Fashion Designer Interview

Kiok: Live. Breathe. Fashion.

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If I had to mention one brand that was most impactful and influential in getting myself interested in Korean fashion, it would have to be Kiok, led by the renowned Fashion Designer, Kiok Kang. What came as both a shock and a pleasant surprise during my first encounter with the brand is the quality of the runway production they put on, which involves everything from amazing graphics used in printed materials and film, the models, music, lighting, performance, and of course, the collection itself which is always daring, fresh, advanced, creative, and sexy.

(See Kiok from Seoul Fashion Week)

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After starting “Kang Mode” in 1979 and launching “Kang Kiok Boutique” in 1989, Kang has consistently and continually been striving to polish, evolve, and update the brand through various realms including revitalization of the brand identity, revised marketing strategy, and launch of a sub-brand called Purify and Justice. This somewhat expectedly (and unexpectedly) prompted her two talented daughters to jump on the bandwagon somewhere along the way, providing assistance in a way that nobody else can by acting as bridges and adhesives as their skill sets were complementary to what Kang had to offer, and with three of them working towards the same goal, the synergistic result was none other than extraordinary. Her older daughter, Crayon, works as  Creative Director of the company, while Coco J assists with design. Both have been trained in New York, and they not only bring in a fresh perspective, but a young one that which cannot be learned nor bought… it’s one of those that you either have or don’t… and us, the older folks, unfortunately are in dire need of their help when it comes to deciphering the sensibility of the youth which is a critical element of the designing process. That’s where Crayon comes in, with her goal of updating the brand with ageless fun that’s both trendy and classic while maintaining excellent craftsmanship and strong details the brand has been known for the past 30 years.

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 To many in Korea, Kiok Kang is known as an expert in denim design and production, which all started in 2002 when she randomly and fatefully came across a bunch of people wearing jeans at a cross walk. It began with her strategic intent to take her brand overseas, and denim seemed to be the perfect tool to do so due to its versatility, flexibility, and popularity. After numerous sleepless nights and trial and error, denim became her specialty, and with the completed denim collection, she flew to Italy, where her hard work was not only recognized but praised for its uniqueness, exquisite details, and Korean elements not found in other brands. Her denim collection proved to be a huge hit and it seemed as if she was on the right track… until her Italian partner fled with a large sum of money. Meanwhile, her office staff back in Seoul were struggling to manage the dramatically increased workload both for domestic and international orders. So came the decision to let go… She would stop, take a break to review and reconstruct the company, the brand, business strategy, marketing plans, everything. It would stay small and focus on the domestic market for the time being… until she felt ready to go global again. And with help from the two trusty partners, it seems that the time is near.

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 Despite having trained herself to become a denim expert, Kang has relatively been distancing herself from it to prevent from letting the relationship grow a bit too intimate again, because contrary to popular belief, denim is one that requires a lot of research, analysis, and effort to develop. She considers everything from what changes “washing” will bring to the material, how to prevent shrinkage, how the embroidery will be affected by wears, to how different it will look when it ages and during the aging process, the color changes and all. Even to get to the color she wants initially takes a lot of work, she says. Trust me, I now have a newly developed appreciation for my 20 plus pairs of jeans that I never wear…

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When asked where she draws inspiration from, she doesn’t hesitate to say that she’s a workaholic and that inspiration is her everyday life. It comes from what someone says, what she sees… Once she finds something intriguing, she starts contemplating on it, trying on different perspectives (the way we try on different pairs of glasses), meditating… until it is materialized.

 Interestingly enough, Crayon, Creative Director of Kiok and her older daughter, actually had something similar to say, as she mentioned good times that include good coffee, good people, good chats, and good weather, which are generally considered “everyday things,” compared to resorting to the predicted sources such as art galleries or museums. Crayon specifically mentioned that she dislikes such places, in fact:

“I dislike going to galleries or museums. But it’s funny how I would actually go to a gallery with some good coffee and good friends to have good talk and get inspired either on my way to it or on my way back.” It seems that rather than the activity itself, it’s the good company that matters the most when it comes to inspiration for the Kiok team.

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 So having been surprised at the fact that Kiok is indeed a family business, we had to ask how it came about. Coco J, the younger sister who is involved in design, says, “As much as I hated my mom’s job as a designer (because she was never there to take care of them), when the time came to make a career decision, I really couldn’t think of another occupation, although…. I briefly dreamed of becoming a singer, which has now become more of a hobby.”

To the same question, Crayon said, “I got into the fashion field because of my mother. I went to PRATT for illustration/communication design. Then I got an internship at TRACE Magazine when I was in my senior year, a transcultural magazine that was based in London. It was about fashion, music, photography and art in general. I became an Art Director after a year and half and worked for them about 4 years. After TRACE Magazine, I started work as Creative Director at Kiok.”

It seems that fashion runs in the blood for these ladies… when it’s meant to be, it comes naturally, and when that destiny unfolds the way it should, the result is magical and beautiful.

I found myself genuinely envious. Once an aspiring fashion designer (who even moved all the way to New York at a young age to study fashion), I always dreamed of having such great support from the family (aside from financial help, my parents were amazing in that area, couldn’t have asked for more) such as having a mentor and environment that is naturally motivating and educational. I’m forever thankful to be where I am now, but it took quite a long time for me to come back to fashion… I’m not regretting (I’m truly, genuinely happy right now; in fact, couldn’t be happier), but if I had met a good mentor in the industry when I was trying to pursue fashion back in the days, who knows, I might be designing some crazy stuff by now.

