Born from silks and the finest of cashmeres, Munsoo Kwon has been dubbed one of the most anticipated young designers of Korea. He’s been praised from the highest of echelons — a la Pitti Immagine Uomo — for his satirical and personal take on menswear. Oh, and his resume — Robert Geller, Helmut Lang, Thom Browne and Andrew Buckler — is no laughing matter. In fact, it was the opposite emotion that inspired the launch of his inaugural collection and the subsequent seasons that followed. Like every good tale, Munsoo Kwon’s is one of loneliness, risk, triumphant and a stitch of family pedigree.
Your parents are in the trade. Do you often consult them for advice?
My father is from the first generation of fashion distributors in Korea. He has been in the luxury fashion business for over 30 years. He has a lot of knowledge about the business and he is always the best dressed. I got my fashion blood from him. I’ve consulted with him sometimes when I have some problems or when I want to share good news. He advises me often about my collections and my business. I respect him a lot and his achievements, but I want to go my own way. I don’t want to take his business. I want my own business. I am always thankful that I have a great, personal fashion advisor.
So, no plans to take over the family business?
No. I never think about that.
Your Fall/Winter 2012 and 2014 collections were very personal. Is emotion usually a catalyst in your creative process?
I usually get inspiration from daily life, what I’m most interested in at that moment. FW12 [Fall/Winter 2012] was my debut collection. I wanted to express my emotions regarding my first impressions of New York City, where I was living at the time, pursuing my dreams. There are a lot of people in New York. I was very lonely. I wanted to express that feeling of city life.
My FW14 [Fall/Winter 2014] collection was called, “Key of Hope”. I went to Life magazine’s exhibition in Korea and saw a photograph by W. Eugene Smith called Walk to Paradise Garden. He shot it when he was recovering from wounds he suffered during World War II. I definitely felt hope from that picture. I think every person should have a key to unlock hope. We all suffer from a variety of hardships in our lives. That was the starting point for the FW14 collection.
What’s the biggest adversity you’ve had to overcome working in the fashion industry?
The domestic commission system is unfavorable to emerging designers. Munsoo Kwon started as a wholesale business by participating in its first Fashion Week in 2012 in New York through A.Y.R Showroom, which was unusual for a Korean brand. This was based on my academic background and my overseas connections. I believed that the domestic market would open wide if Munsoo Kwon could first be recognized overseas. Overseas sales increased in a year. I also participated in Fall/Winter 2013 Seoul Fashion Week: Generation Next. It was a great opportunity to introduce my designs to a variety of domestic and overseas media. Numerous domestic multi-shops wanted to do business with me. However, I operated on limited funds. I applied for numerous exhibition projects for the purposes of cost reduction and efficiency. Collaborations with large companies like CJ-O-Shopping, Audi and Shinsegae’s department store Bluefit, ensued.
“I think every person should have a key to unlock hope. We all suffer from a variety of hardships in our lives. “
I’m excited — we both went to the Academy of Art University! Regarding the graduation fashion show, you said it was the “very first fashion show of my life”. Can you talk about your time there?
I loved the curriculum of the school. My major was BFA [Bachelor of Fine Arts] Menswear Design. AAU [Academy of Art University] teaches students to be designers who produce collections. I learned many things there. I was picked for the graduation show, so I could present what I had learned. It was my first collection. I got to show my design philosophy to the public and my family flew over from Korea. It was one of the greatest moments of my life!
Do you have a favorite memory of San Francisco?
The weather was my favorite part. I liked to go to Haight Ashbury for vintage research and shopping.
You have quite an impressive resume. Did you learn something different from every designer you’ve worked for? What were the most important lessons?
I did different work for each designer during my internship period. Designers have their own way of working and the office atmosphere is also very different. However, most of the design offices I worked in had small teams. I was very happy to work closely with them. It was like having another family. I try to treat my [design] crew as well as my ex-bosses have treated me.
Speaking of bosses, you recently ran into Robert Geller.
Yes, I saw him in Paris! It had been a long time since I’d seen him. He stopped by my first trade show in New York for the FW12 season. After that, he became like an old friend to me every time I visited. He is still one of my favorite New York designers. I like the mixture of romantic and masculine details in his collections. I am always very proud knowing that I was part of the Robert Geller team. He is a very nice guy, personally. He treated me to a Korean dinner when I finished my internship for him. This time, I treated him to lunch when we met in Paris. We had a great time catching up. I was very happy to hear that he had his third child.
What’s the best thing a peer has ever said about your work?
They said I was a good storyteller. That is what I want. I don’t want to be a conceptual designer. I want to be a designer that people can sympathize with when I explain the themes of my collections.
It seems the K-Pop industry has lovingly embraced you.
I’m grateful that Korean celebrities like my collections. It helps me introduce the collection to new overseas customers.
What’s the mark of a Munsoo Kwon garment?
My customer loves our sweaters. My long shawl cardigan from the FW14 season was very popular.
What do you say to people who still think menswear is boring?
That kind of thinking is boring. There are a lot of interesting things happening in menswear now.