One might have expected Jen Kao to have become a engineer given her background (her father is the co-founder of technology company Garmin), but it was always a career in fashion that Kao set her sights upon.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Kansas, Kao studied for her first degree in Studio Art at New York University. Here she was able to work with a variety of mediums and media, an experience which has been a useful foundation to her later career. Kao then studied for her graduate degree at the prestigious Parsons School of Design, the training ground of so many influential US designers.
It was in 2007 that Kao first came to world attention, with the launch of her own label. Her spring collection debuted at New York Fashion Week and was the recipient of much acclaim. Kao’s designs are an explosive combination of opposites, the big and the small, the fierce and the feminine. Fabrics with detailed and intricate designs are cut into clear and direct silhouettes whilst hi-tech fabrics are re-imagined using classical techniques and traditional tailoring. Kao’s work isn’t just designed to influence and to inspire, it is to challenge preconceptions of what fashion is and what it should be. Referring to some of her shoe creations that were inspired by some NASA photographs of the Earth from space, she said “I wanted to design shoes that made you feel like you could conquer the entire galaxy”.
This visionary and at sometimes uncompromising approach has paid-off though for Kao. As well as seeing her own label go from strength-to-strength, she has been the recipient of various awards and honours, including the Harvard Leadership in the Arts Award, and the Stacy Nipps Alumni Award from Parsons. She was inducted into the CFDA in 2011.