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When asked about her favorite artist, Kang responded with Rei Kawakubo, head designer of Comme des Garcons, famous for its anti-fashion concept that’s both austere, strange and extreme at times. She also mentioned Vivienne Westwood, another designer famous for trying “new” things, mainly responsible for incorporating modern punk and new wave fashions. She said that she admires their unrelenting courage to always challenge themselves and take risks while creating something new and beautiful.

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 After responding with passion to every question regarding her world of fashion design, what is generally deemed absolutely “normal” seemed to  be awkward for Kang. We asked what her hobby was and she hesitated until she cautiously mentioned “Golf,” which she added was a sport that she only recently picked up in order to socialize with her friends. Apparently, she never leaves the office, even eating is a luxury for her. She told us a story when she got humiliated at a bank because she didn’t know how to make a deposit. Coco J agreed by saying that her mom not only has no idea how to cook, but has never even been to a supermarket, and all this is not because of disinterest but because she’s literally married to work.

Having imbued herself with work since young, for 30 years she says she only ran towards one thing, and it’s not money nor fame, but to “Create”, “Design” clothes. She is the type that once she starts something, she finishes it, and does it with passion. There is no other job she imagines herself to be in, and at that, I could see how intense this love for fashion is, and how immeasurably enormous her passion is in dressing people. In modern days in which younger generation seeks easy money, fame, and comfort, she had this to say:

Even if you are slow like a turtle, go all the way. Even if it takes a long time, keep trying, and money will come along if you do your best. Even if it doesn’t work the way you want the first time, keep at it. Success comes to those who work hard.

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Kiok is a success story that is still in progress, and it’s a result of none other than hard work, passion, and team effort which can be seen in a collection after another.

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While this is originally a blazer, thought it would be perfect for a party of sort, or even a fancy event to be worn as a mini dress.

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Boxing shorts reinterpreted.

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After seeing this PVC bomber jacket at the show, I was obsessed with anything PVC for a very… long time.

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It’s just that it’s a bit too hot to wear it right now, but still so cool in a futuristic, outer-space-kind of way.

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Backless Striped Blazer, Striped Sleeveless Top, Boxing Shorts, PVC Bomber Jacket by kiok. Shoes by Jeffrey Campbell (Security Boots, Madame Spike & Deetz Hologram). Clutch by Calvin Klein. Silver Elastic Headband from H&M. Red lips: Chanel Rouge Allure 99 Pirate

J KOO: It’s Awesome to be Twosome

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Going into their fourth season, J KOO is a brand led by duo designers Jinwoo Choi and Yeonjoo Koo who met while preparing for fashion school, became friendly while in London during which became close enough to not only start working together but eventually agree… to get married. ;)

As life partners, they encourage and inspire each other while complementing each other as fashion designers and business partners. Having spent eight years in London studying Menswear at Central Saint Martins and launching J KOO, it’s easy to locate mannish elements in their collections, surprisingly but most definitely in a subtle manner. I may had been misinformed or it could have been my erroneous preconception but when I used to hear about a brand that incorporates menswear into womenswear, among the first images that came to my mind was Hedi Slimane’s rather direct reinterpretation of mens suits complete with wide-brimmed hats, slacks, an immaculately tailored jackets (ie Saint Laurent Spring 2013 RTW).

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Shattering this image was J KOO’s fresh approach of incorporating menswear elements that are relatively subdued (requiring further observation to be noticed), such as using high quality wool used in fine menswear suits which can only be found at menswear textile shops, while using tailoring techniques and details only found in such. This is unique to the brand as Choi and Koo’s expert knowledge in menswear is what allows them to pursue a rather unconventional method. This concept comes from not only having been trained at a top notch educational institution but has a lot to do with their passion, talent, and practice since childhood days. What I found particularly inspiring was that all the clothes Choi used to wear back in college days were self-made, which by the way, are still in great shape, displayed along with his new collection pieces at his current studio. He mentioned that his love for fashion started naturally, as he was surrounded by art and fashion since the early days thanks to his father who had a great interest in painting, mother who used to avidly make clothes for him, and sisters who studied art. Coincidentally and fortunately for him, when he was in military, he made friends who were in the design industry who encouraged and inspired him to pursue fashion design when he was feeling discouraged and lost.

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J KOO’s F/W collection touches upon many domains of fashion, ranging from classic to modernism, graphic prints, to cocoon silhouettes.

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As someone who hasn’t touched baggy silhouettes since the 90′s, I must admit that I hesitated quite a bit before finally deciding on J KOO’s voluminous pieces, afraid that they would make me look large.

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Though, now that I think about it, what’s wrong with looking big? Yeah. Exactly. Who cares as long as I’m having fun with it. Working on confidence as we speak- you knew this. ;) Please be patient…

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But more than anything, a great lesson learned is that I need to have more confidence in fashion designers, relying on their sense than my assumptions. Once I put the pieces on, not only did I look slim but felt completely comfortable, free, and beautiful. Oh, was I wrong… Go away, preconceived notions, Seriously. It didn’t take long to reconfirm the genius of the J KOO duo.

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This dress… is everything, literally. The color and print is unique but pretty at the same time, the silhouette changes depending on what your body is doing, the material is extremely soft to touch while feeling even more amazing on, and it’s perfect for layering as the buttons allow for versatility- and you know how much I’m into versatility when it comes to clothes.

