By Veronique Hyland for Elle Magazine
Yoon Ahn had already left Paris for Japan by the time this Ambush showroom visit took place. When we spoke by phone, she was outside of Tokyo, visiting specialized factories that she is considering for production of her ever-expanding brand.
The city, meanwhile, was at the heart of this collection—heart being the operative word. “I live in the middle of Tokyo, almost like living in Times Square,” she said. “I wanted to capture that hyper-animated reality coexisting with unreal emotions, because everything there is always on the move.”
Ahn’s high-octane translation of this spanned retro-future ’80s tailoring, late-’90s motorbike getups, and present-day streetwear. The statement was Bowie meets BTS. In general, her silhouettes were either influenced by Yohji Yamamoto (deconstructed with space between the clothes and the body) or sci-fi robots (blocky and modular). Her palette of red, green, and pink took direct cues from the glow of neon lights.
Hearts, meanwhile, appeared in the corresponding jewelry collection—but in the context of the other automobile-inspired pieces, they had an industrial vibe that read sleek rather than sweet. “I stayed away from cuteness for some time,” said the designer. “Here, I added hearts without them being unbearable.”
Ahn has an astute sense of observation and interpretation that serves her well across the collections. Although she is prone to leaning too literal, this is what allows the looks to transcend the “subcultures” that interested her this season to attract a wider commercial market. In case you were wondering, the cyborg Geta sandals were her equivalent of a concept car: sculptural and for show only, at least for now. But they were made, in part, at a car factory, and they give the feeling that she’s eager to shift into higher gear.
By Amy Verner for Vogue Runway
Yoon Ahn and Marine Serre Celebrate the Football Shirt
In sport, the jersey is a garment that at once supports and celebrates brilliant performance.
For athletes, it serves a utilitarian purpose — the jersey is a tool for their crazy dream. For the fans, the jersey serves to support their favored team and, ultimately, their community.
As the world readies for play in France this summer, Yoon Ahn, Christelle Kocher, Erin Magee and Marine Serre transform the jersey in their vision, proving that while a jersey need not take a standard form, it can become a standard reminder of the unifying power of sport.
Each designer has also matched a bra with their jersey. Here they describe the intent behind their respective concepts:
Yoon Ahn’s Nike x AMBUSH® jersey shines a spotlight on the diversity and culture that is celebrated on the international tournament stage.
“My Nike x AMBUSH® jersey is a unisex hybrid football jersey inspired by the Happi coat, a traditional Japanese straight-sleeved coat. I chose the Happi coat because, although we are celebrating the tournament and the incredible female players, I believe it is just as important for the fans, for everyone to have a universal piece to celebrate in.”
Serre presents a slender, articulated jersey designed to be worn over a printed body suit.
“The focus of my designs is always hybridity and adapting to daily life. It’s important to create a purposeful line that makes a female feel good without compromising the style.”
Featuring the Punk Quiz by Yoon Ahn, co-founder of AMBUSH
A Runway That Reflects Our World: How 4 Brands Are Bringing Fashion to Life
There’s nothing typical about Gypsy Sport, Ambush, Y/Project, and Martine Rose. Each of these brands is not only helmed by young talents with a knack for disruption—Rio Uribe at Gypsy Sport, Verbal and Yoon at Ambush, Glenn Martens at Y/Project, and the eponymous Martine Rose—but they have found innovative ways to express a sense of the cultural, contemporary, and communal.
At a typical Gypsy Sport New York Fashion Week affair, you can find pregnant mothers and young drag queens modeling Uribe’s craft-couture pieces. Tokyo-based Verbal and Yoon have bridged the gap between street culture and the hallowed halls of Parisian fashion with Ambush, which turns staid luxury tropes on their heads. At Y/Project, nothing is too weird for Martens, from thigh-high Uggs to mashed-up velvet suiting—all of which reflects the way his friends are dressing now. And then there’s Rose, who took her London Fashion Week show this season to a cul-de-sac in St. Leonards Square, where street-cast models captivated homeowners who watched from their windows.
