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Catching Up with Kem

Kem Cetinay creates some our most popular menswear collections. For the third time, Kem's come back with fresh new affordable must-haves just in time for summer. Our last chat with Kem was before lockdown hit, before the launch of his second collection. Read on to find out what he's been up to the past twelve months, and what to expect from him in the next.

Author Tamera
Tamera

When moving forward, it's natural to want to look back, too. When we asked about the key differences between his last and latest collections, Kem said both he and the collections develop every year. "Last year I bought a business and a lot of my career has changed, so my style has changed with it. I think the good thing's that the collection's evolving with me." So what can we expect this time? He said he "focused on natural colors and a mix of casual and sophisticated pieces."

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"Every year we push the boundaries a little more. The first year, I remember I wanted to make the shorts really short and everyone on the team was nervous because Primark had never done that before. But we did it and it worked. The next year, we took the joggers tighter around the ankle for a tailored fit." Kem emphasized it was important to him to give customers the chance to try different styles, saying he's not a style icon but he’s constantly being educated about fashion: "I’m always learning about what’s new and what works well, too.

And he admits his mom plays a big role in his style picks: "She's great. My mum has been by my side for all three of my Primark collections and the team loves her. She knows my style better than I do! And she’s really good at guiding me. I think that’s why we've had so much success: just looking at the collection you can tell it’s true to me."

One thing you can always expect from a Kem collection is a set. But what is it about a two-piece that Kem loves so much? "I love sets! You don’t have to worry about planning your looks, it makes style more affordable, and people seem to love them as much as I do. I live in them every day. It just makes my life easier, especially in lockdown!" We couldn’t help wonder if his glamourous mom, Figen, is getting on board with tracksuits too? Kem chuckles and replies, "She doesn’t wear my tracksuit. That will never happen, hers need to fit perfectly. To be honest, I'd never seen her in joggers until the pandemic!"

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When we last chatted with Kem it was pre-pandemic, so we were interested to find out what it was like creating a collection virtually, especially for a bubbly "people person" like Kem. "The good thing is that we just missed the lockdown, so we got to meet together at the start and do the hardest part – the designing. After that it was all on Zoom. I was a little worried when the samples were getting sent; it was weird not seeing them in person and just seeing pieces through photos. But the team were great: they put even more work in, constantly checking on things with me and vice versa. We’ve created a good balance over the past three years: it just works. When I saw the final pieces, I got that buzz like I usually do."

When the final collection arrived at his door, was there one look in particular that got his attention? "The new gray tracksuit just defined the last year for me. I’ve lived in cool joggers every single day; I don’t think I’ve put a pair of jeans on for a year. But then there’s a really nice, dressier jacket to match that looks so expensive, it’s amazing. At same time, the oversized pullover has probably become one of my favorite pieces. Oversized has been so... big (!) this year: it’s so comfy and hopefully the customers will love it too." We knew he couldn’t pick just one... :-)

Kem was really excited about the idea of women wearing his new collection, too, mentioning that huge numbers of his last collection were bought by girls and women: "it can really be a unisex collection.

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Kem's obviously been super busy this past year. So how has he kept his mental wellbeing in check? He shared that the boxing bag's still hanging in his backyard, but like the rest of us, all through winter he tried at-home workouts while dodging the dog lounging all over the house.

Other than exercise, he mentioned he's really taken up reading. "In the last month, I’ve really gotten into a particular book. My brain goes 100 miles per hour, 24/7: that’s just how I am. I need something to calm me down, and lately reading's really helped." So of course we had to know what book he had his nose in? "It’s Happy Sexy Millionaire by Steven Bartlett"--he tells us to get past the name, that the book isn’t as arrogant as it sounds: "it’s basically about social media's effect on our mental health. It just puts things into perspective, especially for me coming from a social media fame background." He shared that sometimes all it takes is one negative comment out of a sea of positive ones to upset him.

We were curious to find out if Kem had ever taken a social media break. He said that while he'd love to take more time away from apps, his main reason for being active on social media is because of all the great people who have supported him throughout the years: "I just want to keep them up to date. I'm still trying to find my balance with social media. I'll be honest, I haven't found my comfort zone yet."

With life hopefully going back to (some kind of) normal this year, we wanted to know if there’s one place or event Kem can’t wait to show off his new collection. Like the rest of us, he's daydreaming about vacation, telling us how he loves the buzz of picking out airport looks: "I love dressy-casual clothes, and the airport’s the perfect place for me (even though there’s nothing going on there now)," he laughs. "Maybe I’ll get a couple of photos while I wait to get on the plane next time." We can’t wait to use flying for personal fashion shows either – after all, there is a runway there...

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In addition to his fantastic new collection, Kem’s new restaurant Array is (fingers crossed) set to open later this month. True to its name, Kem tells us Array will feature diverse cuisines and decor to create a truly exciting and eclectic experience. With so much going on in an already hectic year, how has he balanced all his projects and kept the momentum going?

He admitted it's been tough: "I've had a lot of moments where I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I'm the kind of person who would rather be really busy than sit around with too much time on my hands. So it's been good for me to knuckle down this last year. Lockdowns here in the UK taught me a lot as well. All the pressure let me learn a lot about myself and how to handle things better, so it's been good. I've done the biggest project of my life during this pandemic, and I know I don't give myself a pat on the back enough. It's been really hard, but we're getting there."

With a restaurant due to open this month and his third Primark collection on the way (plus a fewmore secret projects), Kem has another action-packed year ahead of him. We’re as excited as he is to see what’s next, and for everyone to try his latest Primark looks. Like Kem, his collections continue to mature while staying true to his fun, outgoing personality – and we love it.

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Press Play to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Kem’s third collection.