In the early 1990s, Gemma Kahng (MFA 1980) dressed celebrities like Madonna and Sharon Stone.
Gemma Kahng (MFA 1980) rose to fashion stardom in the early ‘90s. After receiving her MFA from SAIC in 1980, Kahng moved to New York and launched her first collection in 1989, a collection that was picked up by 30 retailers. Her fame grew, and her clothes were featured in Vanity Fair and Vogue, among other publications. She dressed celebrities like Madonna and Sharon Stone.
Of her time at SAIC, Kahng said in an ELLE interview from 2011, “At first, I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to focus on fashion because all of the art and film students seemed so much cooler. But then I took a fashion-history course, and for the first time in my life I learned about Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Kenzo, and I was completely blown away.”
The fashion world is not an easy one to navigate, especially for young designers, and Kahng’s company flopped in 2000. Fortunately, her strong will, determination, and a chance encounter with Joe Zee, Creative Director for ELLE, helped her get the company back on its feet with her participation in All on the Line, a Sundance Channel program where Zee counseled struggling designers.
With her new business-savvy attitude, Kahng slowly relaunched her line, and Neiman Marcus picked up her collections for its stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco. "What I was doing before is what people are looking for again, but of course in a different way — more refined," says Kahng in a Chicago Tribune article of her 2012 Neiman Marcus trunk show in Chicago.