Street Casting Is a Must
From his first rogue show in New York’s Washington Square Park, Uribe has been adamant about casting his friends and collaborators in his events. “I wanted to express fashion, and I wanted to show body types and skin tones that are not often celebrated, so I got all my friends together and was like, ‘Hey I’m starting a fashion line and having a fashion show by the park,’” he told Nnadi. “It’s always about the people, for me. It’s about bringing people into the circle.”
Rose echoed that sentiment, explaining that her recent menswear show was entirely comprised of men from the neighborhood she held it in. “All of the cast for that particular show were local boys from the area, some of the residents had their grandsons [in the show] . . . I really identified with that feeling of community.”
For Martens, who has been leading the wave of diversity at Y/Project, it’s the person in the clothes that matters most. “We do a lot of street casting, especially for menswear. For me, it’s really because we try to create diversity on the catwalk in a way that every single look is a different person. We really have to fall in love with a model, it doesn’t matter where the model comes from,” he said.
There Are Benefits to Being an Outsider
Yoon recently joined Dior as a director of jewellery and accessories for its menswear lines—but she admits that the differences between an iconic maison and her own brand, run with her husband, weren’t all that great. “We’ve always been the outsiders, everything was self-taught. The way we grew as a business wasn’t the way that a lot of people have gotten into those big houses, so to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect,” she began. “Once I went in and I realised that everything that I learned—starting the business from nothing and getting involved in every aspect of it—it’s the same principles. And I had so much that I could contribute to this big house that they didn’t realise. That’s the reality that we’re talking about.” She went on to explain that her from-the-ground-up mentality at Ambush—she is closely involved in the marketing, public relations, production, and sales of her brand—gave her an advantage when stepping into the Dior ateliers.
Don’t Get Hung Up on Catchphrases Such as Streetwear or Hypebeast
Streetwear as a catchall fashion term? “It just seems really dated, it feels like an outdated description of something that you can’t just describe very one-dimensionally,” said Rose. “There are so many other things that streetwear encompasses, it just feels too reductive. I think there’s a new and different attitude that has given fashion a new life, but it’s more complex than just streetwear.”
Yoon was quick to note that the idea of street fashion is far from new, name-checking the hippies, punks, and rebels of the ’80s. “Streetwear is nothing new. Every decade has its own—usually what’s happening in the society in the political sense, that’s what gets reflected in the street, and they manifest those ideas through what they wear.”
For Martens, the hypebeast economy of “more more more fashion” is antithetical to his vision at Y/Project—even if it’s a rethink of the fashion model. “When you’re too hyped, you burn yourself out,” he said. “The moment we sell too many denims, the next season we’re not going to have any denims anymore.”
Sustainability Is Cool
“Sustainability was not something at the top of my mind when I started designing, but as I made collections more and more often, I would have inventory that I was sitting on that nobody was buying and so many samples that never got to see the runway,” said Uribe. “I hated having that much waste in my life.” Since then, he repositioned his business to a made-to-order model. “What I’m trying to do is make it cool to be sustainable and actually appreciate slow fashion.”
Copying Can Be Flattering—When It’s Done Right
“It depends by whom and in what sort of context,” began Rose, on the issue of the rampant plagiarism in fashion. “When it’s students, it’s deeply flattering to me, to be honest. It’s resonating with people. Everyone is inspired, I was inspired by designers. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s an honor to be inspiring the next generation of people. It’s very different when it’s done by a big corporation or someone who’s making a lot of money.”
Uribe agreed. “When a corporation does it, it feels like rape. We made things that were sustainable . . . and right after the show, they have versions at [high-street stores].”
See the full article by Steff Yotka HERE
Her Accessories and Streetwear Are All Over Rihanna and Kanye, and Paris’ Runways, Too. In Tokyo, the Dior Homme Jeweller Shares Her Path to Success.
