Doug Kacena, owner of Denver art gallery K Contemporary, replaces art-world stuffiness with swagger through stylish and attention-grabbing kicks.
DENVER—Shoes have practical importance in today’s world—mainly, keeping our feet from touching germy city streets. They can also offer something much more interesting: a glimpse into the wearer’s personality.
When Kacena walks into any space, his energy is joined by his bold fashion choices and his naturally charismatic effervescence. His fuzzy slippers, which seem to float him across the gallery’s floors, always make his entrance that much more intoxicating. Once you’ve looked down at his feet, you can’t help but wonder what else is taking up the floor of his closet.
Fashion is art, and though many today only connect with the fast fashion of the Amazon quick-buy world, Kacena’s collection reminds us that not only can high-style brands be accessible, but they can also be an extension of our innermost selves.
Kacena was always drawn to unique threads, and after managing a thrift store, he learned how to find quality pieces at affordable prices.
“I was twenty-three when I opened my first gallery, but the way I really made my money back then was by thrifting. That was my side hustle,” he says. “So, I became a vintage picker. I even got into the tactile side of it. You could feel the fabrics and start noticing what was good just by flipping through a rack. For me, there was joy in the treasure hunt.”
If Kacena clicks his heels three times, I’m almost certain he wakes up in a vintage shop holding a pair of Gucci loafers that have been so stunningly price-reduced that they summon the perfect combination of serotonin and dopamine upon the cracking open of a wallet. It’s not just the thrill of the quest to find extraordinary cost-effective high fashion—it’s also the stunning craftsmanship and distinctive designs that keep Kacena digging through thrift shops and online stores.
“A lot of the clothes that I wear have similar aesthetics to the artwork that I’m attracted to,” Kacena says. “It’s to the point where I’ve even had artists say I need to wear a shirt (or shoes) that match the show to the opening.”
Just like the artwork that adorns K Contemporary’s walls and Kacena’s connected upstairs loft, his kaleidoscope of footwear is something that initiates conversation by replacing the all-too-familiar stuffy feeling of most galleries with genuine swagger. Kacena says he has never counted the pairs of slippers, boots, loafers, and distinctive kicks in his walk-in, and my attempt quickly failed as my attention was diverted by the next thrilling pair peering at me from another corner of the room. One, two, twenty-seven… oh, these have replaceable spikes! The collection is so vast it can not be contained, and Kacena’s bedroom has become a sacristy for these Scooby Doos (slang for a most loved pair of shoes).
“I think really good contemporary artwork seduces you, with these same aesthetics, into having a layered nuanced conversation,” explains Kacena. “Having something that feels a little engaging, just from that initial look at it, draws you in. I feel like that’s the same thing with the way that I dress—there’s a little bit of something aesthetic that is comfortable for me. It’s also disarming in a way, too. When you walk into the gallery, I’m not in an Armani suit and feeling very silly. It doesn’t create a barrier. I’m in a pair of furry shoes [and] that sets the tone.”
“I often joke that I’m the crazy monk that lives in the back with my shoe collection,” he continues. “My wardrobe is sort of like my vestments. They’re part of my religion. They’re part of this belief I have around how it’s okay to include this beauty in your world and have things that bring you some happiness through their aesthetics, but also that end up having meaningful engagement at the same time.”
Recently, when I stood in front of my closet doors, reaching for the same black boots I’ve consistently clutched to since I turned thirty, I thought of Kacena, his love for fashion, and his fuzzy slippers. I instead grabbed the shoes that I only wear for special occasions and realized that every day is a special occasion.