Kim Russell, like many other black creatives working in the fashion field, had an unorthodox path to gaining exposure in the fashion world.
If you have any remote interest in fashion – in addition to being “hard online” as they say – you’ve likely run into TheKimbino via retweet Or while scrolling normally on Instagram. Russell has become one of the most discussed digital archivists on social media, known for her sharp analysis, quick wit, and has quickly escalated to being one of the most visible and influential accounts on TikTok and Instagram. This work has given her some unique opportunities: she has appeared in several fashion magazines, written a style column for The Face and is followed by some notable names. (Kim kardashian Tweet Russell’s birthday last year.)
The popularity of archival accounts truly reflects a “zeitgeist” moment in fashion where vintage king and the discovery of a reference is a form of cultural currency. Accounts like Russell have turned archives into open access platforms that allow fans to interact with images or clothing that previously required more rigorous research to accurately identify a piece. Her work is a starting point for anyone who wants to explore classic content, but still leaves room for the audience to interact with the content on their own terms.
“I think it works so well because I’ve made fashion and entertainment education quick, easy and accessible,” she says. “You can also participate in my pages by interacting with like-minded others. I just started jotting your thoughts or opinions on a strange part of fashion history.”
Russell was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but moved to Sydney, Australia at the age of six before arriving in Perth, where she currently resides. While Perth is not known to be a city of fashion – or even to have a fashion “scene” – she realized in conversation that her early interest in fashion stemmed from her mother’s craft.
“She always told me that she had Barbies that she designed clothes for. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that this was where I felt the urge to learn more about fashion,” she says. “She always made me and my sister in the best clothes – to this day, she was helping me out. She cared about that a lot.”
In 2015, Russell enrolled in a two-year program at South Metropolitan Tavi to study Fashion Business – the same year she began her online journey. She’s not finished, but she credits him with teaching her to predict trends and how to approach the history of fashion.
“One of my favorite lecturers showed us the set of ‘Highland Rape’ by Alexander McQueen, and I was like, ‘Well, I think she knows what she’s talking about,'” she says.
Meanwhile, Russell was building a following on Polyvore, a now-defunct digital platform (acquired and closed by Ssense in 2018) that allowed users to create mood boards or “groups” within interests of fashion, beauty, and interior design. “I was seeing all these girls making combos that were blowing up on Instagram, and I said, ‘This is so easy,'” she says. I can do that.” “And then I just did it. I might have had a thousand followers or something at the time, but people were coming to my page.”
Fast forward two years, and Russell lost interest in the platform. She yearned for something more, something she was really interested in, and wanted to express that to her growing audience. She was heading toward a deeper interest in fashion.
Go to follow
“2016, 2017 could have been like, ‘I’m done with this,'” she says. I really don’t like doing that. It’s the same thing over and over again.” “I didn’t want to do Polyvore anymore, and I wanted people to follow me for what I’m interested in now and what I’m really interested in. It wasn’t like I wanted to create groups and that’s it.” While she was building an audience on Polyvore, she was simultaneously introducing that audience to her Instagram, where she officially started her archive; from there, she expanded to the Twittersphere, where she has an ongoing conversation about Her findings, and tales of random fashion history and the state of the industry.
When asked to identify the role of archivist in the fashion scene, Russell claimed she “just fell into it.” Its operation is spontaneous and unstructured – a journey of endless scrolling through the endless pages of Getty Images, Tumblr, and runway collections which in turn leads to a fascinating engagement amongst the online fashion community. “I look at hundreds of thousands of photos, and because I’ve gone through thousands of groups and looked at them over and over again, I can spot something and put that bit of history on my page,” she says.
And people take notice.
“I’m starting to notice that my posts go viral when other journalists or writers share or retweet them,” she says, highlighting Evan Ross Katz, who described them in Paper last January, as an early follower. “This was around the beginning of 2018, and I started gaining more followers from posting about what I loved.”
As her followers grew (her Twitter account is currently around 35K; Instagram, 125K) she has had to mark which photos do and don’t work, whether to put the audience in mind or post something that personally resonates with her. Fortunately, she and her followers are on an equal footing with what they like. In the early days of her account, though, she was posting more “niche” fashion photos, something like Calvin Klein flip-flops in her face—”weird and wonderful” stuff, as she describes it, but perhaps alienating the casual viewer. Opposite the image of a well-known celebrity wearing Calvin Klein brand.
“Well, I guess I’ve done it for so long now that I know what my audience likes, what might be funny or what they might think is unusual,” she says. “I know Robin Williams’ post is going to be good. I know the ‘Euphoria’ post is going to be good. But a lot of people are following me because I like Alexander McQueen or Tom Ford. Whatever it is, I know what they’re going to like.”
By the way, she caught the attention of another famous Kim – Kardashian – when she posted about a photoshoot the love The magazine that featured the reality star/mogul in a range of Prada’s Spring 2015 looks, with archived Prada pieces woven throughout. Through the retweet process, it ended up on Kardashian’s timeline, resulting in a following from the style star. The occasional DM exchange between the two eventually led to a real meeting of minds in Los Angeles, but everything that could have come from that was cut short by the pandemic, work visa hurdles, and travel restrictions. Russell has to remain silent about his brief stint in the Kardashian world for reasons, but she still hopes it won’t be her last encounter.
While Russell has career aspirations beyond maintaining spread online, it all hinges on easing Covid-19 restrictions and opening borders. Rather than taking on a unique role in fashion, she wants to be active in a variety of things that can serve as extensions of her brand.
“I want to work and do photos and magazines and things like that. I want to make this my goal, but I also want to do whatever I want,” she says. “I guess I’d like to model someone here and there, but not on a permanent basis, because it’s harder than people know. But yeah, I just want to do a lot more.”
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