I catch Yoon Ahn exactly one week after the debut of her inaugural jewelry collection for Dior Homme Spring/Summer 2019 at Paris fashion week. She was back in her home base of Tokyo for just eight days and was scheduled to leave for London to start work on next seasons collection the following morning. On this, the sweltering last day of June, we meet in Shibuya, at the AMBUSH Workshop—Yoon’s jewelry turned ready-to-wear label.
Like a growing number of her peers, the 41-year-old designer wasn’t formally trained. She started out making jewelry for fun with her husband Verbal, a member of the Japanese rap group the Teriyaki Boyz who gained popularity in 2005. Back then, rap had yet to become the new pop. Japanese streetwear was mixing with 90s hip-hop style—full-zip Bape hoodies, varsity jackets, stunner shades, baggy denim, and LA Gear high-tops. Their work channeled the “golden era” of rap with whopping gold chains and Slick Rick rings. Picture a thick gold chain with a medallion the shape of Beethoven’s bust, wearing diamond-encrusted shades and a studded leather jacket. Kanye and Pharrell were two of the first American rappers to embrace this scene, spending lots of time in Japan, collaborating with the Teriyaki Boyz, and wearing Yoon and Verbal’s designs. Nostalgic extravagance was in, and thanks in part to perfect timing and high-profile co-signs, the jewelry took off.
Eight years after the birth of AMBUSH jewelry came a full AMBUSH ready-to-wear collection, an LVMH nomination in 2017, a Tokyo fashion week presentation in 2018, and announced last spring, the appointment to jewelry designer for Dior Homme, courtesy of its newly-minted creative director Kim Jones, a long-time friend of Yoon’s.
The AMBUSH Workshop in Shibuya is comprised of two stories, doubling as a retail location on street level, and an office on the second floor. I wander into the retail space and there are at least 10 shoppers inside, two are studying a binder filled with images of AMBUSH jewelry offerings, one is glued to a rack of graphic tees with unicorn and wolf illustrations that read “Euphoric Oblivion” and “Traces to Nowhere." Yoon’s designs are a hybrid of soft and hard. She’ll take a pop can and crush it, turning it into a purse. Or she’ll take a fitted hat with a generic sports insignia and give it an exaggerated romantic brim, creating a sunhat. A lifejacket becomes a puffer jacket, or a matching fleece sweatsuit gets fitted and tailored to become a viable going-out look. There’s a poetic nature in her work that comes not from subtlety, but from grand gestures.
I’m escorted upstairs by a very friendly and unassuming assistant dressed in an outfit that skews more corporate than AMBUSH, into a small but bright lobby. It’s minimally decorated with a table and chairs, and a small rolling rack of AMBUSH clothing in the corner. I’m resisting the urge to touch when Yoon emerges promptly through a white door, calmly sipping on a Starbucks iced tea. In this 40 degree Tokyo heat, staving off my immense jetlag, I’m dripping in sweat and she’s dripping in jewelry—the crystals in her rings making her look Ultra HD like she just stepped out of the screen on a 4K television. On each hand, huge aqua blue and violet purple square crystals encased in gold and silver. There’s more. On almost every finger and knuckle, at least 10 thin diamond bands, two of which have diamond-covered teardrops dangling off of them as if they’re crying. Her long talon nails match, gleaming in a shade of champagne silver.
Yoon grew up in Seattle “before it was hip,” she says. Pre-Starbucks, pre-Amazon, the Seattle that birthed the grunge-era. The overcast sky made it an easy place to get depressed, Yoon says, and she didn’t want anything to do with that. Born in 1977 in Korea, Yoon is the oldest of two—her father in the U.S. Army and her mother a homemaker. Her dad’s job took them to Hawaii and California before they settled in the Seattle suburbs in the 80s. “I was obsessed with Eddie Vedder,” recalled Yoon of her West Coast adolescence, a telling comment that makes sense of the grunge-inspired details often present in her work. “I can appreciate Seattle, but back then I used to hate it so much.” Yoon grew obsessed with New York City and London and the world she saw in the pages of i-D, Vogue, and The Face.