Another cool element is that the ventilation is amazing… what I mean is that because it’s so roomy, it allows wind to freely move around inside the dress hence being perfect for the hot summer days in Seoul.

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Dress and Pants by J KOO. Shoes by Jeffrey Campbell.

Check out J KOO

Cres. E Dim: Second Nature

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Inspired by Japanese artist and designer Tokujin Yoshioka‘s 2008 exhibition titled “Second Nature” (which was a work based on his theory of applying natural laws into his designs), along with expressive cues taken from Helmut Newton’s works from the 60′s (in particular one in which women are portrayed as men), Cres. E Dim by Kim Hong Bum’s 2013 F/W collection is more than what is commonly expected of clothes, one that which is both surprising and uniquely impressive.

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(Photo credit: Tokujin.com)

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With architecture being one of his interests besides fashion (among many other subjects including photography and graphic design), it is not surprising that one can easily notice architectural elements in his designs, such as symmetrical balance, mixture of various shapes and forms in coexistence, and synthesis of materials aptly incorporated.

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Now, it should be noted that “Second Nature” has a completely different meaning here in contrast to how it’s used in the English language (usually used to describe a type of behavior so ingrained through habit or practice that it seems natural, automatic, or without a basis in conscious thought); in Tokujin’s definition, the term describes another face of “nature” as in a characteristic that we never knew existed, a side that isn’t usually or easily revealed, one that which can only be discovered through a study that is both extensive and intense.

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Such is the case with Kim’s F/W collection, in which his passion for design, research & observation, along with dedication to meticulousness is evident.

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This philosophy, shared with Tokujin, is what frames the collection, while Newton’s work is the artistic inspiration behind it which is displayed through a careful marriage of design elements that are feminine yet masculine, or vice versa.

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Kim confesses that practicality seemed more important in the beginning when his brand was first launched in 2009, therefore, casual seemed to be the right direction at the time; however, as the brand grew, he started feeling more comfortable with experimenting, specifically with his own interpretation of pieces that possess all the main elements such as aesthetics and comfort all the while carrying brand’s unique identity which is represented through architectural elements and a bit of mannishness.

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Kim reminds us that while a simple silhouette may be key, details are just as important, which is one of his strengths.

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 details. cuts. patterns. shapes.

Every little component strategically and purposely planned and placed, Cres. E Dim is where art meets functionalism, reminiscent of the creative process involved in architectural design.

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Neon graphic sleeveless top & leather vest from Cres. E Dim 13 S/S collection. Skirt & black maxi dress with embossed leather detail from 13 F/W collection. Transparent acrylic & leather combo bracelet by Cres. E Dim. Hologram ‘Don’t Care’ heels and black cut out ‘Devandra’ heels by Jeffrey Campbell

Check out Cres. E Dim

See our coverage of Cres. E Dim 2013 F/W collection at Seoul Fashion Week

 

Lie Sang Bong: Passion, Dream, and Korea

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Only a few hours before our scheduled meeting, I found out that my mom was among Lie’s first customers when he had his first boutique in Myeongdong in the 80′s. When I mentioned this to the designer, he cheerfully replied, “Your mom must had been extremely stylish to have worn my clothes back then. There was a saying that a woman in Lie Sang Bong could be spotted even from far away.”

Twenty years passed, and after a few moves within Seoul, Lie has settled in the cozy area near Coex in Gangnam, where a beautiful park is located across the street where he often takes a walk to unwind.

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As we walked into the boutique, we found him busy signing his newly published autobiography for some of the major Korean pop stars, this particular one for 2AM. Since receiving a signed copy at Seoul Fashion Week a few weeks ago, I was able to learn about his life as a student, designer, father, artist, teacher, and most importantly, a man of passion and dreams.

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What caught me by surprise as we walked in was how “different” the clothes looked from how I remembered them from the shows. Basically, they looked more commercial and wearable, but for older women. It’s normal for actual mass produced pieces to be different from sample pieces, but for all the disparity I was seeing, I had to start by asking what his target market was, and about the new brand, LIE.

Interviewed by Justin Shin & Karen Lee of  TOMI:MITO

Translated & Edited by Karen Lee

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TM: Could you tell us about LIE?

LSB: Lie is a line targeted towards younger women in 20′s to early 30′s that I launched with my son who is also a Fashion Designer; however it is mainly for international market. In Seoul, you will only be able to see it at pop-ups. Since it is a younger brand, the pieces are much more affordable. As far as the “theme” for each season, it will be a season behind Lie Sang Bong; since LSB S/S 2013 was based around butterflies, LIE F/W 2013 will be a spin-off of the butterfly theme.

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TM: Where do you receive inspirations from? Do you look at other designers’ collections?

LSB: I don’t feel the need to look at others’ work, although I wouldn’t mind doing so. But the more important reason that prevents me from looking is that I just simply don’t have the time as I show my collection in Paris, New York, London, and Seoul. Since Seoul Collection is a month or two after New York and Paris, if I were only doing the former, maybe I would have time to see what others are doing, but because I am showing my collection at the same time all the other major designers are showing theirs, I just don’t have the time to do anything else besides focusing on my own collection.

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TM: Could you tell us about your show prepping process?

