On February 23, Artopia 2018 took over The Church nightclub, creating an immersive arts experience that included a fifteen-minute fashion show. That's when local fashion brands CR Lee Designs and Kimono Dragons took center stage, as models displayed their designs. Francis D. Roces is the man behind Kimono Dragons; his avant-garde creations are often one-of-a-kind, and he intends to keep it that way, making artistic clothing for men and women in his signature preppy-punk style.
Roces was born in the Philippines, spent his early years in Nevada and moved to Denver in 1990, when he was nine; he established Kimono Dragons in 1999. Today, when he's not at home working on his own fashion pieces, he's sewing sequins and doing embroidery at Santos Designs, a Littleton dress shop owned by Joey Santos. Grabbing a few minutes at Artopia, we spoke with Roces about his theatrical collection and why he doesn't feel like a typical fashion designer.
Westword: What inspired your collection at Artopia?
Francis Roces: I was inspired by futuristic Tokyo street style, and the style of films like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner. I wanted there to be this gritty feeling of the future. I was playing with the concept of hybridity; different elements in the clothing represented different aspects of pop culture. There were elements of Asian, European and Western culture present in the collection. The wrap jackets had an Asian influence, the angular and boxy cuts were very European, and the prints and patterns were Western.
I loved when the female model was lifted by the male models. How did that come to be?
Mary Spicer actually helped me choreograph my segment while we were rehearsing and planning. I am not used to elaborate choreography in my fashion shows, because it's usually walk, pose, turn, walk, but I loved this choreography. It was very theatrical and told a short story. It kept the audience surprised. Both fashion segments were dramatic, with Crystal Lee and her models stepping through the frame. I loved it.
What is your favorite color?
Gunmetal, black, red and cobalt blue. I love those colors because they are intense and subtle, depending on how the light hits them. The pops of color make it edgy.
What is your favorite accessory?
I love to include a Samurai sword with my models as their accessory. But for me, I love a good slim-fit jean. A printed, black, slim-fit jean is ideal.
Are you planning on expanding to menswear?
I want to make unisex pieces for both men and women. Pieces like jackets and activewear. Activewear is becoming a big part of the fashion world, with more and more people working out and needing something to wear from the office to the gym, or from the gym to grab drinks. Also, I know a lot of people don't like locker rooms because it brings back bad memories from high school and exposing an intimate side of yourself to strangers. It's important to have nice activewear, because people like to be comfortable and wear joggers or sweats all day if they work from home or in a relaxed work environment.
What is your style mantra?
I always try to see confidence within myself no matter what people say, because it's their opinion and not mine. I try not to let that influence me. For example, if you are at work and someone says something about your outfit, you can't run home to change. You can't let others change who you are.
Do you have a team that helps you with your collections?
I sew everything myself and get emotional support from my co-workers and family. I usually work from home.
How many pieces did you create for Artopia?
Each model had about three pieces and there were five female and four male models. So about 27 pieces total. The clothing on the men was unisex, very gender-neutral.
How would you describe your style and the Kimono Dragons style in three words?
Preppy, modern, punk.
Do any local boutiques carry Kimono Dragons?
I feel more like an artist than a traditional fashion designer, because I don't produce clothes like a fashion designer. I don't make a full-size run of the same garment. Most boutiques want a full-size run of one piece. I buy enough fabric to make one or two pieces so it's more individualistic. I make everything myself, and I want the pieces to be unique.
What does the future of Kimono Dragons look like?
Hopefully, I have my own shop and gallery, and I am able to be an outlet for other people to show their art. I want to help other artists get exposure.
Where can the public purchase your clothes?
The Kimono Dragons website is under construction right now, but people can contact me to set up an appointment and we can talk about any pieces you are interested in. I set up fittings with clients and go from there. People can email me at email@example.com.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.