This week in #PMPeople Porte Mode shines the spotlight on Korean designer the studio K, a brand once associated with a straightforward, structured and modern aesthetic, and reveals the brand’s unconventional narratives and ingenious concepts. Instead of confining itself, the studio K executes its brand's vision seamlessly. In this interview, which took place at the studio K showroom, Junkie TV captures designer Hyejin Hong's burgeoning ideas and intense passion.
JunkieTV: Please introduce yourself.
Studio K: My name is Hyejin Hong, creative director of the studio K.
JTV: Does the name the studio K have a special meaning?
SK: People often ask what the studio K means. The simple answer can be that K stands for karat. I am a Jewelry Design major, with a specialty in gold. I used to work with scaling and observing gold using a microscope. Designing jewelry and clothes share in common their human medium. Though the two utilize different types and sizes of materials, what endures is the meticulous and delicate nature of dealing with the object. The insertion of K also signifies my adherence to the earnestness with which I began my career.
JTV: Each and every collection of yours is authentic. You present modern, avant-garde clothes with unique stories. How do you draw inspiration from such diverse fields?
SK: When it comes to developing a collection, the direction I take deviates from the conventional approach. I start by establishing a concept that blends the things that interest me at the time. This concept might be a social phenomena or something else. Having this process of establishing a concept and translating that concept into design is very significant. The work process of every designer entails the visual turn of expression.
JTV: Does this process explain your 2014 S/S Visualization Of Sound and 2014 F/W Where Are You From collections?
SK: Yes. Around the time I created my 2014 S/S collection, I was designing clothes for idol groups. I thought music was something you listen to. But the process of this particular music-inspired work rendered the concept “visualization of sound,” which, in turn, I elaborated through my designs. In the case of 2014 F/W, the inspiration came from globes. I have always liked globes. Whichever way or direction I view it, its latitude remains visible and the ratio between the land and sea creates emergent forms of circles. The latitude and altitude knit together checkerboard-patterns that seem to deviate from my existing perception of lines. The inspiration for my recent 2015 S/S Both Side Now came from viewing a portfolio of a cinematographer who studied 3D movie tools. This encounter with the real-but-not-real, make-believe images made me want to embed this chimerical reality in clothes. The title became Both Side Now, not Both Sides Now, because the convergence of two spatial entities created the imaginary space embodied by the clothes. I tend to expose myself to works from various artists, and ideas usually arise from things I am interested in at the moment.
JTV: Your career portfolio stands out in its diversification; from stage clothes for Taetiseo (A Korean idol girl group) and CN BLUE (Korean idol band) to costumes for motor shows and uniforms.
SK: Yes, it is diverse. I enjoy collaborations. My experience within the realm of “being a fashion designer” covers what it is like for me to live as a designer. Taking part in collaborations, and jobs that I don’t get direct exposure to, gets me to think about what it would be like to live as those people. Clothes embody a person’s life. To design a uniform for sales people working in department stores, it is essential that I understand the behaviors and modes of a clerk. The practice of thinking about the lives and arenas that I had not been exposed to, that is really intriguing. Putting together stage apparel brings about a whole different kind of fun. My occupation emphasizes the designs dictated by sales, more so than by art. When designing clothes for commercial purposes, elements like affordability and trends need to be considered. Clothes designed for the stage, however, are fantasies that unravel in a few minutes. When designing stage costumes, you do need not worry about price. These clothes need only to deliver the artist’s fantasy. In designing them, I take into account what's important to the artist and his/her fans. Making clothes for performances was new and mesmerizing and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
JTV: The suit you made for Yoona from Girl’s Generation also stood out. You apparently “changed the game” for what “designing stage clothes for idol groups” mean?
SK: I made bodysuits and tuxedos as Yoona’s costume for Girl’s Generation concert at Osaka Dome. I used velcro-like materials on the both sides to make it possible for her to rip her clothes off at once, and her fans went bazooka over that. I also designed the uniform-esque costume for her 3rd album, The Boys. Many stylists have told me that the quality of stage clothes that idol groups wear has significantly improved since my entering the space. Many blame me as the cause of this stage-clothes arms race among idol groups, raising both the price and quality of these clothes. It stuns me, to see other groups often wearing uniforms on stage these days.
JTV: Heading a brand itself could be overwhelming, but you also so splendidly appreciate interests from diverse fields. Over the past seven years, what changes did the studio K go through?
