Born in Korea, Parisian label WOOYOUNGMI approaches menswear in a contemplative and demanding way. The delicate tailoring of the brand’s founder Mrs. Woo signs each of her pieces with constitutes a perfect lesson of exigency, calm, and wisdom in an industry where fast decisions can lead to an evanescent success. Recently joined by her daughter Katie Chung at the art direction of the oneiric label, she opens up about her vision of creativity, craftsmanship, and manhood
How did you both decide to dedicate your career to menswear? We were always very into menswear and realized that there were very few menswear labels designed by women. Katie and I are coming from a different perspective from our male colleagues as women, our vision of menswear is free from the limitations that might arise when men are designed for men: age, body type, style, or even designing with your own self in mind.
How did Katie Chung’s arrival as a creative director change the energy of the label? Katie brought a breath of fresh air to the brand. She’s contributed to shifting the brand’s image towards a look that is younger and brighter. Although Katie and I share the same DNA, we are complete opposites when it comes to personality and behavior. I am organized, while Katie is more relaxed and less structured. Instead of these differences creating challenges between us, we’ve found ways to work with them, and this has created a good balance that translates into the product: structure and freedom, tradition, and more contemporary elements.
How do you work together as a mother and daughter duo? Do you have assigned roles in the creative process? We haven’t adopted the approach of setting roles for each other. In a way, this approach of having defined roles could help avoid the challenges that arise when family members are working together. However, my daughter and I are always open and communicative with each other, so there isn’t really a need to be strict about who is in charge of which aspects of Creative Direction. The most important for us is that we continue working together and producing fresh, innovative, and truly creative ideas.
What element comes first in the making of a new collection? This changes with every collection. Sometimes an overall look is where it all starts, other times ideas are born from a specific product or a detail that has caught our attention. Each WOOYOUNGMI collection opens up a dialogue between brutalism and romanticism, sharp tailoring, and delicate styling.
How do you balance those opposite elements? Balance is a notion we are always striving for and that is central to our collections. Playing with opposing elements and striking a balance is a big part of what we do. It’s very demanding and requires a lot of attention to detail throughout the entire creative process, from the birth of an idea until the final production stages of the garment.
What does the unusual, complex beauty of the models you cast for your shows say about the man you design for? It is very important for us not to approach our collections from a strict gender identity perspective, and we believe this idea comes across strongly from the casting of our shows and campaigns. Although our vision includes a man per se, our creative process tends to emphasize notions of delicateness, purity, youth, and artistic sensibilities, which do not gender-specific.
How do you manage to keep your design modern and still convey this literary, nostalgic approach to masculinity? Because we are designing menswear from a woman’s point of view, the concepts that we are most sensitive to allow us to approach masculinity from a perspective that is both different and practical. Consistency and evolution are at the core of your practice.
How do you keep your work from being too disruptive or influenced by the strong trends that shape the menswear scene? Fashion can be a lot like surfing. We’re similar to the surfer trying to ride a wave, with the wave being the trend. Surfers follow the flow of the waves to gain momentum and energy, they need to move with the wave and if they move completely against it they can get swept away. It essentially comes back to the whole notion of balance, letting the waveguide you whilst still maintaining control.
How do you feed the creative evolution of your design? Across the entire creative process, we brainstorm as a team and are very open about sharing ideas, this is across both our Paris studio and Seoul-based design office. In a fashion house like Wooyoungmi, we all plant the seed together, nurture it and see the flower grow. In the development process, we all share the idea of soft thinking and an open mind across the Paris studio and Seoul design team. In a house like this, the seed of creation comes and grows.
How do you select the artists whose work you link each of your collections with? Creative collaborations go both ways. We become inspired by an artist and their work and reach out to them, and vice versa. When both parties feel a strong connection with one another and a deep understanding, that’s when collaboration starts to take shape.
How does working alongside a different art practice inspire your work? We find it very stimulating. Art, no matter what practice, requires enormous energy and commitment from the artist. A big part of oneself goes into the creation of art, and we find this process very inspiring. Outerwear is an important part of your identity.
makes a good coat for you? Every wardrobe needs a strong coat, so this is the piece that tends to come to mind first when we’re designing a collection. One of Wooyoungmi’s signature pieces is the “No.51” coat, it’s been continuously evolving over the seasons and is always very representative of where Wooyoungmi is headed.
Is the detailing a key element of your garment? Detailing defines who we are, whether we are referring to the actual detailing in a specific garment or the detailing coming from the styling of a look. Innovation and elegance are the results of attention to detail.WOOYOUNGMI’s sensibility can mainly be experienced through fashion, but also lives in its imagery, the poetry of its shows, and the unique interior design of the shape.
How do you get those various disciplines to communicate? How would you describe your overall language? To put it very simply, we feel that our ethos is reflected in the following three words: art, elegance, and timelessness. These are the notions we constantly have in mind when bringing together the different parts of our creative focus, and they guide us to the finished product. Being a Korean-born label,
what brought you to join the Parisian fashion scene? Paris provides the perfect platform in this industry for designers to express themselves. It was important for us to share our vision and brand message within an engaging and credible environment