By Aisha Hassan on April 1st, 2021
A name for herself
In 2012, Kem Issara returned to Thailand after stints with Diane Von Furtsenberg in New York, Chloé in Paris, and Roksanda in London, hoping to join a fashion house back home. But nothing caught her eye.
“I couldn’t find the brand I was looking for, so I started to fiddle with some designs and one thing led to another,” Kem says. “Here I am.”
“Here” refers to Kem’s namesake brand, Kemissara, which is based in Bangkok. With an emphasis on textiles and craftsmanship, Kemissara pieces have gained a loyal following and been seen on celebrities such as Lisa from K-Pop supergroup, Blackpink, as well as on television ads and billboards. “There’s always a little pride and joy,” Kem says.
Kemissara apparel is striking from the get-go and often involves pleats: Picture matching sets of geometric prints, diaphanous dresses in sunshine yellow, two-toned outfits in flowing silver. Kem’s focus on pleats derives from her early interest in organic shapes.
“The layering of stones, the texture of corals, and structure of mushrooms….Most of my sculptural work is inspired from the natural form,” Kem says. “I’ve worked with fabrics, wire, metal sheets, etc., so for me to create a wearable form of art, I also look at pleats.”
Kem’s fascination with textiles is also responsible for Kemissara’s flowing silhouettes. “I like working with these fluid shapes as I feel like it designs for itself — the dress is the way it is because that’s how it falls,” Kem says. Instead of beginning with a sketch, Kem experiments with moving around the fabric first. Take the Pleated Wrap Top, for instance, which is one of Kemissara’s signature pieces. It was created when Kem had nothing to wear for a Chanel fashion show in 2019, and she started wrapping, and then stitching, a spare piece of fabric from home.
“The material and pleats determine the end design of the piece,” Kem says. “I find this process more soothing.”
When craft meets customer
While Kem has recently collaborated with mass-market brands such as Pomelo Fashion, Kemissara is a distinctly slow fashion label, producing in small batches in Bangkok and stressing artisanship. “I like to combine different textures, experiment with odd colors together, looking for a subtle detail and using it,” Kem says. “I like the craftsmanship side of design.”
In addition to her emphasis on craft, Kem also looks to the brand’s most important people, the customers, for inspiration. “Women in general are the muses of my designs,” she says, which is why she’s delighted to see women from all walks of life wear her pieces.
“I’m jumping for joy if I go to a wedding and spot a few Kemissara girls, I see Lisa from Blackpink in my dress and I’m proud, I spot a more senior lady wearing my design and I’m super happy,” Kem says.“It’s been a rollercoaster journey,” she continues, as she looks back on what it’s taken to get to this place. “But I feel like once you find the right balance, [the ups and downs] can be a blessing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.