After high school, instead of heading to New York or London, she ended up at Boston University to study graphic design, a move that turned out to be pivotal in her life. It was here, in the late 90s, that she met her husband Verbal at church. “Christianity and going to church is big in Korean culture, and I grew up in a Christian family,” says Yoon. “So when I went to Boston I was looking for a church and that's where we met.” This chance meeting—call it God’s plan, or the law of attraction—would become a pattern in Yoon’s life. It was 2003 when she made the jump to Tokyo, and things kept clicking. Kanye wore their AMBUSH ‘POW!’ pendant—an XL diamond rendering of the classic comic book speech bubble— and suddenly they were fielding calls from international fashion buyers. She also met Virgil through Kanye, back when both guys were interns at Fendi. Kanye introduced her to Kim Jones too around this time, backstage at a Teriyaki Boyz show. This was ten years ago. Pre-YEEZY, pre-Virgil mania, pre-Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton.
"FASHION IS POP CULTURE NOW, SO YOU HAVE TO BE THE JUGGLER, IN THE FRONT."
Paris men’s fashion week Spring/Summer 2018 was historic for the aforementioned group. Kim Jones presented his inaugural collection for Dior Homme with Yoon, Virgil Abloh held the most hyped fashion show of the year for Louis Vuitton, and Kanye West showed up to support. Friends for a decade that are all finding themselves on top at the same time. Like the Antwerp Six for the insta-generation. Together, they’re redefining what a designer can be and simultaneously sparking a massive cultural debate. Is it simply friendship, or design codependency? Would the new breed of fashion designer/creative director be successful on their own, without a hyped crew to back them up? “As a designer today you have to be the best marketing person, the best PR person, you have to do everything,” says Yoon. “It's not about designing anymore, because there's more expectation on you than ever before. Fashion is pop culture now, so you have to be the juggler, in the front.”
With her appointment to Dior Homme Jewelry designer, Yoon balances two jobs and is responsible for twice the amount of output, a reality that she admits worries her without preoccupying her. Her working relationship with Kim Jones is particularly fruitful because of their long-term friendship. “He sets the tone for the collection and what he wants to do, and it's my job to come up with ideas to complement the directions he's taking.”
Much has been written about high fashion’s current changing of the guard, and Yoon is undeniably a key player in this new luxury establishment, but surprisingly, early into our conversation, she expresses that she isn’t sure of that herself. “I don't know if I'm a key player or not. I'm not trying to be that person, but I do feel responsible, in a way, now that I've been given this platform to exercise my philosophy.”
When we meet she’s wearing the AMBUSH tee that says “Euphoric Oblivion” but it’s tucked into a pink pleated skirt so that only the word “Euphoric” is visible. There’s a fluidity to the way she styles her own designs, accentuating their meaning. Her fans follow her lead, call it aspirational-Yoon. It becomes obvious to me why she's referred to by her brand, Yoon AMBUSH, instead of Yoon Ahn. Her selfies are magnetic, too. KiraKira, the faux sparkle app, even looks different on her—it’s shining out of her eyes. Bella and Gigi Hadid, Simi and Haze, the Kardashians, and the Jenners all want to wear her clothes. They want to be friends with her too. “I’m obsessed with you,” Bella comments on a selfie that Yoon posted in June, depicting herself and her cat both glowing like cosmic deities.
Yoon’s early days of peacocking on the Tokyo club circuit have primed her for the realities of the industry. “Sometimes, when people don't know you, they judge you by what you post, and how you seem to appear. That's why you also need to understand that surface is surface. Once someone opens that lid, they're going to be seeking depth. I might look a certain way on social media. I'm a girl, at the end of the day, and I like to have long weaves and wear lipstick, but I make sure I work my ass off, and my results are there. Everything in life is a balance. Especially as a creator, you need to lead with results.”
