Som Kong: I knew I was pleasing the audience more than myself.
As Lady Gaga's rendition of the Seventies classic, I Want Your Love from Tom Ford's S/S 16 short film for Paris Fashion Week fills the apartment of Toronto-based designer Som Kong, I get to learn that losing your hair like Britney Spears and mistakes may be the blueprints in finding yourself.
At his final year in the Fashion Design Program at Ryerson University, Som really took full control of his designs. His original proposals no longer matched what he really wanted to do, especially after a trip from San Francisco for a competition with Arts of Fashion.
“With my designs (for the Mass Exodus show) I knew I was playing it safe,” says Som. “I knew I was pleasing the audience more than myself, and that’s when I knew I had to change my designs.”
It was not an easy feat to propose an idea to his professors. He kept getting turned down but a drastic decision helped to fuel his visions even more.
“Every prototype that I was making with the muslin, did not feel like I was doing what I really wanted,” Som admits. “So it was that one moment that I pulled a ‘Britney Spears’ and cut off all my hair.” It was his cosmetology teacher in high school that told him his hair is like a ‘security blanket’.
“That was a dramatic time in my life. But it represented for me how much I needed to take control. I would have regretted doing that collection in a week, a month, or years’ time, possibly for the rest of my life.”
Since then, Som Kong has been making waves in the design world with showcases in Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOM), FAT (Fashion Art Toronto), World MasterCard Fashion Week, and a recent pop-up shop for Inland and TFI (Toronto Fashion Incubator).
Som has been able to create concept sweaters, engineered drapes and as of recently, Hakama pants and Haka tops. Som admits that collaborations help to enrich his brand and designs. One of those collaborations was from Toronto choreographer and creative director, Tamina Pollack Paris for a Madonna submission dance video.
Tamina is the creative director for a collective of dancers known as The Girls Club and Som specifically designed the Japanese Samurai inspired, Hakama pants for the collective.
“My creative director, Amanda Blair saw the pants and she knew they needed to be showcased in some way,” says Som. “To me, I was still a little bit hesitant because they were just for show. I did not see people gravitating towards them and wearing them on a daily basis, little did I know I was completely wrong.”
This led to a recent trade show with Inland and an upcoming one for (Toronto Fashion Incubator). Som was able to expand on the pants and create skirts in two different lengths. The pieces are open to versatility because the ability to place the slits in various positions or move the straps about. Think of how you would wrap a sarong for the skirts, and as for the tops you can customize it in different ways.
“For The Girls Club, I knew I had six girls to work with but each one of them were different,” admits Som. “I wanted to give them a new personality. And it was the strapping that made them look like a team but have individuality.” People are now able to do the same once they own this Som Kong piece.
Although Som is in no rush to sell his pieces, the brand becoming an official company and business gave him a new perspective and a direction to take. He owes it all to his team.
“Even though it's my name sake, Som Kong wouldn't exist without its team,” says Som. Som and his team are all willing to sew until six a.m. just so the pieces can go with him for New York when he needed it. Every aspect of the company is created with Som and his team, and he appreciates that.
“I never refer to the team as interns. I've always wanted to be a part of a team,” says Som.
“I don't want to give off the idea of a hierarchy.”
With a good team behind him and his experiences so far, Som shared with me how he came about finding his brand through his logo.
“Coming to Toronto, I knew I loved architecture,” admits Som. “My graphic designer noticed through my archive of work that I had an angular aesthetic. If you look at the M, the slash is to emphasize the ROM.”
I then exclaimed, “Shout out to the ROM!” which Som laughingly agreed with me. But a slash, that may seem simple to some, had more significance for Som.
“It's all about that subtle detail that really makes the logo. To me, what the slash represents is used in ratios with math. It's neither inclusive nor exclusive. I use it to explain the metaphor in terms of process. It's never a horizontal line or a vertical path. Sometimes it's just an oblique stroke. And it's just so mysterious in a lot of ways. That's kind of how the brand operates, the details is really what makes the clothing and the brand itself.”
This slash can now be seen in the tags within his clothing, in front of the hand crafted bags that it is packaged in, and of course on the name itself.
When I asked Som which direction he sees the brand heading, he has nothing but big plans that especially includes the queen in his life.
“I feel like there’s always a potential to any city, but it starts with the person themselves,” says Som. “It's hard to love a city or love a place that you’re in if you don’t know what you want for yourself first. I do see my brand internationally. My five-year and long-term plan is to be able to have my own manufacture specifically in Cambodia. That way my mom could retire and oversee the company but also live like the queen she deserves.”