LSM: Unless you attend every show, you probably won’t notice but every show is different albeit all being held for the same season with same pieces. While there are many different reasons why that is, some of which are rather obvious, such that some of the larger production props are just not being able to be transported, etc., some can be thought of as tailored for market/culture as appropriate. For example, for F/W 2013 Seoul Collection, I was able to do everything I wanted to, such as installing huge Korean vintage window frames to maximize the dramatic effect along with a lighted hat and all. In Paris, I didn’t even show the dress which was the finale piece here in Seoul.

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TM: How did you come to develop your signature style/look? You are recognizable from miles away!

LSB: I’ve had this particular hair style for over 25 years along with these round specs. No specific reason for the glasses, it’s just that back in the days, there weren’t many choices when it came to eyewear, but as for my hair, there is a story behind it. I was at a club dancing one day… By the way, this is when I had half-shaved hairstyle. While dancing like nobody was watching, I suddenly looked at myself in the mirror and was pretty much horrified. I was sweating a lot and as you can imagine, my hair was all over my face, etc. So I went home and just shaved it all off, and voila, many years passed and it’s still here. I must have liked it? As for my beard/mustache combo, it’s simply because I don’t have time to spend on myself.

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TM: Every time we see you, you are wearing black. More specifically, that black cape. Would you happen to have other colors in your wardrobe?

LSB: I’m going to surprise you by saying yes, I do. I actually wear color quite often, it just depends on the occasion and location. But mostly, I wear whatever I feel like wearing. If you see me in that black cape, it’s because I want to be comfortable. I dress for myself, I don’t dress for others. I also don’t want to stress over what I wear. I’m a designer, I design for others, not myself. On that note, I like that I can be subjective when I design, as my options are not limited to what I want to wear, but what I would like to see women wear.

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TM: I’m always in a dilemma. I like wearing heels because they are what really complete a look (along with lengthening and slimming the legs), but I honestly am more about comfort. What should I do?

LSB: You should carry a pair of flats with you all the time and just switch whenever you need to. Simple.

TM: I actually do that sometimes already, but because you said it, I’m ALWAYS going to be carrying a pair from now on. Thank you.

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TM: You mentioned that you used to have a half-shaved hairstyle about 30 years ago. That’s quite bold even for today’s Korean standards. Did you always like being different? Korea is known to be more conservative..?

LSB: I never cared about what others thought of me or said about me. That’s just too much headache, don’t you think? I already have too much on my plate. Why even bother? Actually, if I ever did care about that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Only way to develop your own style is to do whatever you want, wear what you want, and believing in it. Besides, I never liked being around people anyway except when there are interviews. I consider myself introvert and I’m happy that way.

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TM: I’m actually the same way. I’m just a lot more socially awkward than any other introverts ever lived. :P

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“Designer is wind… water… a tear, a cloud.”

- from “Fashion is Passion” by Lie Sang Bong

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TM: What is the first thing you do after the show?

LSB: The process of “Emptying.” It is very important to me, as it’s the only way I can start “Creating” again. Preparing for a show is “Filling” myself, subsequent to the show, “Emptying” by exposing myself to environment and activities that which help me become creative again.

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“A person who wears fashion is what completes fashion.”

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“Designer is one who creates; Stylist creates trend.”

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TM: What is the process of coming up with a theme for each show like?

LSB: That’s probably the most difficult part of the show. I go through lots of books in various topics, ranging from architecture to fiction. I travel sometimes, but mostly spend my weekends catching up on movies and theatre arts, or going to museums which I find most helpful.

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TM: How long does it take to create each show piece after you have decided on the theme?

LSB: That’s the easier part, because I can then focus which means my mind doesn’t need to wander anymore. That’s when comfort comes to heart, when my mind is at peace. It’s easy from there.

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TM: I understand you have created many collections around a Korean theme. Does your collection always have some kind of Korean element in it?

LSB: No, not all the time. Working around a Korean theme is the most difficult, because there aren’t enough resources to refer to. I wish more designers would do it; not just fashion designers, but designers of all types.

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TM: What are your thoughts on Korean fashion?

LSB: Fashion designers these days seem to know what “sells”… which is a good thing. Back in the days, we placed more focus on philosophy, the artistic aspect of fashion. We had dreams, and that’s what drove us.

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TM: In the book, you mention that your dream was to show your collection in Paris, and that was achieved quite a while ago. What now?

LSB: The only one who can say that he’s achieved his dream is one who is about to pass away. I have bigger dreams now, which is to travel the world and continuing to be an ambassador of Korean culture and tradition through fashion.

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TM: Can we talk about education a bit? How can one become a Fashion Designer?

LSB: Exposure comes first, not Learning. Many parents seem to think that putting knowledge into children as early as possible will help them become smarter or better, but the truth is, what they are exposed to is so much more important than what is (often reluctantly) deposited into them.

TM: Basically you mean instead of learning how to draw an apple, it’s better for them to play with one, eat one, or maybe even picking one at a farm.

LSB: Yes, by “learning,” you are only limiting a child’s potentials.

TM: As a psychology major, that totally makes sense. Everyone has his/her own unique way to process thoughts, and by training everyone to structure their thinking in a certain way, you only limit their true potentials when they may naturally have had a different yet creative way to do so.

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TM: Are there things we can do to think more like a designer? What are some of the things we can do on our own besides schooling?

LSB: Compare and contrast. Practice paradigm-shifting. In order to develop your own style, it’s important to know and fully understand what others are doing. For example, to develop a new style incorporating Korean culture, you need to know what those in Western country are doing with their own culture. As for paradigm shift, you really need to start thinking differently- for example, I turned a traditional Korean hair accessory into a brooch for one of my collections.

