Posted : 2014-03-09 18:27
Updated : 2014-03-09 18:27

Making splash in global fashion scene

Kathleen Kye, left, enters a showroom with her long time patrons G-Dragon and Ciel at her 2013 Fall/Winter collection, at the Seoul Fashion Week, held
in March 2013. / Courtesy of Kathleen Kye

Kathleen Kye thrusts ‘witty, casual and rude' in design

By Park Jin-hai

Kathleen Kye, 26, is one of the hottest fashion designers in the K-pop scene.

Her bold and witty designs with street art image textile patterns have been worn by
KYE's 2014 Fall/Winter collection was held at the New York Fashion Week at Industria Superstudio in New York in February. Kye's standalone show, themed "identity," has received
rave reviews from local media.
many K pop icons, imprinting her brand "KYE" in the minds of fashion fans. Her patrons include G-Dragon, 2NE1 and 4 Minute among others.

Not limited to her home territory, the Seoul-based designer is also making a big splash on the global fashion scene too.

After joining "Concept Korea," a small circle of distinguished designers to showcase their collections together during the New York Fashion Week (NYFW), the graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, has showcased her work overseas many times.

Now her brand has grown as a result.

"Unlike K-pop, K-fashion is virtually unknown. Except Junn. J and Woo Young-mi, many question if there is a thing like fashion in Korea. But that is changing," said Kye at her shop in Sinsa-dong, Seoul.

Since last season, she has held standalone shows at the NYFW and at the 2014 show held last month, Kye received rave reviews from the local media. Editors of fashion magazines featured her collection and labeled her style as "high-end street wear."

"I could definitely see more people interested in K-fashion. And I believe Korea has a great potential to appeal to global customers," she added, explaining why the talented London educated designer returned to Seoul.

Kye's innovative designs for her undergraduate collection "The Body Collection" in 2009, including a man's jacket looking like giant ape's fist holding the model, drew a lot of attention. Right after the show, a Tokyo select shop ordered her design and that became the launching pad of her brand "KYE."

Kye was featured on Vogues "New Talents" page and her brand was said to be "fun-loving menswear" with pattens very distinguished from conventional ones. British singer Rita Ora is one of the stars to have worn her brand.

Some 40 retailers sell her brand globally. She has show rooms in Paris and Milan, potent signs of her presence in the European market.

"It's about identity and two opposite contrasting things — white and black, and red and blue — because identity is like that. The chains represent the links between those worlds. I wanted to create something that's not like two opposite contrasting things but something in the middle to show the identity of KYE," she said about her latest New York colletion.

Her brand identity "witty, casual, and rude" is the same, but there will be nothing like oversized foil sweatshirts with plaster details this time.

This collection was like a big transition for her brand. If her previous seasons had strong street feeling, this time it has a refined street version, catering to the New York style. "It was a risky decision, but it eventually turned out to be a great success," she said.

Recently she flew to Paris as the only Korean to make into the 30 semi-finalists for the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Young Fashion Designer Award that will be later short listed to 10.

"The winner will get support from the LVMH special team for a whole year. But, even if I cannot make it to the top, it was still a great experience and privilege to meet top of the rank fashion people and converse with them about my collections," said Kye.

She said some of her inspirations come from her dreams and conversation with friends. "My B.A. graduate show was inspired by a dream where I was squeezed by a giant King Kong. But other times, I talk with friends to get new and contemporary ideas."

According to her, a fashion designer can be "creative" but "cannot create" new things. "Thus the important thing in fashion is how to translate already existing things and make them into something new."

At the New York show, instead of a straight catwalk, she used x-shaped runways. "Instead of dull straight runway, people sit and watch models walking in every direction. That is more fun. I frequently consult with stage artists, fine artists and musicians as well as manufactures to get fresh ideas on to the stage."

Asked about what she aims to achieve, she said, "Nowadays, many new brands come and go every season. That is I think because they blindly follow the trend. Like producing street wear line one season and feminine line at another under the same brand. That cannot have brand identity."

Her overall goal?

"I would like to have a great archive of KYE brand that tell different stories but within the same brand identity."

Who is Kathleen Kye?

Kathleen Kye, designer and creative director of KYE, was born in Detroit, and raised in Seoul. Sheholds both B.A. and M.A. degrees in menswear from the prestigious fashion school Central Saint Martins in London.

Shortening her BA course by a year, she entered the MA as the youngest of the class. She debuted through the 2011 London Fashion Week and has been showing her collections each season since.

From 2012, she has been participating in "Concept Korea," a collection of notable designers who the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism supports in overseas promotions during the New York Fashion Week.

Her 2013 collection had her featured on Vogues "New Talents" page. Some 40 retail shops across the world sell her uniquely designed KYE brand. She has also been featured in a couple of fashion related television shows including "Project Runway Korea" and "Follow Me."

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