Sebastian Kim Believes in $60 Jeans and Comfortable Shoes

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Photo: Melissa Hom

Photographer Sebastian Kim may be the go-to lensman for arty fashion glossies like Numéro and i-D, but his first love was skateboarding. He got his start snapping pictures of his skateboarding buddies after his mother gave him an old Nikon; his first photos were published in Transworld when he was 16. "I was looking up to Spike Jonze, who was a skateboard photographer back then," Kim says. "I didn’t know anything about fashion." Things changed when, at 22, he was tapped to be Richard Avedon's assistant. Since then, the emerging photographer has honed his craft by working for well-regarded mentors: After traveling the world with Avedon, he went on to assist Steven Meisel before striking out on his own.

This month, he'll be shooting a campaign for Calvin Klein, a Numéro fashion editorial, and a collection of designer portraits for Interview. Despite a packed schedule, the Brooklynite (by way of California, Tehran, and Vietnam) still oversees Lower East Side Vietnamese restaurant An Choi, where he’s a partner. We talked to Kim about vintage scooters, comfortable shoes, and his favorite shoots to date.

How did you snag a job with Richard Avedon?
I got the job through his first assistant, who went to Brooks Institute with me. I left college to go work for him. He needed somebody young and eager.

How did you first get into fashion photography?
I started to explore it in college — I liked creating something so fantasylike.

Who have been your favorite subjects so far?
I was very, very excited to shoot Robert Smith, and Morrissey was very exciting. From the fashion world, Alexander Wang.

How would you describe your personal style?
I’m pretty generic. I don’t wear design-y brands. I’m more of a Topshop, Uniqlo, American Apparel kind of guy. I won’t spend more than $60 on my jeans.

What was the first designer item you bought?
My girlfriend recently bought me a Jil Sander for Uniqlo jacket, which I was pretty excited about. That’s probably the fanciest thing that I own.

What trends are you appreciating right now?
The whole hobo, Gold Rush–era fashion trend. I appreciate the movement of American craft, of making everything by hand.

What's one thing you’re saving up to buy?
I have an old 1967 Lambretta scooter that’s always breaking down, so I'm saving up to buy parts. They're not the most reliable scooters, but they’re really fun to ride and they’re beautiful. I think my next project is rebuilding it.

What should every guy have in his closet?
Comfortable shoes. Guys should be able to be comfortable and not worry about looking all spiffy all the time. When I see leather shoes with no socks, I think, "Hmmm, those can’t be all that comfortable." My favorites are plimsolls.

What do you never leave the house without?
I never leave the house without my jeans. I wear the same ones every day.