A BONDING EXPERIENCE
SPECIALTY STORE-CUM ART GALLERY KBOND’S EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES YIELD ARTISTIC-AND CUSTOMER-SATISFACTION.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
Marketing is an art. No one knows that better than Karen Kimmel and James Bond, who have wed commerce and art in their hyper-progressive shop, Kbond, in Los Angeles’s Fairfax district, with success and without pretension.
Kbond’s opening night parties spotlighting the featured art installation would make the conventional gallery curator, nightclub promoter or shop owner green with envy: art and fashion enthusiasts fill the 2,000-square-foot selling space and pour out onto the front sidewalk.
They’re more like happenings, bringing together an eclectic bunch there to frolic, dance, converse intensely and, yes, even shop.
Kimmel and Bond, both New York expats plied their talents at galleries and on music videos before arriving in Los Angeles three years ago and transforming the glass and concrete box on Beverly Boulevard (diagonally across from the Richard Tyler boutique) into a creative lab.
While it’s geared mostly to men, the store gets its share of women customers buying smaller sizes of Duffer St. George, Levi’s Vintage, YMC and Fred Perry for themselves. A curated selection of magazines, art books, ephemera and an apothecary trolley stocked with balms, soaps and scents further broadens the customer base.
New is the magazine center and reading table in the courtyard, as well as a “What to Buy for Your Girl” department, a collection of items from Kenneth Jay Lane, Please Please by Issey Miyake, Pucci and others that Kimmel said they believe are “dynamite gifts.”
While the merchandise mix seals the deal at the register, it’s Kimmel and Bond’s view of the space as more than a retail outlet that has helped cultivate its following, generate international media interest — and boost sales.
Kimmel, who continues to exhibit her installations at galleries nationwide, and husband James provide wall and floor space to contemporary artists who, in turn, create a product for the store.
It’s not a requirement, but a mutual opportunity that both shop owners and artists have embraced. For example, installation artist Derrick Hinman transformed a work constructed from colored vinyl pillows into vinyl books that continue to sell at Kbond.
“It’s in the vocabulary of the work they already do, but it gets artists to think in a different way,” said Kimmel. “It’s important to us that the artwork gets to truly be the artwork. It doesn’t need to be selling. It doesn’t need to be anything but be art.”
And the utilitarian objects the artists do create for sale have, as in Hinman’s case, launched side careers.
As for the investment in time and resources involved in mounting the installations, Kimmel said it was born out of necessity.
“The most important thing for us — not being from Los Angeles originally — is to create some kind of community.” She considers the adage “open and they will come” a “very antiquated system.”
The openings, held every few months, draw customers and newcomers to the store to see the art, listen to deejays spin live in the courtyard (such as Prince Paul and Alan Voskanian of Bossa Nova fame) and inspect the new merchandise. Though the register is on, the sales push is not. Some nights are surprising, said Kimmel. And others win out simply because of the new wave of customers who inevitably drop in during the weeks following an opening.
The proactive salesmanship continues through the point of purchase and well after the customer has left. Clothes are wrapped in colored tissue. A postcard is included with a chart detailing home remedies for the removal of common stains. Notices are sent by mail and the Web, alerting customers to new merchandise and upcoming parties.
It’s relentless work, heaped onto the usual chores of maintaining a store. But it’s worth it, said Kimmel.
“Being evolutionary in the way you present yourself is integral. Don’t get too comfortable. Stay open to different possibilities. This doesn’t mean you’re all over the place. But it’s about being really responsive to the community.”
Not surprisingly, the store isn’t that far from Kimmel’s own conceptual art, which has long hinged on social interaction and how people move through space. “To me, it’s an extension. Having a store is a nonstop performance.”