I-D editor in chief Alastair McKimm has come full circle.
“When I moved to New York, that was the holy grail to work on that billboard and it happened for me in 2019,” says McKimm of styling the gigantic Calvin Klein billboard that towers over Houston Street in New York City and happens to be just a stone’s throw away from the SoHo loft he shares with his photographer wife and two children.
The softly spoken editor and stylist, who has not lost his Northern Irish lilt despite 15 years in New York, originally planned a career in photography but made a last-minute decision to switch his studies to fashion after watching documentary on John Galliano the night before applying to college.
“I just thought it was so far from my world and it was kind of like this fantasy world and it just seemed so inspiring and so creative,” adds McKimm, dressed head to toe in his signature all-black, mostly Supreme, outfit and sipping coffee at a long wooden dining table in his chic kitchen above his studio.
After graduating, he knocked on the doors of i-D and ended up working with Edward Enninful, now editor in chief of British Vogue, for several years, eventually becoming fashion director until leaving the publication in 2019. That departure proved to be brief, though, as a few months later owner Vice Media approached him to become editor in chief, taking the helm from Holly Shackleton, who left to join Condé Nast International.
In addition to close to 20 years years at i-D, McKimm has also worked closely as a stylist with the likes of Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Tiffany & Co. and Supreme, making his name across streetwear, sportswear, and high fashion. Most recently, Marc Jacobs came calling for his fall 2021 runway collection.
“His studio is down on Spring Street so we’re neighbors. I would just go down there and hang out and see where I can help him. I think he just likes to have people around him that he can bounce ideas off and spar with and get inspired by,” says McKimm.
As for his main day job at i-D, since becoming editor in chief two years ago McKimm has been striving to make the London-born publication more global and build its American audience. Part of that strategy is to put American celebrities on the cover and the latest is Billie Eilish, who McKimm first met on a Calvin Klein shoot when she was just 15 years old. Recently, McKimm flew to Los Angeles to style the cover, shot by British photographer Glen Luchford on a speedway track, with a backdrop of a burning car.
Here, he talks to WWD about his career so far.
WWD: What were your main style influences growing up in Northern Ireland?
Alastair McKimm: My mum might have had the odd Elle or Cosmo, but I was never really interested in fashion. I was always interested in style and identity, which is very much what i-D’s about. I would wear huge clothes and we would all skate and hang out. Like any teenager, it was about which trainers you’re going to get and what your friends have and all that stuff. I feel very fortunate that I was a teenager in the ’90s just because of the style. Also, there was so much emerging then. It’s amazing how even though I lived in Northern Ireland where we weren’t really part of these movements, I was really into punk and I was really into hip-hop kind of equally, which maybe seems a bit weird at this point to be in both things. Then I got into photography. Photography was really my route into fashion, which is interesting because I’m still probably more inspired by photography than fashion to this day. I love image making.
WWD: How did you get into a career in fashion?
A.M.: I was going to go to art school and study photography and I watched this documentary about John Galliano literally the night before I was applying to colleges and art school and I just thought it was so far from my world and it was kind of like this fantasy world and it just seemed so inspiring and so creative. I ended up the next day applying to fashion school. As soon as I graduated I moved to London the next day and the day after that I went to i-D and I knocked on the door, which is a crazy story because you would just never do that today. I just got to know some people there and then I met Edward Enninful, who was the fashion director at the time and he hired me on the spot. I showed him my design work and I think he probably found it quite charming that I was there with my big portfolio of drawings and designs and photography.
WWD: Did you learn a lot from him?
A.M.: Oh, my god, it was like a baptism of fire. It was so crazy. Just this alternate universe of fashion and fashion people and really working at that top level. Obviously i-D was the central focus of his career at that point, but we were also shooting Italian Vogue and Japanese Vogue. Just getting to work on fashion shows and experience travel. I hadn’t been on a plane until I was 21. I would always take the boat to Ireland from England. All of a sudden I was coming to New York and going to Paris, Milan and doing all these crazy work trips. He just changed my life, opened my whole world up. For him, I guess it was pretty normal at that time, but he was also pretty young. I was 20 when I started working with him, which was really young, but he was only like 27.
WWD: I guess he was a bit of an old hand by then because he’d been a fashion editor since a teenager.
A.M.: Yeah, he was fashion editor when he was 18. It was amazing that he gave me that opportunity as a 20-year-old just out of school.
WWD: You eventually became fashion director of i-D, but left in 2019, only to rejoin as editor in chief a few months later. Why did you leave and was it a no-brainer to go back when you were offered the top job?
A.M.: I’d been there in some capacity for my whole career and I had fashion directed for five years and I just felt at that point that I wanted to change things up and give someone else an opportunity to come in as fashion director. Carlos Nazario, who’s my fashion director now, was someone I was really pushing to get that role because I think he’s such a talent. I just sort of felt it was time for me to go freelance and have a bit more freedom. Then when I talked to [Vice] about being editor in chief I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I-D’s just in my blood and I couldn’t not do it. I feel very fortunate to get the opportunity because being a stylist and then a fashion director to become editor in chief is a bit of a leap. But because I’ve been so immersed in the brand for so long I think people were saying it’s a very obvious choice, but also very surprising.
