⇾ How Mikael Kennedy Shops
⇾ Mikael Kennedy, Founder
of King Kennedy Rugs
Fashion’s favorite rug guy on shopping for the basics and the importance of embracing accidents
Slinging antique Persian rugs out of the trunk of your car like some new mixtapes sounds insane, right? Mikael Kennedy didn't think so. He founded King Kennedy Rugs, a Los Angeles-based brand that offers a thoughtfully curated selection of unique, antique rugs and textiles. You've unquestionably seen his work. Whether it's been his clogs, tote bags or jackets—you've no doubt seen someone cool with his products. But how does a young guy even get into collecting rugs?
As a professional fashion photographer, he was always curious about them when he came across amazing rugs in his work, whether working for Ralph Lauren on sets or shooting for AD and seeing them in people's homes. The first rug he purchased was a Caucasian prayer rug from the 1890s, which had hand and knee marks worn into it from years of use. “Holding that in my hand in a small rug shop in Western Massachusetts, it just clicked for me that there were so many layers to the magic of these pieces of art, from the stories woven into them to the stories worn into them,” says Kennedy. “It was an endless thread I could follow.” Once he became more knowledgeable and understood what to look for when buying rugs, he posted his finds on his Instagram, where his followers soon started asking where he had sourced his discoveries. Soon enough, brands came calling, and he was acquiring well-worn rugs for everyone from Club Monaco and Burton to Ralph Lauren—which is how he became everyone's favorite (d)rug dealer.
Selling the rugs is easy, but sourcing them is another story. Some of Mikael's favorite pieces have been found buried in the back of antique shops, under piles of tools, lost to the world, but he sources based on his love and admiration for the rug. “Nothing else matters. If I instantly like what I see, I'm in,” says Kennedy. The kind of rugs he's after are super rare—like antique blues, “always buy the blues” is a long-running motto. And recently, the wild Afghan or Persian pictorials have caught his eye. “More figurative pieces, less pattern-based, they look more and more like paintings to me.”
A man who shepherds stylish objects into people's lives clearly has great taste. So how does he shop for himself? We caught up with Mikael to get interior advice when incorporating an ancient rug, why taking care of his body is necessary, and the limited-edition piece that escapes him whenever it's time to purchase.
When did you have your light bulb moment that you could make other products out of rugs?
I'd say almost instantly, 15 years ago or so. I was deep in the rising menswear moment in New York back in '06-'07, listening to folks talk about whiskers on denim and fades from specific mills. Immediately after I felt one of the old thread-bare rugs, I recognized it as fabric.
At the time, brands like Kapital, Visvim and Rare Weaves (whom I worked with creatively and photographed for their launch) used old Boro and other intriguing fabrics to make unique clothing. I loved the magical feeling those pieces gave me and knew what I wanted to do—it just took me over a decade to figure out how.
What style advice would you give someone incorporating an ancient rug into their living space?
I prefer modern, clean lines accented by folk art objects that will ground the space and keep it human and warm—a space needs a soul. The dichotomy is what keeps it interesting. Rugs are islands. They draw us to a space, and they make space.
Is it easier or harder to find good rugs these days?
Rug dealers have contacted me in the past to help them move their threadbare rugs. Back then, no one bought these outside of random flea market interactions. I became the source, so to speak, for older rug dealers to sell off these worn rugs. But now it's a much different market. Everyone wants a threadbare. They are almost impossible to find and more expensive than when I started.
What are some commonalities between curating a photoshoot and a rug collection?
All the language to me is visual. All my decisions are aesthetic-based. During my early photography work, I worked with Polaroid. I had an exhibit with the Peter Hay Halpert Gallery in Chelsea, so much of what I was doing was about embracing the accidents of light leaks and old film and building a world that appealed to people.
With photography-world building, the sequencing of the images was always the most important thing to me—that's the art. Transitioning to rugs was the same thing. I decided to build an entire world around these antiques that draw people into a deeper conversation, open the market to a new customer base, and introduce this art form to a new generation.
Describe your personal style in five words or less.
Paris, Texas meets Papillion.
What’s one item that every man needs in his closet?
A decent sport coat or suit jacket. It's almost a disguise, especially when you travel. Putting on a good coat changes the way people interact with you. I've recently been eyeing this coat from my friend Davide at Ghiaia Cashmere. I used to always travel with a crisp white shirt in my bag, a trick I learned from an old photographer—you never knew when you'd have to clean up a bit before you met someone.
Is there one item that you could never part with?
The Mercedes, of course.
Three favorite brands, currently?
Do you shop more online or in person?
Much more online. I don't have too much time to run around to stores looking these days.
All calf traveler,
$650 by Belgian Loafers
What’s something you’re looking to buy at the moment?
I think a pair of Belgians are next for me. Since I moved to L.A., I find it hard to convince myself to lace up shoes.
What city has the best shopping?
When traveling, I focus more on folk art objects and less on clothing, although I'm interested in getting some custom suits and shirts made next time I'm in Italy.
I'm fascinated with pieces that carry the weight and time of a specific place. I don't have a city in mind, but Marrakech is an excellent place to explore and shop.
What’s a necessary extravagance
Bodywork, massages and acupuncture.
Is there something you refuse to spend a lot on?
Basics and T-shirts. Nothing fancy. Save your money for the jacket, boots and bag (old travelers' priorities, the three most important things).
Ventura chore pant,
$165 by imogene + willie
What’s something you buy in multiples?
When I find a pair of pants I like, I instantly buy two. When I destroy the first pair, they are usually no longer available. I'm about to re-up on my second pair of the imogene + willie Ventura chore pants.
$330 by Plant Store
Which do you experience more: buyer’s remorse or regret for not buying something?
Regret. I wanted the Cactus Store Garden Gi set. I hesitated to pull the trigger on it, and then they sold out of my size. Every time, it's like a two-year running joke on me.