TM: Yes, you also had a necklace that looked like a vintage Korean doorknob at the last show. Brilliant.

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“There are certain activities I do to enhance my creativity, one of which has now become more like a hobby. Before I fall asleep, I close my eyes and think about everything that happened that day, backwards.”

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“I’ve lived a life that is full of passion, sometimes having to fight against myself. Many years may have passed but I’m still learning about myself. What I do know so far is that fashion is my destiny and purpose. So far, I’ve been running a race only looking ahead, but from now on, I want to pay attention to what’s happening around me, too. With this upgraded mindset and passion that constantly and unceasingly seeks challenge, I want to continue walking the path that has been given to me. I am where I am because of all those who sacrificed for me and helped me along the way, and some luck too, considering my skill-set. On that note, I would like to thank everyone who knows me and has been with me.”

- Fashion is Passion by Lie Sang Bong

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See Lie Sang Bong F/W 2013 

Lie Sang Bong S/S 2013

Kaal.E.Suktae: Filling the Void

Where do I start…

I should advise you in advance that I’m going to be biased with this post but for right reasons (!).

I had the pleasure and honor of meeting the top Korean womenswear designer, Lee Suk Tae, at his showroom in Gangnam. I tried to stay cool but man, was it difficult to keep myself calm the entire time I was there.
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My first encounter with his collection was through another fashion designer I met at the Fall/Winter 2012 Seoul Fashion Week earlier this year who was one of his apprentices who kindly directed me to the KAAL website which has videos of past collections.

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A few months passed and I was finally able to see KAAL up close and personal… and that’s all it took to fall head over heels in love with the brand, and my curiosity about the designer continued to grow. You can only imagine how stoked I was to be able to meet him in person.

KAAL designer Lee

I shall start by saying how great of a person he is. Well, I’ve mentioned earlier in the post that I’m going to be biased but what I really meant is that I feel a little different about meeting Mr. Lee which I think is due to the fact that he didn’t hesitate even for a minute to share his personal life with us which we greatly appreciated and found extremely encounraging. Let me just say that besides his incredible designing talent and aesthetic discernment, he’s got to be one of the most unbelievably kind and down to earth people I’ve met.
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So let’s talk fashion, shall we?

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 With white as the main color for the season, Lee seeks structural transformation through modern minimalism inspired by masculinity.

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Same dress worn by model Choi, Sora at Seoul Fashion Week. It felt amazing on. Love how the color combination and pattern is reminiscent of Hanbok, a traditional Korean costume.

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What drew me to this brand in first place was Lee’s mastery of structure and eye for detail like none other. Trained in Korea and Paris, I personally think that his pieces are a proper representation of his educational background, as I see both Paris and Korea in them. He does an excellent job of incorporating traditional aspects of Korean costume into pieces that are partly haute couture and partly parisian chic.

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Thought this would make a perfect dress for a Christmas party- definitely a unique take on a party look yet elegant, cute, unique, stylish, and gorgeous all at the same time. Perhaps this is what peplum will look like next Spring, further developed and evolved from the original?

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When asked why he got into womenswear instead of menswear, Lee humbly answered, “Honestly, I have a hard time designing womenswear because I don’t have a complete understanding of the female body. Because I’m not a woman, it often is difficult for me to find out what it would feel like to actually put the pieces on, but at the same time, I enjoy the process very much. I’ve always been the type to take the rough road than the easier one because I like challenging myself. While menswear would’ve been much easier for me, womenswear gives me a lot more freedom and options.”
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I couldn’t believe he said such a thing, because my initial impression was that he was in womenswear business simply because that’s where his passion was- obviously because he’s just so amazing at what he does. I definitely didn’t expect to hear that he specifically chose womenswear for those rather “strategic” reasons… Can we say natural born talent? I don’t know, how creative and artistically talented do you have to be to be able to voluntarily choose a subcategory (fashion design being the main category)? Many times,  some of us average folks have no choice but to go with what we are given, if you know what I mean.

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Ultra cute shorts that I literally squeezed myself into. Maybe that’s how everything should fit. I’m just not familiar with super tight things, that’s all- though, I did feel ridiculously skinny in them. Is it time to reconsider a complete wardrobe overhaul?

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How cute are those pockets peeking out like that… and that print which doesn’t continue in the back which makes it even more awesome. Amaze. Oh, I should mention about now that he’s very much into Super Man and Gundam. Do you see it?

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Don’t think I can put this outfit on again by myself, this was actually a work of a designing staff at the showroom who literally put her hands inside the shorts to pull the shirt and of course zip up the shorts because it was just an impossible task to be completed on my own.

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What KAAL is known for: impeccable details. and more details.

KE BLKAs an established fashion designer in Korea who has successfully gone global (Check out his collection at Opening Ceremony), when asked if he could give an advice to aspiring fashion designers, Lee left a short yet powerful statement as follows:

“Fashion designer as a job may look glamorous on the outside, but as with any other jobs, there is a dark side to it that many do not see. There will be times when you will be disappointed and discouraged, as well as those in which you will be under extreme pressure and stress due to the unique characteristic of the job which requires to you be continuously creative and detail-oriented. Even if so, don’t ever be discouraged. Finish the race no matter what. Determination and hard work along with patience will result in rewards that are unimaginable. Enjoy the moment while being thankful for being able to do what you want. Then one day, you will receive the respect you deserve.”

