It starts with a simple shirt. A smart, handsome, collared men's shirt that hangs in variations on a rack in Seaplane (827 NW 23rd). While the ease of fit and the soft precision of tailoring can't be appreciated until worn, the patterns on the crisp fabric caught my eye immediately: a floral in dark, romantic tones, another a liberty print in prairie pastels, cool citrus stripes, a dotted pink, all with an unfamiliar name on the tag: Minor Poet.
Upon inquiry, I was pleased to find that the design duo behind Minor Poet—whose future stretches far beyond the cornerstone of a dress shirt—is John Kwon and Kerry-Ann Kimbrell. I was first introduced to Kimbrell when she was an intern under the formidably talented Adam Arnold, and then as a participant in last year's Mercury fashion show, where she showed a tidy dotted dress scented with the coffee she'd used to dye it. She cited Sassy-era Betsey Johnson as the genesis of her interest in fashion design.
A year later, Kimbrell and her partner Kwon are spending their days in a modern, airy Northeast workspace that they share with a number of other working creatives. Currently, they're hatching a collection for a fall line that shifts concentration to women's wear, featuring versatile pieces like tunics that work as well with jeans as they function as mini shifts, all with an emphasis on natural fabrics. Although it exists primarily in sketch form at present, the fall collection takes its cue from the ways in which stylish Portlanders have adapted their look to an active lifestyle in shifty weather. Which is to say that while the practicalities of wool might be maximized, there's also room for sheer adornment; some of the pieces feature whimsical flower accents fashioned from fabric, for example, not unlike those seen in the recent collections of Phillip Lim.
Kimbrell, aside from her own designs, favors tights and miniskirts paired with pieces from Foundation Garments (2712 NE Alberta), Sofada (2937 E Burnside), Seaplane, and the recently shut Denwave. She is the tailor and primary apparel designer of Minor Poet, having graduated from the program at the Art Institute of Portland—with less than a year of post-graduate life under her belt, she's already designed someone's wedding dress. Kwon—Kimbrell's fit model—pairs Minor Poet's button-down shirts with a wardrobe that is approximately half vintage, plus jeans, and a bit of Adam Arnold. Kwon got his degree in graphic design at the Pacific Northwest College of Arts, and went on to work for local titan Nike. A Portland refugee out of Los Angeles, where he lived before migrating with "a caravan" of likeminded friends (he is originally from San Francisco) 12 years ago, he, like many, was attracted to rents cheap enough to allow young people to inhabit whole houses(!) with basements(!).
The skills Kwon brings to the Minor Poet partnership reflect his background in print design, and he is responsible for the visual branding of the line, which eventually plans to expand to other realms, like stationary and accessories. He also acts as a collaborator and sounding board for Kimbrell's apparel creations. Although he speaks without bitterness of his experience in the corporate design world, it's clear that he is fascinated with being part of a tiny operation that personally sees things through from start to finish. Both are of the mindset that they would rather keep things small and controlled, maintaining local production without relinquishing their ownership and creative voice. Retaining that ownership is in fact one of their primary goals. Perhaps that sheds some light on their choice of the name Minor Poet: While researching magazines for her senior collection, Kimbrell came across an image of a room bathed in natural light, where she imagined a writer kept their workplace; it was an environment that seemed to capture the subtle, bookish qualities she wanted to emulate in her apparel. Later, it was a quote from Leonard Cohen that sealed the deal in finding a name to bridge the sentiment, one that he gave in response to the idea of himself as "poet," up against a history that includes Dante, Shakespeare, and Homer: "I always thought of myself as a competent, minor poet. I know who I'm up against."