slow down and appreciate the process of design that so often goes unshared.

Jones in The Ellsworth. Image courtesy of The Fore.

Did either of you have a vision of what you wanted the “resulting product” to be exactly, or did it develop organically?

Ken Samudio: Kim and I had a vision of creating accessories that celebrate a slow, thoughtful process in a collaboration. We never really had a solid product in mind initially, but we agreed on creating something born out of our understanding of what our individual inspirations were. We both are admirers of great artists and the decision to create an inspiration from their works came out naturally as we went along the creative process.

Kim and I had a vision of creating accessories that celebrate a slow, thoughtful process in a collaboration. – Ken

We had tons of ideas and all of them appealed to Kim and I, but, ultimately, as we progressed with the collab,  there were pieces we both agreed and loved and there were some that I either liked and Kim hated, or she liked that I couldn’t bear look at. (Geometric and sharp edges for example.) I can’t say it was completely different when we started, but there were a few tweaks here and there.

Kim had a singular vision right from the start. She knows what she’s doing and she knows how to get it. Every move and decision is calculated and well-planned. She is a mogul in the making.

The Oscar + Form II. Image courtesy of The Fore.

Did the inspiration–abstract expressionism–have any influence over the colour palette of red, blue, white, and black?

Jones:  This colour palette was very much aligned with the inspiration behind the collection as a whole but we didn’t want this to be trend-based or “fashionable”. What mattered to us was to create pieces that were so clearly a manifestation of our interpretation of the work of these great artists, many of whom still remain relatively unfamiliar to our audience. It could never be just about slapping our names on a collection of bright, bold earrings – through these series of design collaborations I wanted to showcase another dimension, I wanted to show substance.

Kim Jones in The 531 Kelly. Image courtesy of The Fore.

In The Fore’s website, it mentions that no sketches were made.  There’s almost an aspect of gestural art in the pieces in that we can imagine both of you working with a malleable piece of cellulose until it became what the shapes are now.

Samudio:  We had our great abstract artists that Kim so admired [who became] our guiding light through the entire process of the collaboration sans sketches. Most of the shapes were a stand-out right from the start. Designs that Kim and I decided together [were to] be in the collection no matter what. For some of the shapes, [there] were variations of a lot of trial and error, technical testing, and design considerations that we kept on repeating until we finally came up with forms that Kim and I fell in love with.

How did you arrive at using cellulose as a medium? What were the advantages and challenges when it came to working with this material?

Samudio:  We were initially torn between beaded and cellulose and ultimately decided to make it all cellulose resin for a more cohesive appeal. Cellulose proved to be a challenging material to work with as it is fragile yet stubborn. Using this material also proved to be especially hard as we needed to fuse it with plated brass. Every piece is hand cut, hand sculpted, hand polished and hand assembled. The material on its own is mundane but the technicalities and skills that went into producing it is on a whole new couture level that we are so proud of.

Every piece is hand cut, hand sculpted, hand polished and hand assembled. The material on its own is mundane but the technicalities and skills that went into producing it is on a whole new couture level that we are so proud of. – Ken

What would you suggest the earrings be worn with?

Jones:  My favourite is The Oscar in white or black – I wear a single primary piece on one side and wear it with its smaller secondary form on the other. I wear it with anything that bears the shoulder in crisp whites and soft silhouettes, or I wear The Meudon in black with a structured blazer.

The Meudon. Image courtesy of The Fore.

Are you open to collaborations with artists outside of the fashion industry (like Filipino artists)? 

Jones: If I had to pinpoint a single word to describe the brand ethos of The Fore it would be  ‘collaboration’, and when the focus is purely on that partnership, the creative freedom really is limitless. There is a vast array of talent in the Philippines and within the region that I think the fashion industry could greatly benefit from. We’ve been looking at the work of architects, artists, industrial designers, interior architects and entrepreneurs to help in carving another dimension to the retail sphere. There is a certain homogeneity within the retail space on a global scale and working with talent from different disciplines seems almost antidotal to it and one of the most exciting aspects of the brand.

Working with talent from different disciplines seems almost antidotal to [the homogeneity within the retail space on a global scale] and one of the most exciting aspects of the brand. – Kim Jones

Do you have any favourite Filipino artists?

Jones: Oh I have a many on my radar now and some lovely blank walls waiting to be adorned but my most recent purchase was a hyper-realistic portrait of Alfred Hitchcock by Dom Laroza and prints from Ralph Mendoza.

The collection in red. Even the design of the collaterals, photographs, posters, and the like are telling of the artistic and thoughtful eye of founder Kim Jones.

You are launching your second collection this month with Bagasáo.  What can you tell us about this collaboration?

Jones: The second design collaboration is with Seph Bagasáo. I was first introduced to him by a mutual friend and immediately purchased two of his leather bags. I have long admired his attention to detail, his work ethic and his refreshing design approach to celebrating the quotidian (instead of being limited or hindered by it) and ultimately relating it back to what his client needs. We worked together for months on a collection of leather handbags launching this month.

Launching this month is The Fore’s second series with bag label, Bagasao.

How has your experience with the first collection informed your approach to this second collection?

Jones: Honestly, the most enlightening experience was sifting through all the information and feedback we received about and from our customers. They loved the flexibility of our first product and that idea inevitably made its way into this series. We cast a wide net throughout all aspects of the brand for the first collection and now we can reel that in and use the data and focus more on what our customers want and need. Now our client base is dictating what our collaborative partnerships will look like in the future – and they want to be involved. They want to BE the collaborators. That’s incredibly exciting for us and opens up so many doors to opportunities to involve our customer more and more.

Visit The Fore to sign up for their newsletter and catch a preview of their second series here.

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