“옷은 공간이다.”- 디자이너 이석태

Outfits provided by KAAL E.SUKTAE, Shoes by Jeffrey Campbell

D.GNAK by KANG.D: Pursuit of Happiness

As someone whose childhood dream was to become a fashion designer, perhaps it’s only natural that I have a great admiration for those successful in the profession. Nevertheless, I never thought that I’d be sitting in a room chatting with them for hours, not to mention befriending them at one point. It’s funny- when I was in college, I was that annoying student who found joy in having an interrogation session professors, one who always sat in front of the class and asked all the strange questions. It was the incessant curiosity that kept me thirsty for knowledge which eventually led to more schooling. Once I got hooked on psychology, I had no choice but to dig deeper and deeper… only to realize that more studying would only require more studying. Learning really is a never ending venture which at the same time is what makes it so intriguing. I think I said in a previous post that fashion is not my passion… I find myself doing this a lot more nowadays- after I write something on here, I contemplate on it… especially if it’s something that I had never thought of before because often, I’d start writing without a topic or a theme and it leads to a self-discovery of sort. Same happened with the ‘fashion’ statement and after much thinking, I realized that it’s passion in a way that I have a never-ending curiosity about it but it’s not simply because I like clothes or the act of putting them on. Honestly, I could care less what I put on. It’s more about the process of how it all happens that I’m interested in learning more about- you know, from the very beginning of it all- starting with a designer’s idea and to how it’s made into reality, put on a show, where it gets sold, and on whom and how it’s worn and styled. With my psychology background, I guess that’s where I differ as a fashion writer which is something I only recently realized. Among many sub-categories of psychology, my main interest lies in happiness and creativity (contrary to popular belief, these two are quite closely related), to find out if there are common set of activities used by creative people to be shared with the world. While there are numerous psychological theories that are widely known, I prefer those that are readily applicable and useful in running a business. I’d be lying if I said there is a person on earth who doesn’t care at all about being happy. True happiness is what we are after, and the reason why so many businesses come and go. (think travel industry, entertainment, beauty, automotive, housing, literally every single thing we spend money on, if you think about it) Designers, fashion designers in particular, are a perfect example of those who lead a happy life in addition to athletes and music artists to name a few. This “claim” is based on the theory of Flow, through which happiness is described as a result of interaction between a specific activity one is voluntarily involved in and the level of focus contributed. The mental state one experiences as a result of such experience is called “Flow” which is directly linked to the state of “Happiness” according to the theory posited by Dr. csikszentmihalyi who is a renowned researcher and teacher in the field of Positive Psychology and also one of my professors. As you can imagine, not many can confidently say that they experience flow on a daily basis, nor can many even think that they’ve ever experienced it, yet we continually seek after what we think makes us “happy” which may actually be in your life already- all it takes is just a bit of research, a research into your daily life. According to research, the “fortunate” ones who get to experience “flow” are the ones who are in the profession of doing something they love, say artists, designers of all sorts, athletes, etc. But when you dig deeper, it’s not difficult to realize that it is indeed possible for anyone to get to the state, as long as you find yourself spending hours focusing on an activity without having your basic needs fulfilled (ie eating, using the bathroom). Such state can last minutes or hours depending on how long the experience lasts, and at least during that moment, you should feel assured that you are indeed feeling “happy”- you just haven’t realized it yet.

Ever since learning about this concept of flow, I just could not get it out of my head. I constantly find myself looking for those who get to experience it regularly, and have developed a desire to find out what the secrets are. Thankfully, being in the field of fashion has opened many doors for me, and I’m fortunate to find myself meeting those who are indeed blessed with such a life in which “flow” is naturally a part of life.

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 Meet Fashion Designer Dong Jun Kang of D.GNAK by KANG.D, who specializes in tailored suiting for men with clean cuts and understated attention to detail. Having been in the business of fashion for six years, his career is already full of milestones- he’s already shown twice at the London Fashion Week (while being the first Korean to do so), and since then his brand has gone international yet his ambition as a fashion designer doesn’t end there, his ultimate goal (at the moment at least) is to show at the Milan Fashion Week, and it has a significant meaning to him as he believes Milan is where menswear is at the highest level possible- which he says can be learned just by seeing the way older men dress. He says often, the way elders dress reflects the fashion sense of the entire town, and Milan is where he felt most inspired.

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As for his long term plan, he hopes to continue designing menswear with a strong foundation on suits but in variants with a focus on fit and material. Casual suits that are wearable is what he’s mainly after, but he’s not so certain whether his target market is Korea. As his designing career develops, he finds himself introducing a collection that is more D.GNAK than “commercial” which doesn’t always result in sales.

“Thinking back on my past collections, my current collection is more reflective of who I really am as a fashion designer than any others,” says Kang. As he spends more time as a designer, his style evolves and the more collections he shows, the closer the garments are to where his true style really lies, which is why experimentation is also important for those of us who aren’t “creators” yet strive to remain innovative- I, too, find myself becoming more creative when I have experimented a lot with clothes and accessories rather than sticking with one specific style of dressing. Kang seems to be in the process of finalizing his signature style after being experimental with various types all within the area of tailored suits.

designer kang

On the topic of creativity, he says he does not really have a routine or a specific activity that he believes facilitates in the designing process. Interestingly enough, he says he often doesn’t even start with a theme or a concept. As cliche as this will sound, it seems that he was born with it- yes, one of those blessed who happens to possess a bottomless well of never ending ideas somewhere in their brain. Although he said he doesn’t even enjoy traveling all that much which is actually one of the most effective ways to stimulate your creative brain cells, I would think that frequent traveling along with being surrounded by artistic people have at least some influence. An avid fan of hip hop, it didn’t take long for him before he became good friends with Tiger JK, a Korean-American rapper who holds a legendary status as a true pioneer of the Hip Hop scene in Korea. Their friendship led to a collaboration in which Kang had him as a finale act at His latest show at Seoul Fashion Week.