When AMBUSH held their first presentation at Tokyo fashion week in March of this year, the crowd was indicative of Yoon’s natural ability to draw like-minded people into her world, especially in a city like Tokyo where fashion industry elites don’t usually make time for up-and-comers. “All these different people from different industries came out. Chitose from Sacai, to Jun from Undercover, to Hiroshi Fujiwara, to J-Pop idols, to Kiko Mizuhara. I don't think there was an event where all those types of people gathered in one place before, and I think that surprised a lot of people, too. That's a reflection of who we are. We’re not just one specific scene.” Yoon proves that non-traditional design credentials are no longer a barrier to entry, even in the most conservative of arenas.
Seven days before our interview, Yoon was jogging down the Dior runway in Paris in pink sequinned Comme des Garçons Homme Plus shorts hand-in-hand with Kim Jones. While she might not be sure of her place in the new canon of luxury design, she’s embracing her newfound responsibilities. “It’s weird, all those people that I used to read about in i-D, Vogue, and The Face—I'm working with them now. I didn't imagine that. Now that I'm a little bit older and wiser, I'm really starting to believe [in] the law of attraction thing. That if you want it so much and work towards it, it does come to you.”
Interview by Romany Williams for SSENSE
Each Time You Fall In Love- Cigarettes After Sex
Twin Peaks Theme (Instrumental)- Angelo Badalamenti
Where Is My Mind?- Pixies
The Rain Song- Led Zeppelin
Pictures Of You- The Cure
Fade Into You- Mazzy Star
Muzzle- Smashing Pumpkins
Dreams- Fleetwood Mac
Heroes (Single Version)- David Bowie
Dead Souls- Joy Division
How Soon Is Now?- The Smiths
Dear Prudence (Single)- Siouxsie & The Banshees
Sweet Jane (Live)- The Velvet Underground
After Hours- The Velvet Underground
100%- Sonic Youth
Rebel Girl- Bikini Kill
Svefn-G-Englar- Sigur Rós
We Are The Music Makers- Aphex Twin
May This Be Love- Jimi Hendrix
Soon- My Bloody Valentine
Seven- Sunny Day Real Estate
Rid Of Me- PJ Harvey
Bed For The Scraping- Fugazi
Blue Flowers- Dr. Octagon
Cherry-Coloured Funk- Cocteau Twins
4th Chamber (feat. RZA, Ghostface Killah & Killah Priest- GZA
Designing for Kanye, partying with Bella Hadid and now rocking it at Dior Homme — Tom Ellen meets a style maverick on a mission
'Everything that used to be underground is mainstream,’ declares Yoon Ahn, the Korean-American jewellery designer beloved by supermodels and hip-hop megastars.
‘Times change, so high fashion has to accept it or get left behind.’ She should know. A decade back, Ahn was just a jobbing graphic designer who spent her downtime making experimental trinkets for friends. Today, that ‘passion project’ has exploded into one of the planet’s hippest streetwear brands, AMBUSH, a favourite of rappers such as A$AP Rocky, Skepta and Kanye West.
Now she’s in Paris to embark on her latest challenge: heading up jewellery design for Dior Homme, the fashion house’s menswear label. She was announced in the role last month by her friend — and the label’s new creative director — Kim Jones, hence our interview venue, a precious stone’s throw from Dior HQ in Paris.
‘It’s really an honour,’ she says of the Dior appointment. ‘Kim has talked about us working together since his Louis Vuitton days, but honestly, I never thought I could come into an old couture house and make things, because I came out of nowhere. I had no training and no one behind me. In that sense, I always felt like an outsider.’ That may well be but on catwalks right now, it’s the outsiders who are taking control.
From the ascendance of Virgil Abloh — another untrained disruptor turned world-dominating trendsetter — to Vuitton collaborating with Supreme, Ahn’s Dior Homme gig feels like the latest groundswell in a high fashion revolution. When we meet it’s 7pm but her body clock is approaching 2am. She’s come straight to the 8th arrondissement bar after flying in from Tokyo, looking about as un jetlagged as it is possible to look: platinum blonde hair slicked straight back like a Thin White Duke-era Bowie, pale pink T-shirt framed by a black leather jacket and ‘fanny pack’. ‘We belong to a generation of designers who grew up on skate culture and street clothes in the 1990s and 2000s, so naturally it gets manifested in our creations,’ she says. The designer’s label, called AMBUSH and named for her desire to take people by surprise, was very much born from this mentality. Created in the late Noughties with her husband, Verbal, one of Japan’s biggest rappers, the pair began making chains and rings purely because Verbal couldn’t find any decent jewellery to blow his royalty cheques on. Neither had any formal fashion schooling: just bags of enthusiasm and a thirst for experimentation.
