Meet The Person #23: Michael Kampe (Creative Director Lee Jeans E.M.E.A.)

Today episode #23 of the topic Meet the Person with Michael Kampe. This topic Meet the Person is about passionate people, people in the denim industry. In Meet the Person I will give you an insight into their life; who are they, what are they doing, what makes them so special, where are they working on, etc. etc.

This new episode of Meet the Person is with Michael Kampe. Thanks for sharing your great story Michael!


Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

Picture by Fabian Blaschke.

  • Name: Michael Kampe.
  • Living in village & country: Antwerp, Belgium.
  • Age: 31 years.
  • Instagram ID: @kampedenim.
  • Daily work: Creative Director Lee Jeans E.M.E.A.

Can you introduce yourself (who you are and what you do)?

I’m originally from Berlin, but recently moved back to Antwerp to work as the Creative Director for the legendary denim brand, Lee Jeans. I was a student here at The Royal Academy and have great memories of the city, people and of Belgium as a whole. So it’s nice to be back, especially when I’m returning to such an exciting role.

How did you enter the denim industry?

It was actually down to pure chance! When I was at university I found some rolls of denim in a pattern-cutting room, which had been left over from one of the school’s projects with Candiani. I originally used it instead of buying trial fabric to test out some of my designs, but I thought that, actually, it looked pretty cool. I played around with different chemicals, metals and dyes but had no idea back then that professional laundries existed, so spent days in my bathroom experimenting on metres of fabric. From that moment I was hooked and used denim as the base for my graduation collection.

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

Graduation pieces by Miachael Kampe.

I also think it must have been fate because a sign appeared in the person of Vladimiro Baldin, the design manager of Diesel, visiting the academy and seeing my research. A few weeks later, I won the International Talent Support Award and part of the prize was an internship at the Diesel’s HQ in Italy. This was absolutely ideal as I was super keen to get start working as soon as possible so that I could learn how to approach creativity and innovation from a more strategic point of view.

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe with Renzo Rosso, founder Diesel Jeans.

What are you most proud of when it comes to your work?

I have always remained true to myself. When I’m into something or believe that it’s the right thing to do, then I just go for it. This approach has seeped into the way that I lead my team and the way that I’ve taught students, seeing them progress and succeed makes me truly happy.

Michael Kampe

Michael at work to give a lecture for students.

What’s the biggest denim trend right now, in your opinion?

Trends come and go, which is why I rather focus on the whole picture and think about denim as a medium for conveying a bigger message.

What I’ve been thinking about recently is the way that brands at the moment really need a reason to be. It’s an exciting time in retail, customers are demanding more from companies, forcing them to become more transparent, sustainable and to actually interact with the people who are buying their products.

What will be the next denim trend?

Custom denim could be huge if it can be made more affordable. I think people are already starting to consider more, buy less and want to invest in the best.

What’s your favourite denim brand?

Lee, of course. For me, they have never been afraid to try new things and, out of the big three, Lee has always spearheaded creativity. It’s this pioneering spirit that I esteem, and which inspires my team and me and which we are developing further for the future.

Where does your inspiration come from?

A lot comes from travelling and from art. I love beginning with an idea that’s quite far away from fashion but pulling it all together into a collection piece by piece.

What’s your favourite denim item in your closet?

This pair of jeans was the first pair that I made from rigid pure indigo denim, cutting them on the bias in areas that I wanted more elasticity. I can’t remember if it’s just that I didn’t know about stretch denim or that I didn’t have the means to get it, but back then this seemed like the only reasonable way to make them fit. To get the wash right I dipped the fabric in a mix of vinegar and water, letting it freeze overnight on my balcony. Then, the next day, I rubbed it with thick bleach and treated some areas with a metal brush. Neutralizing the bleached areas with vinegar, I then rinsed the fabric several times. After that lengthy process, I cut the pieces from the length of fabric, stitching them together into jeans later.

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

Michael Kampe

The first pair of jeans made by Michael Kampe made from rigid pure indigo denim.

What’s your favourite denim fit?

Definitely regular tapered. They always have been, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Now and again though, I like a slightly wider leg, especially in the summer.

What’s your favourite denim city?

There isn’t one particular city, but I would take parts of Amsterdam, L.A, Tokyo, Bangkok and Berlin and make the perfect place.

Who’s your favourite denim designer?

I don’t have one favourite, but I have so much admiration for people who challenge the industry and change the game.

What do you think is the best invention in the history of denim?

Every invention that has forced brands and customers to rethink the status quo of denim. Because although vintage, heritage and authenticity are all core to the value of a brand, denim as a medium has so much more to offer. It is the most democratic, individual and accessible fabric available, both in terms of seasonality and variety, and the demographic of the wearer. That said, it still needs to evolve. If we only look to the past, then we will get a predictable future.

Who’s your denim hero and why:

My denim heroes are the people out there who wear denim in their own way and appreciate the beautiful history that this fabric has to offer.

What’s your favourite denim store?

Tenue de Nimes in Amsterdam and Paul’s Boutique in Berlin are both excellent.

What are your ultimate denim accessories?

Probably a band t-shirt and a belt that I made out of an old hide seven years ago. Looking at the unworn other half shows how beautifully leather and denim can age.

What’s your favourite inspirational quote?

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail” by Edwin Land.

Who would you love to see in the next Meet the Person?

The brilliant Japanese designer, Teppei Sugaya, who has been a big inspiration to me.

Michael Kampe

Japanese designer, Teppei Sugaya.

Read also the interview with Peter Kats (Vice President Lee Jeans E.M.E.A.) here.

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.