The breakthrough of Ambush® has been remarkable. Starting with personal jewelry designs that developed into designing clothes to match their jewelries, Ambush® was selected as a finalist of Young Fashion Designer Prize by LVMH in 2017. Fans of the brand continue to increase internationally; on the release day of the collaboration line with Nike at their flagship store in Shibuya last year, 1200 people waited in line and everything sold out in minutes. Yoon, the designer behind this creation, was appointed jewelry designer at Dior Men last year. A Cinderella story indeed, but to reach this point was not without twists and turns.
Yoon was born in South Korea. Since her father served in the US military, she went back and forth between the US and South Korea during her childhood, until the family moved their base to Seattle when she was in junior high school. Seattle in the 90’s was the center of the grunge movement. With no Internet yet available, Yoon spent her youth listening to indie rock airing on TV. Yoon explains, “MTV was one of the few information sources at that time, and was pushing indie rock bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. They were local Seattleites so they were treated especially like superstars, including Sub Pop. Seattle at the time wasn’t so yuppie. It was rainy and dark in general so hip-hop wasn’t really popular; mostly it was rock and a bit of jazz. Due to its moderate weather, neither hot nor cold, naturally people wore things like flannel shirts and jeans. Kurt Cobain’s style wasn’t that special.”
She later attended the University of Boston to study graphic design where she met Verbal, her private and business partner. “After graduating, I started working at a design company in the US, but it gave me no hopes for the future. That’s’ when Verbal contacted me. He was already active as a musician in Japan and he asked me if I wanted to work in Tokyo.”
One of the reasons why Verbal needed Yoon’s help was because he wanted his ideal wardrobe. “He had started Teriyaki Boyz® and needed big jewelries that looked good on stage,” explains Yoon. He came to me personally and explained what he wanted. I knew a couple of jewelers, so I started to help him materialize his idea into form.” During this process, they had decided to create what they both liked at their own pace. Verbal named the project Ambush®. When stereotypical B-boys in the hip-hop scene were still wearing baggy jeans and white t-shirts, Verbal was wearing Raf Simons and Dior Homme. It was only natural for him to want to create something he can call his own.
“Rappers don’t really have a clear borderline between work and private apparel, right? They wear what they normally wear day-to-day on stage. I felt that that kept it real. In the past, I feel like all musicians were like that, not just rappers, with strong personalities rivaling their outfits. Today’s artists are super fashionable, but it’s the work of their stylists. If Gucci is in, rappers will dress head to toe in Gucci; and next comes Balenciaga. Images of their album covers look dated in half year’s time. Both Michael Jackson and Prince were flamboyant, but they didn’t choose their outfits based on trendy brands or designers; they created fashion themselves based on their concepts. This is totally different. In this sense, I can’t really think of anyone connecting fashion and music now. I thought Lady Gaga was, but not so much recently…”
She has huge respect for style icons of today like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and A$AP Rocky, who are also her friends. However, musicians that impressed her so strongly during her youth still remain in her heart. During our conversation, Yoon frequently used the phrase “strong character”. While involved in today’s refined contemporary music scene, this phrase holds the key to her obsession with musicians from the past. Ambush® AW2019 collection’s visual reference was David Bowie: the king of glam rock and an immortal legend in the history of music. “I love Bowie in the 60’s to early 70’s. His music and character were different in every album, capturing different personas each time. I still think he’s amazing,” says Yoon. This collection is a nod to the 70’s sci-fi film “The Man Who Fell To Earth” where Bowie played the leading role. Based on the themes “military” and “outer space”, it presented a crossover of classic and edgy styles more than ever.
Because Yoon is a designer in the front lines of fashion today, her admiration for the old days may come as a surprise. She says about today’s music and fashion scenes: “You might find more people who look edgy on the outside today. Everything evolves faster now; I feel that people don’t have the time to dig deeper. In the past, I would read the same magazines over and over for a month. Nowadays, today’s news will already feel old tomorrow. In terms of music, I’m not sure if we are capable to hear the entire album anymore, from the first song to the end. Same goes for fashion. This is why it’s becoming increasing more difficult to establish your own character. If you want to hear the latest music, just go to SoundCloud. Thanks to social media, there are less things that you can see or experience only if you’re actually there. Places and events that gather energy like that, or culture itself, are decreasing in today’s world. So I find my energy sources elsewhere.”
“By the way,” says Yoon and pulls out her iPhone, showing me her old Instagram movie post depicting moving android orchestrating real people. “This is an opera by Keiichiro Shibuya called “Scary Beauty”; the android is an AI that he made together with folks from Tokyo University. For me, not so much the music but the concept is so interesting. I always thought that music couldn’t be created without feelings, but with more and more upgraded technologies, they will one day be able to perform like real human beings. Fashion and music were both created by people, but I think there will come a day when we question: what makes it human? It’s a bigger topic though.” She has no answer to this question, perhaps no one knows for sure.
At times her sharp styles depicted through Ambush® look cold or robotic. However this is actually a culmination of her passion and humane qualities. “When we were called in as a semi-finalist and did a presentation at the headquarters of LVMH, judges asked many questions. Only Karl Lagerfeld kept praising us. We also saw him again later and he remembered us. He is someone who was on top of the fashion industry for over 50 years… That is when we realized that what we had continued to create was not a mistake.” Yoon’s expression as she tells us her story is not that of a cool designer, but of a passionate person. This is why she longs for past musicians that were filled with passion and character. “I am too busy to listen to music nowadays, which is regretful. I prefer to listen to horror films while I work. I can concentrate better that way. But I do feel bad for my colleagues on the phone with screaming voices echoing in the room!”
Born in South Korea, raised in Seattle. Together with her partner VERBAL, she created experimental jewelry line which was officially named AMBUSH® in 2008. Yoon has been appointed jewelry designer at Dior Men by Kim Jones last year, and is known as a designer with deep ties to music and art. Nike Air Max designed by her and collaboration jewelry will be launching soon.
|Photo Keita Goto||Edit & Text Rui Konno||Translation Akiko Watanabe & Rei Matsuoka|