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Kang says he dreamed of becoming a fashion designer as soon as he discovered the profession when he was in middle school. His interest for fashion was confirmed by his passion for clothes- he would travel far and long to find the clothes he wanted, and it got to a point where he started altering them because they weren’t exactly what he was looking for. It all started there, and as people say, the rest is history- which involved flying over to New York for a fashion design degree from Parsons, coming back to Korea and attending graduate school for an MBA (unusual, yet extremely useful and necessary- personally thought it was a very smart move). Though it took some time to bring himself back into creative mode after imbuing himself in management concepts for two years, his strong belief in himself and passion for fashion design helped him come back stronger than ever, and today as one of the most influential fashion designers in Korea, his new venture began on a high note with buyers approaching him from all over the world. Keep an eye out for D.GNAK, you may soon see his name all over Italy.
DGNAK2Coat from D.GNAK by KANG.D Spring/Summer 2013 Collection, sleeveless shirt and pants by Nooy by Yoon Spring/Summer 2013 Collection (Nooy is his Women’s Line that he recently introduced with his designer wife, to  officially debut next season in New York)PZ2C0162 copyDGNAK4DGNAK5NOOY1

Fuchsia shirt by Nooy by Yoon, Blazer by D.GNAK by KANG.D
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Gloves courtesy of Justin because I would have died without them (it was about -15 degrees Celsius). Loved how this shirt instantly brightened my face, I mean, it did make me smile in the winter chill after all. Also a huge fan of asymmetrical design, longer in the back.NOOY4I’m starting to develop a liking for well-made garments. Rather than my old habit of purchasing fast fashion, think it’s about time that I start saving up for more quality items, which is why I may go crazy at their sample sale.
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Boots by Jeffrey Campbell & Purse by Chanel

ZE QUUN HOMME

Avant-Garde |ˌavänt ˈgärd, ˌaväN|

Noun (usu. the avant-garde): new and unusual or experimental ideas particularly with respect to art and culture

Martin Margiela, Thierry Mugler, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo.

You guessed it right, these are just a few of the names that come to mind when I think of the term Avant Garde. But what would happen if we added a bit of glamour, glitz, or “bling-bling” to what’s generally known as “avant-garde”?

Korean designer Jae Keun Hwang does just that. When asked how he would describe his collection, he shyly yet proudly said none other than “Bling Bling Avant-Garde,” while tricky for sure, all it takes is to take a look at few of his accessories and designs.

After completing his Bachelor of Ceramics degree from Hong-Ik University, Hwang decided to pursue fashion at the world famous Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium which is famous for its distinguished alumni such as Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiela, and Haider Ackermann. As an elite design school, Antwerp is known for producing all-star designers who are experimental and innovative which is virtually a definition for “avant-garde.”

Right about now, one could easily guess what Hwang’s specialty would be, as a first Korean to ever obtain a Master’s degree from a school known to produce designers that push the boundaries- those who create, who refuse to conform to the norm.

All it really takes is to peek at a few of his pieces to see the difference, a difference that distinguishes his designs from the rest.

(On me: Tailored vertical striped blazer for men with button detail and acrylic necklace with chain and spike details. On Hwang: matching top and bottom with “face” print that’s personally drawn)

Hwang is always finding a way to push the limits, not only thinking outside of the box, but as if there is none to begin with. For this jacket he designed for a rock star, he used the material used in a wet suit as a basis and the shells used in traditional Korean furnitures as decorative accessories. Not one piece is ordinary, as his creativity can be found literally everywhere which is where his strength lies.

Sneakers made exclusively for his 2013 Spring/Summer show at Seoul Fashion Week, note the use of mini CDs and spikes that make them look like jaws and teeth. Designer’s sense of humor can be found throughout his collection both directly and indirectly.

This jacket is what I first saw him in that made our first encounter truly memorable. He said the print was initially a drawing by a famous artist, regenerated and printed onto silk to be made into this bomber jacket. I found it ironic that despite how serious and warlike the print looked, design of the article itself was extremely casual- I mean, it’s just a simple bomber jacket after all. I felt like he was telling the world not to take life so seriously, once time passes, it will just all be fun and games.

On that note, I feel that ZE QUUN HOMME and TOMIMITO share a common ground, because paradigm shift is what we stand for, which is closely related to innovation. For instance, why should accessories be restricted to purses, necklaces and bracelets? Why can’t it be something that you wear on your shoulder that doesn’t necessarily have a functional purpose? What if it’s made with acrylic rather than silver or gold or silver plated or whatever? Why can’t a ring be something else too, let’s say a clip, or a decoration for home? Where do we draw the line… Or is there a such to begin with?

While there is no concrete answer, one thing I know for sure is that one is free to experiment while having fun when doing the job of “Creating,” and nobody is here to judge or determine whether the creation is right or wrong, but what we are entitled to, is to either “Like” or “Dislike” it.

Hwang is slightly worried that he may not be producing pieces that are attractive to the general public, in other words, “sellable”, so he added extremely “normal” plaid shirts to his collection last season but instead of receiving praise, many criticized by saying that none of it said “ZE QUUN.”

