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Extreme Brand Loyalty


Clockwise from top left, Kumiko Kiba trying on a sweater and fur collar from Balenciaga's fall collection; in a belted trench from fall 2002; in a wool tweed dress from fall 2004; in a blouse from spring 2004.  

Kumiko Kiba
Obsession: Balenciaga
Extravagance: Nine biker-inspired handbags

When Kumiko Kiba, a business-management student at Pace, walks into Balenciaga’s West Chelsea store, decked out in a pair of the label’s cargo pants, it’s as though the entire staff has been waiting for her. The salesgirls wave. The security guard kisses her on both cheeks and gives her boyfriend, Chris Duerrmeier, a fraternal pat on the shoulder. When Kiba, 23, goes to find her personal salesman, Lester Lagda, she strolls right into the stockroom and returns with him, arm in arm.

“She’s like a fixture,” Lagda says, making the security guard chuckle. “She’s here all the time.”

“When the new season comes in, I get this complete adrenaline rush,” Kiba says. “I want to try on everything. Some people do drugs. I’m addicted to cigarettes and clothes.”

Kiba discovered Balenciaga three years ago when she came across a paparazzi shot of her style icon, Kate Moss, sporting the company’s signature biker-inspired leather handbag.

“It was slouchy and vintage-y and had this motorcycle detailing,” she recalls. “It was the coolest-looking bag I’d ever seen.” After sitting on a waiting list for three months to buy it in black for almost $900, she immediately began snatching up everything Balenciaga she could find—at Barneys, on eBay, and at the store.

Her father reprimands her for the enormous credit-card bill that arrives home in Osaka, Japan, every month, but Kiba is indefatigable. “I just feel best in Balenciaga,” she explains. “They’re like urban fighting clothes. They make the best suit jackets and the best pants. It’s so form-fitting and sexy, but it’s not like J.Lo-Versace skin-revealing things that scream ‘I need sex!’ ”

In the Hoboken apartment she shares with Duerrmeier, a fellow student from Pace, she eagerly pulls out nine of the biker-inspired leather handbags in several different colors, and likens her obsession to collecting art. “The great thing about Balenciaga is that their clothes are like art pieces. If you get sick of them, you just put them away for a couple seasons.”

In addition to her handbag collection, Kiba’s Balenciaga surplus includes four pairs of designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s cargo pants ($1,100 each) and seven of his black hip-huggers (ranging from $400 to $600); the signature black bomber jacket ($3,000) and belted trench ($1,800) from fall 2002; the cropped shearling from fall 2003 ($3,200); the jungle-print T-shirt that was the signature look from the spring 2003 collection; several blazers; a pair of jeans from spring 2004 that have been hand-painted with flowers ($465); sweaters in green, black, patchwork, and pink; and a rainbow-print jersey and matching bustier worn by Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and the City.

Unfortunately, the museum is running out of space. With her father cracking down on her spending, she’s begun reselling her old designer clothes on eBay to help raise funds for new Balenciaga purchases. Duerrmeier’s clothes have been relegated to a tiny broom closet. “I mainly like playing video games,” he says.

I suggest to Kiba she could live more extravagantly if she shopped less, but she shrugs. “Probably, but I prefer buying clothes.”

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