Throughout history there are extraordinary moments that change life as we know it and define men. The artifacts that survive those moments are to remind us of the importance and act in a way as a time machine for us to return to them. This is exactly the story Stephen Kenn is sharing and along the way building a legacy... Designs heavily influenced by the mid century era along with the use of vintage military fabrics makes his collections truly one of a kind. I had the pleasure of meeting Stephen through a good friend Jeremiah Newton (The Bearded Bastard) at his shop in Downtown Los Angeles where I was able to see some of the current projects he had going as well as where the ideas came to life. Seeing these pieces in their simplest form is incredible to witness because us, being on the outside, we just see final products but that is just one step of many. This also is one of the amazing things about Stephen's designs in which he feels and understands the importance of showing the process of how his art is created as well as how he relates the furniture building process to the construction of the human body with the frame, belts, and cushions becoming the bones, muscle and skin of each piece. Here is a look inside his craft.
1.) Was there an initial moment that led up to you knowing that this was what you wanted to do?
There wasn't a moment that revealed all that would happen or a vision that I would be designing furniture. There was, however, a series of tiny moments that felt like dares. They come in the form of ideas when I go about my day. When I act upon them I see this as being obedient and in the process of working and are to see those little ideas come to life, they lead me along a path that, in my case, looks like designing. No matter what you are curious about, I believe the formula is the same. Risk is essential to growth and growth informs us of our next challenge and so on. I'm enjoying the journey of contributing to our world through design.
2.) All of your pieces have a story behind them. Once you have completed a collection do you find it difficult to part with them?
In the beginning it was much harder, mostly because I was actually seeing everything I made. I would invest hours of my own blood, sweat and tears into a design, and then the sale fell so short in comparison. Once I began working with contractors that emotional experience with every single product slowly went away and I think this was very helpful for me to move into being a designer as opposed to a maker. I still love to make things myself, but I don't do production runs all by myself. My making is more on the experimental side, part of the initial design process.
3.) You did a collaboration with Simon Miller and your more recent with Truck furniture that are incredible. Do you see yourself doing more collaborations in the future?
Absolutely! Working with others is not about marketing for me, it is purely to learn and share experiences with others. I have so many takeaways from these collaborations, as well as new friendships. Collaborations are essential for me.
4.) Myself being from a military family and growing up around the stories as well as the old hand me downs from those who served, I quickly was drawn to the inheritance and Encounter Collections. What was it that drove you to create using fabrics along with what influenced you from the WWII era?
When I first experienced vintage military clothing and objects, I was drawn to the color consistency and the functional design. When I wandered into the warehouse in east LA years ago now I can still remember my jaw dropping literally. I couldn't wrap my mind around the massive amount of clothing and bags, boots etc... After the shock and awe wore off it became a very humbling place for me. I would sit for hours on the piles just journaling about how appreciative I was and read the names of soldiers I could see written into bags or tents or jackets aloud. I am not sure that I will ever have the opportunity to design with materials that are so historically significant. It truly is an honor to breath new life into these tired and forgotten tents and evoke an emotional response in the right customer and, hopefully, inspire conversations about the sacrifices that our country made to give our generation the freedom that we have. Redemption is one of the most hopeful and powerful stories that I have had the opportunity to explore with design.
Well... Last but not least you know we enjoy our drinks so be sure to grab your STEPHEN KENN travel cocktail kit!
Interview by Levi Stocke
Product photo credits from StephenKenn.com