I had been out of design school for a few months when I relocated to Manhattan and signed with a modeling agency.Having grown up in a small Michigan town, I thought New York was overwhelming and exhilarating.I hadn’t been in the city for a week when I was nearly trampled to death by a woman at Whole Foods Market in Chelsea. The lady was on a mission to get in and get out. I had to dodge her cart or get hit.She wasn’t rude, but she was very matter-of-fact.I realized then and there that in New York, it’s true that if you snooze, you lose. I thought to myself, “Welcome toNew York!”But then, “Wait a minute, oh-my-gosh, that’s Sandra Bernhard!”
I immediately called my closest friends and gushed to them about my first major celebrity sighting.We laughed at how fitting the whole situation was. Sandra Bernhard was a mainstay in the Hollywood and elite fashion crowd that had enamored me as a teenager in the 90s. She was the cool friend alongside every fashionable celebrity. Remember her cameos in Truth or Dare, Unzipped, and on the Chanel runway?
Fast-forward seven years. I was now living inLos Angeles, working in a garage, and drafting a pattern for a new swimsuit silhouette to include in my men’s collection.In front of me, taped to the wall, were sketches of my in-progress designs.To my left stood a mannequin sporting one of my latest creations.Behind me were two walls of neatly organized racks and shelves filled with couture ensemblesand many, many designer shoes (not mine). I shared this space with the homeowner, who had graciously invited me to live in her home while I launched my men’s clothing line.The makeshift office, which from the outside looked more like a guesthouse, overflowed with tangible memories of the fashion and celebrity heydays of the 80s and 90s.One wall was plastered with intimate photos of the who’s who, true Hollywood A-list crowd. Sprinkled in the mix were images of New York and European avant-garde fashionista friends. Handwritten personal letters from Karl Lagerfeld, Liz Tilberis, and Jeanne Beker were all around me. I’d set up my design studio, a.k.a. Kyle King headquarters, in the garage of Sandra Bernhard’s 1920s Spanish-style Hollywood home!
In 2007, four years after the Sandra Bernhard shopping cart incident, I was introduced to Sandra herself through a close mutual friend. At this point, my acting career was starting to take off and I had made small appearances on Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada. Sandra offered to let me live in her L.A. home because she spent most of her time in New York.Once I settled into her cozy house, so quaintly decorated by her close friend Robert Verde, my agent sent me out on several auditions.It took me three auditions in L.A. to have an epiphany. As much as I loved to act, I realized I did not want to devote all of my energy and attention to “the industry.”I needed to change directions.
I became a recluse in Sandra’s quiet, peaceful home. I was surrounded by incredible artwork given to her by well-known artists and friends. I spent my days reading books from her library and admiring coffee table books with personal notes written by photographers on the inside covers. As a creative person, I felt inspired to live amidst such creativity. It was as if the universe had placed me in her home to nurture me, reminding me that I was creative and had a place in the often make-believe world that I was so attracted to.
I started taking photography classes and would photograph my model friends in the backyard, the same backyard in which I’d seen polaroid pictures of Sandra hanging out with Herb Ritts, lounging with Isaac Mizrahi, and goofing off with Madonna and Warren Beatty. I also bought a sewing machine and started tinkering with swimsuit designs. One day, Sandra was in L.A. filming a movie when I was photographing a model in my swimsuits at her house. She interrupted our photo shoot, ran up to the model, touched the swimsuit, and yelled, “Honey, these are fabulous! Why aren’t you selling these in stores?” (Sandra is just as boisterous and funny in everyday life, if not more so, than she is on stage or camera.) The model was confused—I hadn’t told him whose house we were shooting at.
At her New Year’s Eve show, Sandra sat me with André Leon Talley. When the countdown began at midnight and people turned to their significant others, André and I toasted champagne. He told me that when the time came for me to have my first runway show, he would like to be there. It was yet another sign to focus on my line, and that night was my turning point. Yes, it’s official. I am going back to my fashion roots and these swimsuits will be just the beginning.
Life is funny and so full of surprises. The small town kid in rural Michigan who spent hours daydreaming of the glamorous life he read about it in magazines had no clue that he would end up starting his own clothing line out of a celebrity’s Hollywood home. It’s a reminder that we are our dreams and thoughts. We are capable of creating our own life experience. We cannot operate to achieve our goals and dreams alone; we need friends and community. Nothing brings satisfaction like helping other people once you’re in a position to lend a supportive hand.
To view Kyle King’s Swimsuits click here.