SK: I first started with women’s clothing. I am more interested, however, in men's clothing that addresses the interests of regular guys. I am very intrigued by shapes, as conventionally conceived by science, and mechanical aspects. It comes as no surprise that people are mislead into thinking that the studio K is designed by a man. I actually like men’s clothing and the brand itself isn’t so feminine in style. Naturally, I got interested in designing men’s clothes and began learning the process. I got to meet some great people while I was learning how to tailor suits, and this whole experience propelled me to launch La Figura, the studio K’s formal suit line. True, it was overwhelming to manage the basic collection just in itself, but my proclivity for novelty lead me to partake in numerous collaborations with corporations, celebrities, or other artists. I was in an exhibition with a group of artists that went up at Milan’s young designer art museum. Seven years have passed, but the basics and essence of the brand have withstood, and the work has always been a pleasure and a delight.
JTV: I see Formative Fine Arts on your resume. Was this in tandem?
SK: I have quite a distinctive curriculum vitae. I stayed in school for long. I am a curious type, and when curious (if not harmful), I tend to pursue. My pursuits for answering questions took place in scholastic settings. The schools I went to were art institutions, from elementary school until college, so 70-80% of my life has been spent acquiring the artistic techniques. In undergrad, I wanted to learn management and art theory together, so I majored in Arts Management under the Formative Fine Arts division. I learned the art of launching a brand embedded with aesthetics.
JTV: Before your career in fashion design, you were also active as a jewelry designer with a Metal Craft Design major. Was there a specific incident that swiveled your career path?
SK: My liking for fashion began when I was very young. Both of my parents have worked in the related fields, and every member of my family loves shopping and dressing up. Even my grandmother had to have her purse and shoes match. I always knew that I would work in fashion. I wanted to study fashion, but my school did not have a specialized major for fashion. School is important to me, but Seoul National University did not have a fashion major. Jewelry was the most similar thing to fashion under the Design Studies program, so I chose to study jewelry. Even then, I used to follow my fashion-major friends to their draping classes.
JTV: Was your collaboration with Sohyun Koh (Korean TV star/model) on jewelry also along the same line?
SK: There are similarities, since I come from a jewelry design background. Actually, jewelry was also a part of the brand when it was launching, but the process felt like a bit too much. I wanted to do as much as possible. In case of Sohyun, her sister runs the jewelry brand, The GOBO. We began working together after a talk that made clear how similar our aesthetic sensibilities were. It was fun to get back in jewelry!
JTV: Since you always keep yourself so busy with work, we are curious about what you do during your spare time. Do you have a hobby?
SK: It can’t be emphasized enough, even through numerous reiterations, how much I love learning new things. My favorite would be reading novels. I admire the craft of story telling. Making clothes began with the mere presence of body parts, arms and legs, but creating a novel can be a higher dimensional process, starting from a completely open state. Aside from reading, I would say my other interests include checking out exhibitions and cooking.
JTV: What is your go-to style?
SK: I like styles that are trend-free, modern, and simple. But I don't just like clean cut designs, I also appreciate a little bit of fun, such as having a pocket in unexpected places! I may be digressing here, but there are some times when clothes seem to engulf the person wearing them. Clothes should bring out the unique charm of each individual.
JTV: We already asked about the changes the brand went through the past seven years. Now, were there changes in you?
SK: In the beginning, I wanted more to do the things that I like and that interested me. With time, the likes and wants of consumers were also important to me. Balancing my likes and the needs of consumers is the biggest challenge I face. When I started the brand, it was just me and another employee, neither of us knowing anything. With the addition of each team member, I also felt a sense pf responsibility. I want my staff to enjoy their time at the studio K, and everyone – from short-term interns to starting members – to value the time spent here. In other words, I grew up!
JTV: What is the final destination for the studio K and you personally?
SK: I hope the studio K communicates with its consumers and becomes the most contemporary brand of its time. An accessible and lasting brand, that is also loved of course! Even when I was launching, I never envisioned a couture brand. I wanted the brand to relate to today's consumer. This is why I did not include my name in the brand, but instead put studio, signifying a place where one can explore and labor, with passion.
JTV: Is there anything else you'd like to say to people studying fashion?
SK: Fashion is really fun. Among my friends from the field, we call it a very very fun, exciting, fascinating, and colorful occupation. The simpler and more boring, easier the job, so fun and excitement presume the accompaniment of agony and difficulty. That is life, in essence. It is a matter of choice. On the other hand it involves a tremendous amount of effort. Moreover, in a manufacturing business, being decent is important. As is being responsible, being considerate toward others, and working as a team. It is different from being an artist who does things by him-/herself. As a student, you should place weight on these aspects. You may wonder why diligence and thoughtfulness would matter in the fashion business, but you need to possess these qualities. And you must be able to really love fashion. You should really think about whether the bliss and joy of being in fashion is greater than all its troubles. Ponder hard and long while you are a student.
Translated from Korean
Photography: Park Hyung Jin
Editor: Sin Dong Woo, Lee Jung Hee