“I want people to feel empowered by a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they’re always trying desperately to hide. I want that to become something that they cherish.” – Lady Gaga
It isn’t everyday you find a high-end curated retail shop that specializes exclusively in luxury mens wear. That is exactly what fashion curator Kelvin Goncalves created with Elkel, a must visit for any dapper man worth his style sense in Manhattan. Kelvin has an impressive knack for finding young design talent, and providing them with the platform they needed to grow and thrive.
Kelvin Goncalves, Fashion Curator
Justin Howard for Black Chalk : Tell me how did the concept of the shop come to be? What is the message of “Elkel”?
Kelvin Goncalves : The initial concept came quite naturally. I spent a lot of time online looking at so many amazing designers from all over the world. But I couldn’t find them anywhere in the US. They were really high on creativity and quality. Most importantly their prices were significantly less expensive than those found at Dover Street Market. My goal from the beginning has been to showcase young talented designers with a unique perspective.
JH : How did you get into launching the shop into today’s world?
KG : At first I imagined it as an online store. After doing a pop-up shop in April 2015 where I officially launched the business. It suddenly became very important to me to have a physical retail space. I did this for many reasons, including the face-to-face interaction and the relationship you’re able to create with your customers. Seeing the pieces in person, trying them on is a very unique and rewarding experience that the digital world is still truly unable to replicate. It’s so fun to walk in to a store, be immersed in their whimsical vision.
I mean, I love selling online. I think it’s so cool that I can sell clothes to Iceland, Norway, Australia, Singapore and so many other countries. There’s something very cross-cultural about the internet’s relationship to fashion. After the first pop-up I did, I ended up doing a couple more pop-ups and first landed at Public Factory in September 2015. Public Factory is a co-retailing space at the Soho Grand Hotel. That period was like the incubation cycle for the business. It gave me the opportunity to set a clear path for ELKEL. Recently we just opened our first flagship store in the Lower East Side at 48 Hester Street.
JH : Why fashion? What appeals to you about it?
KG : Expression. It doesn’t matter if you like fashion or not, everyone literally judges you based on how you look. So, if you think of yourself as almost like a sculpture, what do you want the viewer to to feel? It could be lust, it could be shock, inspiration or it could absolutely nothing. I think that’s really powerful. The fact is that you can transform yourself into anything with fashion. That truth by itself, is super empowering.
On personal note, fashion has been my way of building and expressing confidence. Putting on an outfit makes me feel great immediately, it changes the energy that I radiate. I love fashion because it’s so magical.
JH : What exactly is a fashion curator? I mean what is it you do?
KG : A fashion curator is someone with a vision of what and how fashion should be presented. I am essentially a retail buyer. But rather than relying on data and “hot cakes” to decide what is offered at the shop I select pieces that push the boundaries, make people intrigued, like art.
JH : What is it like curating a fashion shop in New York City?
KG : Curating a fashion boutique in NYC is great. I find the diversity of the city truly inspiring, there’s so much culture and history here, specially in fashion. NYC is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world. I find that remains true to this day.
Sadly the accessibility and originality of cities fashion have become severely compromised by two things. Firstly, would be the internet and how dramatically that has changed the retail landscape. Secondly, there is the paradigm of ‘new’ social economic differences. New York still has the the creative energy from the locals and the visitors that come here looking for it. So, as long as we, New Yorkers, offer that thrill, then people will keep coming to the city for it.
It’s fascinating to curate shop in Manhattan and seeing people’s reaction. From the confused looks of straight men, to the fascination of aspiring fashionistas. It doesn’t hurt to have a few surprise celebrity visitors like Bjork, just randomly walking into your shop on a rainy afternoon.
JH : What are your favorite pieces in the store? What do you love to recommend and why?
KG : This is a really hard question to answer. I basically hand-pick every item in the store. So I have a connection with all of them. When it comes to recommending a piece, it really varies on the vibe I get from the customer. To answer your question, my favorite piece in the store this season is.
JH : How do you go about buying fashion? What are some of the qualities you look for?
KG : Number one is for absolute uniqueness. I am always looking for designers that have a fresh perspective on design. Who work so hard to make their pieces look effortless. I think it is very important for a designer to be very distinctive. I want to see how fearless they are.
JH : Describe your philosophy about the art of fashion?
KG : Fashion is an interactive performance-based medium. It is as a team, the designer as the artist of the piece and the person who wears it as the participating model that really brings the piece to life. A truly great piece allows for a variety of different visual interpretations.
JH : Out of all the items you have sold, what are some of the most memorable pieces you have had in? How did they sell? I am always curious as to what you think is going to sell great, then sits there for 6 six months. Have there been pieces that you absolutely love and sold the next day?
KG : During our the first season ,SS15, we had this mesh short overall by YTINIFNINFINITY and the moment I saw it I knew that it was perfect for ELKEL. I had to ordered it 4 or 5 times. Every time I sold out of it extremely quickly, and I end up shipping it all around the world.
A truly memorable piece is the Seascape Onesie. I love overalls in case you haven’t noticed yet. This piece I did in collaboration with my artist friend Diego Montoya for SS16. It was a metallic hue and went from silver to blue. It was absolutely so beautiful. We produced a limited quantity of it and it sold really well. A few months afterwards I got an e-mail from a customer who bought it from Australia. He said he wore it to a party in Berlin, and an American at the party recognized it right away and they became fast friends over it.
For FW16 there was this jacket by designer Andrea Crews. It was a technical fabric, and it had a carpet on the back. Andrea Crews works a lot with up-cycling in his designs. I was actually scared that the pieces wouldn’t sell, because of the higher price point. I wasn’t sure people would understand the piece. I bought them because they were super amazing. They arrived at the shop on a Tuesday morning, by Thursday afternoon they were all gone. I didn’t even have time to photograph them and put them online for sale.
JH : What are some of the more wacky stories you have from the shop? Unique customers? Fabulous finds? Hilarious moments?
KG : Having Bjork walking in with her daughter, was definitely one of the top moments for me. That happened two weeks ago and I am still processing it. In a good way.
One of my favorite customer stories comes from this straight couple. They’ve been to all the pop-up shows we’ve done. They’re in the their thirties, and initially I didn’t even think they would be customers at my shop. But, they come in and shop together, like he will try on a sweater and then she tries it on, if they both like it then they buy it. They try the crazier stuff too, they are just fantastic. It is amazing how fashion connections people, regardless of their individual backgrounds.
JH : What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in fashion?
KG : The piece of advice that I would give is to focus on originality. That’s where the magic of fashion exists, I mean there’s plenty of people out there, trying to make it by copying other’s pieces. Don’t do that! Intrigue people, sameness is boring!
JH : If there is any celebrity you could dress, who would it be and why?
KG : Right now I would really like to dress Jaden Smith. His style is very fluid and always changing. He is willing to experiment and break boundaries. Plus it doesn’t hurt he’s super hot.
JH : Anything we should keep our eyes open for in the future?
KG : For our ss17 collaboration, we will be partnering up with queer artist Mars Hobrecker. The plan is to launch it in June for national Pride month. The patterns are based on a triangle – Queer reference, and they get more political from there. That’s all I can say for now.