WWD: You’re based in New York but most of the editorial team is in London. Was that tricky at first and then did the pandemic make that almost easier because everyone started working remotely?
A.M.: We were really ahead of the curve because we’d already been working remotely.
WWD: You’d already heard of Zoom!
A.M.: Exactly! Samuel, who does the casting, is based in Paris, Carlos is based everywhere, my design team at that point were in New York and the editorial team is in London. And we have the team in Paris. So we were already working like that anyway and since I started this role at i-D I’ve always worked in my own office. I’ve always just been on the phone.
WWD: So you never go to the Vice office?
A.M.: We just go there for meetings sometimes. I’ve always just needed that flexibility to be able to work on my other projects. I think it’s worked out really well. I’m sure for the team in London at the beginning it was quite daunting that I wasn’t there, but also I think it gives them a lot more autonomy. Everybody feels a bit more empowered to do their job, which I think its really important. It’s something that I try to promote. Not to stifle people. Everyone’s there for a reason. I think the first couple of years of doing this job I was super micro managing the whole thing, but now I’m loosening up a little bit. Letting everybody do their part and it’s working really well and it’s kind of more exciting for me to see things that I’m not across.
WWD: What would you say is the most important medium to you now?
A.M.: I’m very excessive so I love it all. Obviously because of the pandemic things slowed down, but we started doing events, launches and merch and all these things that I’m really excited about. We’re creating merch around September’s cover star. It’s kind of a bit of a pyramid. We need the magazine. The most valuable real estate in publishing is the cover of a magazine. So if you take away the magazine you take away the most powerful asset. The magazine has to be strong.
WWD: Vice recently said it’s pivoting more to video in general. What does that mean for i-D?
A.M.: I think everything we do has to be 360. Billie Eilish is a perfect example of what we can do as a brand. We did the photo shoot with Glen Luchford, Glen also made a film, there’s also a video of Stormzy interviewing Billie, we have BTS, we’re making merch, we’re doing ice cream trucks to sell the magazine. It’s really exciting how everything can be part of one project and that’s why I think video is really important for us, just as everything else is.
WWD: What are your global expansion plans?
A.M.: We’ve been doing the United States of i-D project, which is really fun. I think obviously because I’m based in New York I really wanted to push into the U.S. as soon as I took the role. A lot of the young skaters and musicians, etc., that I met in New York they didn’t know much about i-D so I wanted to start educating the new generation about i-D and how important it was and the history. I always say if you want someone to like the magazine, put them in it, so I just started putting a lot of the great young kids from New York and L.A. in the magazine. I don’t see us as a British magazine anymore. Maybe that’s because I live in New York, but I just think it’s a global magazine.
We’re in a really fortunate position because we’ve also become a bit of a leader in music, as well as a fashion magazine. A lot of the music magazines either don’t exist anymore or they’re a very different sort of vibe and the photoshoots aren’t at the same level. We’re actually taking musicians and really putting them on a pedestal with high fashion, high photography and really making strong images and style statements around celebrities. If you look at the stars we’ve been putting on the cover — Travis Scott, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar and Billie Eilish — it’s all big U.S. megastars.
WWD: Do you still style for other publications and big brands?
A.M.: Not for other publications. Just brands.
WWD: How do you balance all of that?
A.M.: I have no idea. I think it’s just that hyper activity of getting it all done in a day. I’m really fast and completely addicted to my phone so literally I’m working all the time. Doing multiple things at once. For me, i-D is 24-7. I-D is my foundation and everything else is on top of that.
WWD: You worked with Marc Jacobs recently. Tell me more about that.
A.M.: This is our first season and our first show together. Honestly it was the most incredible experience of my career. Having that design background that I have and working with making clothes it was really amazing to work with a designer at that level. He’s such a genius in the way that he would work. We would spend days looking at yarns and fabrics. We just really worked well together. He’s really collaborative. It’s funny because I used to work with Saint Laurent for three years and whenever I took on i-D I stopped working with Saint Laurent because of time management basically and because it was in Europe and everything, it was impossible to do both. So I thought I would never work on fashion shows again. Then I met Marc a few months ago and he asked me to work with him on his collection.
WWD: He’s the only person you’re working with now on shows, but what are some of the other campaigns you’ve worked on recently?
A.M.: Recently I’ve been doing quite a bit for Calvin Klein. Also for Tiffany, and I work with Supreme. Those are the main clients. I’m actually designing a kid’s collection for Zara at the moment. That’s going to be coming out in the fall. My son will be in the campaign. He’s almost 7. I think that’s why I took on the project with Zara kids because of my son basically. Just wanting to make clothes for him. It’s the first unisex collection that Zara’s doing for kids.
WWD: How has the pandemic changed fashion for the long term?
A.M.: I think we’re going to have live shows and videos and virtual. I don’t think the fashion show is going away. I think the couture shows in July really made that clear that people want to be at fashion shows. It’s still undoubtedly the best way to look at collections. But even with Anthony [Vaccarello] of Saint Laurent, he did a live show in Venice but they made a film as well. So either you’re at the live event and you see it there or you don’t. There’s no video of the live event. They make a film of the collection, which goes out to the press and the public. Everybody’s doing both, you know? It’s the same as print and digital. One doesn’t diminish the other. You just work with both, hand in hand.
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