“Snarky and then a wink.” If someone asked me to describe my sense of humor, that would be a very apt description. So when I asked prolific Saratoga Springs fashion designer Kim Vanyo how her personality informs her vast array of eye-popping creations, and that is how she answered, I was delighted: I’d found a kindred spirit.
“There’s always a sense of fun in my designs,” says Vanyo, who’s owned and operated Khymanyo Studio on Beekman Street, in Saratoga’s Arts District, for more than three decades. “It’s like the garment is winking at you.”
Vanyo says her enduring passion for fashion—and preference for high-end fabrics such as silks and wools—has also been fueled by the simple joy of creating something beautiful: “When I come up with just the right fabric combination, I get that same euphoric feeling as when something’s hilarious.”
Whether it’s costuming for the Skidmore College dance department or creating custom designs for private clients, Vanyo’s vibrant creativity and artistic stamp loom large over Saratoga’s arts community. She estimates that Skidmore’s dance department has “15 closets full of my work,” which could tally up to 3000 costumes she’s built specifically for the liberal arts college in the past 20-plus years. When I ask her if she has any idea of the total number of her creations—including her custom evening, bridal and special occasion designs—she goes silent. I throw out a number: 50,000? “Could be!” she answers, without hesitation. “I’m prolific,” she adds. “I don’t like to sit still. I’m constantly creating things.”
One such creation is her own label, “Kimism”—a ready-to-wear collection of well-crafted separates with an artistic edge—available in her studio and small boutiques. “When I wear my own designs, people often stop me and ask where I got them,” she says.
While she doesn’t expect to drastically alter the classic, traditional style sensibilities of Saratoga, Vanyo admits she often finds herself encouraging clients to “be brave enough to wear something with a little artistic twist to it,” without dramatically changing their personal style. “I do have a sense of what’s going too far, but I try to encourage some little twist that makes them feel like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this,’” says Vanyo.
Given her impressive, overwhelming body of work, I wondered if Vanyo ever imagined how her career would have fared had she entrenched herself in the New York City fashion scene. “No matter where you are, you could’ve made different decisions,” she says. “You can’t let that take you over.” But for Vanyo, keeping all doors open is part of the plan going forward. “I’ve been going to the city a lot in the last few years,” she says, explaining that she’s been taking classes at the Fashion Institute Of Technology (her alma mater) to keep up with her ever-evolving industry. “I’m meeting people who are my age in the city, and they’re kinda burned out and ready to leave,” she says. “I’m certainly not burned out, but I wanna make sure I’m not missing anything. I’m not that far from New York, so if something came up, I could be in both places.”
“I’ve been making beautiful things for 30 years,” she says, “so I can feel good about that.” And she’s been doing it in Saratoga, so we can feel good about it, too.