‘We just wanted to prove we could do s*** no one else was doing,’ she grins, sparkling at the memory of it. ‘We went all out, making crazy, outrageous things. Fifteen-centimetre [wide] Cuban chains... A baseball cap out of bronze.’ Was it actually wearable? ‘Was it wearable...?’ She ponders this over a sip of Coke. ‘Well, yeah, if it fit your head. We didn’t make lots of different sizes...’ These eye-catching (and potentially neck-damaging) items aside, things really caught fire when they unveiled their Roy Lichtenstein-inspired ‘POW!’ rings at the turn of last decade. ‘We really just made them for friends,’ Ahn shrugs, but since Verbal had recently signed to Def Jam Records in the US, those friends now included the likes of Pharrell and Big Sean.
Suddenly, the planet’s most style-savvy rappers who were already enthusiastically tapping in to the Tokyo street-wear scene now had an authentic, exciting Japanese jewellery brand to provide their accessories. ‘The rappers really are the rock stars of today,’ Ahn points out. ‘You had movie stars and rock stars setting trends in the past, but it’s rappers now. That’s why streetwear is bigger than ever, and it’s not fading out.
Yoon was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1970-something. ‘You can just say “Seventies”,’ she smiles. ‘I think it’s okay to keep certain things quiet...’ That vague air of mystery continues to pervade as we discuss her childhood. Her father served in the US military and when I enquire about his role she purses her pillar-box red lips and chuckles: ‘You know, I should ask him.’ Army life saw the family uprooted constantly and by the time they settled in Seattle when Ahn was a teenager, she had already lived in Korea, Hawaii and California. You can still hear these locations jostling for position in her accent. Seattle was where her ‘outsider’ mentality took shape, and despite holding US citizenship she still describes herself as an ‘alien’.
At 18, she went to Boston to study graphic design where she met Verbal — then just a rap-loving marketing major. The two began dating and when Verbal suggested relocating to his hometown of Tokyo after graduation, Ahn jumped at the chance. ‘The club scene in Tokyo at that time was off the chain,’ she recalls. ‘Hip-hop, electro... Everyone was peacocking so you wore things to stand out. This was before Instagram, so if you wanted to see what a scene was like, you had to go to the clubs. My hair was a different colour every few weeks, I was customising clothes with studs, making jewellery from found objects. Mixing things up.’ Today Ahn’s inexhaustible work ethic allows for far less after-hours ‘peacocking’. Rare downtime is spent at home in Tokyo with Verbal and their two cats, or indulging a burgeoning Korean gangster film obsession (‘You can learn a lot from Mafia movies...’).
That said, the mix-and-match ideology she learned in the clubs is still on display: her just-off-the-plane ensemble includes a silver Rolex, custom diamond earrings and AMBUSH ball-chain choker. The idea of exploring fresh territory is clearly still what powers the designer’s engine at AMBUSH (‘We’re making down jackets for the first time,’ she gushes, excitedly).
As our time together draws to a close, though, I wonder: how will her playful, explosive spirit fit in at Dior? She nudges her suitcase, which contains the first ideas she’ll be presenting to Jones tomorrow, ahead of her collection’s debut at Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June. ‘Dior’s a heritage brand,’ she explains, ‘so you have to keep the DNA going, but refine it.
I have to find the right balance to complement what they do. But the thing you realise is... there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything has been done. So, then, what is our role as creators?’ As the sun sinks into the Seine, she finishes her Coke and answers her own question for me: ‘To reintroduce things. To make people see them in a whole new light.’
Article by Tom Ellen for the Evening Standard