How Mikael Kennedy turned Persian rugs into tote bags and B*rks
A conversation with King Kennedy about traveling the world, working in fashion, and selling Persian rugs from an old Mercedes.
A lot of shit feels the same these days.
So many brands out there are copy-paste versions of other brands and it makes me feel like we’ve lost our imagination. But when I meet dudes like Mikael Kennedy, I remember there are people with genuine creativity in the world and it’s important to highlight those folks.
I’ve been following Mikael’s work as a rug dealer for a while and have witnessed him expand into making products out of those rugs.
He’s one of the best in the business right now and it’s a joy to watch.
I love Mikael’s imagination around taking ancient, storied rugs and repurposing them into pieces we can wear to express ourselves with.
So, consider yourself lucky to get a nice peek into the life of Mikael Kennedy, founder of King Kennedy Rugs.
Tell us about yourself.
So, I'm from a rural farming town in Vermont. Growing up, I was a punk rock kid surrounded by cows and pickup trucks, so I started traveling as soon as possible.
I spent my early twenties bouncing around the country, living in my car at times, working odd jobs (garbage man, dishwasher, worked on a lobster boat, you name it), and taking pictures wherever I went.
A lot of those photos can be found here.
I also toured with bands for years to get around, and in 2005 I landed in NYC, where I moved into a friend's closet and started working in fashion. Around that time, I also signed with the Peter Hay Halpert Gallery in Chelsea and did my first photo show at the Chelsea Hotel (we rented a room for a month, removed all the furniture, and installed 500 Polaroids for my debut show).
Eventually, a brand called Rogues Gallery saw my work and hired me to shoot their new collection, and it all continued from there. I found that I loved shooting fashion because I loved what clothes could do to a person’s energy and how they make you feel.
And how the fuck did you become a rug dealer?
That's the question, isn't it?!
It started when I worked in fashion in NYC, and I'd see these old threadbare rugs on set and in the homes of people I photographed. To me, there was this magic to them, something I was drawn to. They're mystical; each one is filled with meaning, secrets, and symbols.
One day I serendipitously met a rug dealer from Massachusetts who was retiring. He was a wonderfully grumpy old dude who appreciated my interest in rugs and took me under his wing. I started driving up from the city to visit him and dig through his collection, exploring 100-150 years old pieces and bringing them back down to NYC in my old Mercedes.
Initially, I posted photos of the rugs on Instagram, and people would ask about them. A few people eventually turned into more, and my circle grew. I would send emails out each month with a PDF attached to a private email list, and that's how people saw what I was selling.
Brands caught on too, and I sourced pieces for Ralph Lauren, Club Monaco, Burton, etc. Eventually, a few rug dealers in NYC (3rd and 4th-generation rug families) started inviting me into their collections, and the rest is history.
When I started selling on Instagram, that was uncommon. Nowadays, it's popular, but I stand by the fact that I have the best shit, and my collections are well-curated.
What's your process like for finding the *real* stuff? And where's the craziest place you've traveled to find them?
The real stuff is easy to pick out once you know what you're looking for.
Ultimately, I tell people to "buy what you love." I've found some of my favorite pieces buried under tools at a flea market.
My favorite place to hunt is the upper midwest and middle of the country, the Dakotas, Indiana, etc. My wife is a folk musician, so I'd often tour with her for fun (travel was always my main goal), stopping in every small town I could find and hunt for rugs.
I usually travel on photo jobs with an empty duffel bag and looking for rug shops wherever I am, whether in Italy, Montana, or Paris.
I once worked on a campaign in Morocco for Ghurka while rug hunting in my downtime. We drove 1.000 miles through the south of Morocco, which was a wild run.
There's treasure everywhere, and in the end, this is an aesthetic project for me. If something is good for you, it's good enough.
Modern design can be so boring, void of color pattern. You're doing something different with King Kennedy while you help preserve authentic design from the past as a way to help people invest in better things.
I find minimalism boring. It's the laziest style to mimic, with no need for having a true perspective.
Give me chaos. You want real vision and style? Start reading Apartamento Magazine. It's pure gold, and that's where I take a lot of inspiration.
I love mixing these old woven masterpieces with modern designs; it makes them stand out more. They're paintings for your floor.
You went from photography to rugs. NY to LA. What's it been like to make those moves?
Transitioning from photos to rugs was seamless for me. I ran the rug business as a hobby during my photo career for years, using them as props. One corner of my photo studio had a pile of old rugs.
But when the world locked down, and I couldn't travel anymore, I dove into the rug business full-time. Now, it's how I spend most of my time, and I love it.
And moving from NYC to LA?
It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. NYC feels like a machine. It's wonderful, but the vibe out west is more of my speed. I never really enjoyed living in a city, and LA doesn't feel like a city to me. I live in the hills in an old little hippie bungalow with my wife and daughter, where I spend a lot of time gardening and walking around on the trails.
Give me trees and open spaces.
What are some brands you've worked with that you're proud of?
Working with Mr. Porter last season was really special for me. I made a series of custom one-of-one rug coats for them and a series of printed pieces.
I was honored to have them reach out and be so positive about what I'm building, especially when I was in the early stages of building this as a brand. Todd Snyder's team has also been wonderful to work with too!
I'm somewhat picky about who I want to work with, and I've often found it easier to make pieces on my own. One thing I do want to make is outerwear; some Gore-tex shell coats with rug print would be insane.
How'd you get into making other shit anyway?
Well, let’s not talk too much about the B*rks cause that got very messy, ha. At first, they loved me and wanted to send out a video team to put me in an ad campaign, and a week later, they threatened to sue me... but, life goes on. I later found a factory in LA that could make a Mule of my own for me, so we went in that direction.
I've always wanted to make other products. For me, rugs always translated better as fabric than furniture. Back in NYC, when I was surrounded by folks in the fashion industry, I thought about making coats, but it never materialized. 10 years later, I met a guy in LA who understood the vision I'd been brewing for a while. He had a factory out here, so we got together and started making shit.
I'd randomly text his studio manager in the middle of the night and be like, "can we do bulletproof vests next?" and she'd always respond with, "haha, okay.” I really do make pieces with specific people in mind. The red KING plate carrier is for A$AP Rocky (somebody let him know).
To date, the (d)Rug Mules are clearly my most successful piece at this point, and I've found the rugs translate so much easier to footwear and bags. They are tough as hell, which is also kind of the point; Persian rugs are bulletproof.
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