Seeing Kim's latest 2016/FW collection it’s not surprising to see why Balmain snapped him up. Known for his use of leather, his collection is comprised of the perfect balance of femininity but strength, taking trend items, such as the bomber jacket and the overall but adding fine details like a delicate gold flower embellishment on the overall strap, a detail which runs throughout this collection and a mix of fabric that makes the pieces distinct to Kim.
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!
I adore your collection. I love your use of leather, with the great embellishments. It has such a luxe couture feel about it.
You studied at the London College of Fashion, why did you decide to study there and what was the experience like for you?
I looked at both NY and London but I felt like London was more free, I just finished my military service at this time and at the London College of Fashion you are able to study and work at the same time, I was so ambitious so I studied there as I could also work. I wanted to be maybe like the youngest director or something like that! I still really love London and I still miss London. I think London is perfect as a designer, as they think about their own style and not other designers.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a designer?
I wanted to be an industrial designer, working more with machines, cars and cameras but when I thought about those design parts, they are very slow. I wanted something quick. With fashion I can make it every six months, I can communicate with the people. I am not that patient, so with fashion, I can bring things to people much quicker. So when I was twenty, I changed to fashion.
You previously worked for MichiKo Koshino, how did that position come about?
When I was in my 2nd year, I started selling my stuff in Carnaby street. We made clothes at school but I felt it was a waste, so I sold my school work! However I found the attitude was different. When I brought my garments out to sell, I was so nervous. I sold one garment, a pair of jeans for £300. It took me one week to make them.
I was selling it next to the MichiKo Koshino store and she saw my garment. I started working there and two years later I became the senior designer. They really taught me a lot. At the end of my second year I was the proper creative designer and went to Milan Fashion Week. I just debuted as a designer and modeled. It was quite fun! MichiKo Koshino then changed her store and she started supporting young designers. They did all the shop instillation and I was a big part of that team. I used fresh paper to make mannequins. They went international. Working there I was quite free creatively. Later I really wanted to work with leather. I knew how to work in the factory because of my experience before St Martins. I told MichiKo that I wanted to learn about leather, she still paid me and allowed me to go back to Korea to a factory that specialized in leather to learn. However when I was there they said they didn’t need me. So instead I just did all the rubbish jobs there and after two weeks they said they would teach me. In two months I learnt how to make leather boots! I worked from 9-11pm or 9-12am and did two months of training in 2 years. I even learnt pattern making.
My graduating piece from St. Martin’s was leather. After a few months Balmain called me. It was an offer to work with their line Balmain Blue but it didn’t end up being launched because they couldn’t work out the price, as obviously Balmain is very high-end leather.
For both jobs I got really lucky. Balmain were on the look out for new designers and they saw my graduating pieces and they wanted to know more Asian designers, so I was really lucky. I was one of the few Asian designers there. When I went there I was kind of bullied a lot, the people in the office were really sweet but the ateliers were really hard on me. They said, “We are Balmain!” They said I didn’t have pride as a designer. But now to our team I say, “We are Yohanix” as to me it means having pride in your work. Balmain is very conservative. We dropped a lot of garments because of that, but it helps the label in the end. I like to say ‘Team Yohanix’ as I don’t work alone.
What was the biggest lesson you have learnt working for Balmain and how did what you learnt help launch your own line Yohanix?
Pride! I learnt that lesson a lot. When I left the company I had high confidence. I thought, ‘I can be Balmain’, but with Yohanix we want to be a high-end label and a high-end house. But to be that you need to have a history and I forgot about that. And maintaining the company is very hard. The CEO of Balmain is great, so they can achieve that. In the beginning I had a really hard time.
How did you come up with the name Yohanix and what does the word mean to you?
It’s a mix of my Christian name and it also symbolizes the phoenix, so it means Yohanix never dies. I originally wanted to use my own name, I wanted to be a high-end label fashion house from Korea so I wanted to use Kim but when we went to do business in China it cost too much to buy out the name.
What has been the biggest challenge for you with starting up your own line?