A person is most beautiful when he’s himself. A designer is most influential when he confidently embraces his strengths, no matter what the world may say. That’s how “NEW” is born, when a designer does his job- a job of creation, a process of making something new, something that did not exist before. We do not know when being creative started being equivalent to weird, but without weird, the world is a boring place- there wouldn’t have been an iPhone, fusion cuisine, or even electricity.

Cheers to all those who are in the business of creating.

Viva, ZE QUUN HOMME!

jayho Homme D’esprit

Through a short yet memorable run-in at a party a few weeks ago, Justin and I were invited to designer Lee Jae Ho’s showroom located near Garosugil last week. As a menswear designer, Lee not only strives to provide the most stylish garments possible but also ensures that each piece comes with a surprise or two consisting of functionality, options for variation, and use of unusual fabrics or materials. With 2013 Spring and Summer being his third collection, his interest lies in challenging rules and standards- he believes that a consumer is entitled to styling freedom, that is, to style a garment any way he wants to produce a result that satisfies his desire and needs at any given moment- for which his job is to offer them an option to wear it in more than one ordinary way, hence a jacket that has detachable sleeves that also looks completely different when zipped all the way up (that’s three-in-one).

Having spent many years at a large Korean corporation in their sports wear subsidiaries, Lee’s strength lies in incorporating sporty and practical elements to his design, such as using thin synthetic material such as nylon or polyester found in windbreakers on the sleeves of rather formal winter coats to prevent staining. While it doesn’t sound all that appealing, Lee makes it work, and does so impeccably. His pieces are not only aesthetically pleasing, but completely wearable while serving functional purposes which makes it all that more attractive to men whose priority tend to be on all of the above plus affordability, making them very hard-to-please shoppers. However, as you will see below, Lee’s been quite successful in that department, as his collections have been spotted on some of the most popular Korean pop stars and actors including Yoochun, Junsu, Jaejoong (유천, 준수, 재중) from the K-pop group  JYJ (ex-TVXQs 동방신기), Hyun-joong Kim (김현중), Geun-suk Jang (장근석), Kim Bum (김범), Gwang-hee from  ZEA (제국의 아이들의 광희), Actor Jun-ki Lee (이준기), C N Blue, Lee Joon from MBLAQ (이준), etc.

Junsu & Jae-Joong from JYJ in vests by jayho Homme D’esprit

Kim, Hyun-Joong in jacket by jayho Homme D’esprit

Jang, Geun-suk and Kim, Bum in jackets by jayho Homme D’esprit

Lee, Jun-ki and Hwang, Gwang-hee in jayho Homme D’esprit

Just realized that the jacket I’m wearing in below photos was recently worn by Lee Joon from MBLAQ. Totally cool how different yet nice it looks depending on how it’s worn.

At his showroom where the magic happens.

In jayho Homme D’esprit printed T-shirt and jacket (same one worn by Lee Joon in above photo), Uniqlo black jeans, Jeffrey Campbell Teramo Spike sneakers in burgundy and silver, New Era hat, Calvin Klein silver clutch. Designer Lee head to toe in jayho Homme D’esprit, boots custom made by a famous shoemaker who produces handmade shoes for all YG artists ie Big Bang, 2NE1, etc.

He said he designs clothes based on his own needs. Because he feels that he’s skinnier than he should be, he places a focus on covering what he perceives as a flaw, hence the loose chest area (I personally think he looks perfectly fine). I also noticed that his jackets tend to have sleeves that are longer than usual, making them ideal for women as well.

As you can see, I truly, genuinely fell in love with his pieces. This T-shirt and jacket are pure perfection. What’s even more awesome is how affordable they are, this amazing jacket with leather sleeves can be had for less than $300.

Ran into some of my favorite street photographers over at Marvle and Street Per who are always so friendly and stylish.

It’s all in the details after all- details are what differentiates designer products from mass produced fast fashion.

I’m usually not all that crazy about boxy t-shirts, but this particular piece complete with mix of prints, materials, and a long tail in the back that makes it versatile enough to be mistakenly seen as a high-low dress couldn’t be more ideal for someone like me who wants function, style, uniqueness all in one.

Designer emphasized that it excites him to see how differently his pieces can be styled by different people who put them on. I told him that we are on the same page, because I enjoy experimenting with menswear and absolutely love layering which is another strength of his.

With this shirt, he attempts to give an illusion of layering when it really is just a button down that’s extra long with an adjustable drop waist.

Sporty details can be found on this shirt yet again in his use of perforated nylon-type fabrics on the sleeves and on the waist string that is reminiscent of one found on a windbreaker.

Printed leggings are a fun experimentation he did for the 2013 S/S collection, some of which were meant to be layered under shorts.

Trench coat that is water-proof which can be styled in many different ways using buttons, a belt, strings, and collars.

It’s actually kind of hard to believe that all these pieces are menswear. I suggested that he start making them unisex, not that I wouldn’t buy them otherwise but I think more women need to consider his collection, because they are just simply too good to pass up on.

From Lee’s Spring/Summer 2013 show at Seoul Fashion Week held last month.

You can find jayho Homme D’esprit at following concept shops in Seoul:

A.Land on Garosugil, Myeong-Dong, and Hong-Dae, Flow at Cheong-Dam, Lab5 at Noon Square in Myeong-Dong, and Siecle on Garosugil