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