Working for a large company then going to start up your own small company, you can use the best material at the biggest companies. They come to you, but when I started out, with minimum quantity, even though I went to them they didn’t want to see me. We overcame this by finding our own way, we pay a little more but we make our own fabric and use our own technique.
What has been the biggest accomplishment for you so far?
Team Yohanix. We’ve spent four years building the team, a good pattern maker, beader, a technician. We try to make our team stronger.
To me leather is like origami, making it the way you would work with paper, I like constructing the leather. I also use vegetable dye, as it’s better for the environment, we have been doing a lot of leather for five years, but now we are trying to limit the leather. Before leather was selling really well but now winters are getting shorter, summer is getting longer, so now the leather is still strong but we make less pieces. Last season we had forty looks; only ten looks or eight looks were leather.
You have travelled a lot and lived in several places including London, Paris and later Beijing. How has your travel influenced you as a designer?
I think somehow it has really helped. We sell internationally, in places like Dubai and because of my experience, living in different cities; I have an understanding of different people. If I only focused on Korea then it wouldn’t help me.
Do you see very distinct differences between the way Korean women dress, Vs. Women in London and Paris?
In London, they are a traditional but also it’s a really trendy city, that’s why there is vintage and punk styles there, they are all quite experimental. Paris is very chic, they are very quiet, and Korea, in a good way, is really trendy, but in a bad way they always care about what other people think and how they look. Their cycle is very quick and in some ways they are too quick.
Koreans buy less garment-based pieces, and buy more basic pieces and less color. China they want the craziest designs, they sometimes will do a special order, and sometimes change the length for instance on some of the pieces. We have our own atelier, so we are very flexible. We have three different styles, the chic cut, one is crazier and then one is in the middle.
I had lived in London for 7 years so that was the reason. It wasn’t working though. The production fee was too high, after making the piece to make it at the right profitability the selling price for a shirt was over £1000.
You were invited as special guest to The White Show during 2016 FW Milan Fashion week. How did you get invited?
They wanted to invite the Chinese designers. They found out about our garments, saw I was Chinese, so invited us!
You had an outdoor runway at Milan's landmark, ‘The Piazza Del Duomo’. Were there any interesting episodes during the event?
Because the plaza had never done this before, it was very restricted and each model had to have a body guard each! In total they had twenty bodyguards! More than 20 police were also there. It was a little rainy and the models were holding white umbrellas. It wasn’t planned but people thought it was. It looked really good!
You got to participate in 2016 FW New York Fashion for the first time through Concept Korea last season. What was the local reaction/feedback you received in New York?
We came to Milan straight after NYFW so we didn’t see the reactions there, but received a lot of emails while we were in Milan and the reaction was really good!
Our concept was about decision disorder. It was a very direct idea. When people go out they take time to get ready and put their make up on but when they actually go out they still change their mind about what they are wearing or how they do their make up. When they go out they still aren’t happy so they end up removing their make up. This was the reason for models removing their lipstick during the performance.
From the first collection launching until 2016 FW, every season you have participated in Paris Tranoi. Is there a special reason for participating every season?
My friend is part of the Paris Tranoi, it is the best tradeshow for us and 40% of our income is from them. So we go every season.
How would you describe the women you are dressing?
Yohanix is like street combat, so, someone who is special, someone who can handle our garment. We don’t support all the celebrities who approach us. Sometimes we reject people if we feel the garment is eating the celebrity.
Where do you get your inspiration from when designing a collection?
Usually, personal inspiration, by what I like to wear. FW16 was about decision disorder. I like dark clothes and wear heavy pieces so when I did a colorful collection it was a little confusing, so I tried to make the next collection a bit more like myself.
Can you walk me through the creative process? Are you big on sketching, or draping? How do you begin designing?
I do a lot of computer work. I actually put everything down there and don’t sketch. I use the computer.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Just sitting here, hoping to meet you again. I’d like to sit here and interview with you about my last ten years in designing. I want to last a long time and build experience.
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All Runway photo credits courtesy of Yohanix
Special thanks to KOCCA and Concept Korea