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Future Voice of Fashion Winner, Vienna Kim Is Out To Reshape An Industry

In her first interview since winning the Future Voice of Fashion award, Vienna Kim speaks to us.

18th Jan 2017

Inspired by Vivienne Westwood | Shot by David Suh

This is the first in the Keakie Presents series; a new series that showcases the most exciting emerging talent in the world across creative fields ranging from music and fashion to lifestyle and culture. This week we focus on the talented fashion connoisseur, Vienna Kim (VK).

In November 2016, retail giant Topshop teamed up with industry respected publication ‘Business of Fashion’ on a long-term partnership to nurture the next generation of fashion talent with the launch of the Future Voices initiative. The partnership aims to scout and nurture the next generation of industry breakthrough fashion talent by supporting and developing them through addressing the need for education, access and mentoring. In November they launched their Future Voices challenge in order to identify 10 breakthrough talents from around the world to present their ideas at Voices, the Business of Fashion’s annual gathering for industry’s leading figures. Winners go on to join a mentoring programme that aims to develop future leaders in the fashion world. We caught up with Vienna Kim, one of the winners of the inaugural Future Voices challenge, to talk about her views on the fashion industry and beyond.

When we spoke to Vienna, she was at her home in South Korea for the winter break. When she is not working on fashion, she is studying an undergraduate degree at the University of St Andrews. Over the course of our conversation we touched on her thoughts on individual style, the purpose of the fashion industry and the future possibilities for it.

Keakie: What was it that first motivated you to get into fashion?

VK: I didn’t grow up with fashion. It wasn’t something that I knew I’d end up going into. I guess I have always been creative minded. Going into university I chose to study Art History because I know I have this creative mind, and I know I love being surrounded by creativity, but I personally don’t do art. I don’t paint, I don’t draw, I don’t design clothes. But I knew that I wanted to be around creativity. So I went into Art History. It wasn’t until half way through university that I thought to turn to fashion. I started off with my own fashion blog, going off my own initiative which was styling myself and then writing about it. I quickly became disillusioned with that because it seemed that every fashion blogger was doing the same thing. I felt that there were very few fashion bloggers that were really doing something interesting, so I kind of put that on hold.

I think the big moment for me was when I saw the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A - the Savage Beast exhibition. That was the moment when I was like, “wait, this is art and its fashion in one space, and it’s perfectly blended - it’s both”. It told me that the Art History degree could enable me to segway into fashion.

Keakie: How do you style yourself?

VK: When people look at me, they can tell I’m a little bit different. I’ve always had that kind of thing going on. But to be honest, I was still following some kind of trend. I was looking at this model or this blogger and I was like “I like this person”. I would always copy an element of that person and combine it with what I had. That’s not how most people dress. They see what Kylie Jenner’s wearing or Kendall and do that. It wasn’t until this summer when I was with a friend of mine who is an artist doing fine art at Goldsmiths university that I saw something completely different. The way she styles herself is super unique. She would pick something up from a thrift shop, come back to her house - get a piece of canvas that she had remaining from her art project and she would sow it onto her trousers. She would do her own thing with the clothes that she would pick up. The way she thinks about clothes is so different to how everyone thinks about clothes. It’s interdisciplinary. It borrows from art, from music, from fashion to inspire how she dresses. It’s really different and genuinely avant garde. I want to do something like that as well. If I see something that is visually striking, I like to pair that with something else to create a unique image, rather than thinking ‘this is what is trending right now, I’m just going to buy those’. Now it’s like “how am I creating an image” with what I’m wearing. I’m kind of curating an outfit rather than focusing on what is hot at the moment.

Keakie: Is there a certain image you’re trying to create?

VK: I think I just never want to be boring. I want to be interesting. I want people to know that I’m creative and that I’m a forward thinking person. I would care about that more than an “oh she’s cute” or “oh she’s hot”.

Keakie: Tell us a bit more about the Alexander McQueen Exhibition?

VK: If you talk to lots of people in fashion, they will tell you that it was a big turning point in the fashion and art industries that overlap in general. I knew a little bit about Alexander McQueen beforehand and I lined up at 9:45am before the doors of the V&A even opened just to get tickets. I came out of it and my friend and I sat in a cafe afterwards and spoke for hours about creativity and art and fashion and how each of us could pave our ways in the industry. It was so sensational that I came out of it completely changed with what I wanted to do with my life. How I wanted to be inspired and how I wanted to be creative. It is what empowered me to pursue something creative in the fashion industry, even though I don’t have a fine art design background - it made me feel like there was something I can do. It was so amazingly curated. The V&A did a wonderful job with the exhibition. It told story of who Alexander McQueen was and how he thought. It was like stepping into his mind. It was so well done.

At the Voices Conference, Casting Director James Sculley said that “fashion is a dream”. I attended the McQueen exhibition, and saw that this was a dream that I wanted to be a part of.

Keakie: What about that phrase “fashion is a dream” is so important to you?

VK: The way I interpret it, is that the whole business of fashion is to sell you an image or a dream of who you could become if you buy a particular product.

When little girls and boys look through the media and they see images of models who look beautiful and desirable and stylish and interesting, that’s what they want. You’re supposed to want to be like the person in the magazine - that’s the whole business. ‘Fashion as a dream’ is the business of creating an image of who people want to be, for better or for worse. That’s the power of fashion. It could be a really beautiful thing. Fashion causes you to dream about who you could be, and how you want to create yourself to be. More than anything that is why the phrase resonates with me. The ability to create yourself into who you want to be. Fashion is such a powerful way to do that because the language of fashion is desire and dream.

Keakie: So we’ve seen the power that fashion has for good. What are the problems in fashion?

VK: The two are closely related. There are a lot of people who look through these magazines and feel that they want to be a part of that dream, but because they don’t look like what they see in the media, they feel that they can’t be a part of that dream. They shut themselves off from it. They cut off the creativity and liberation they could feel by engaging with fashion and finding their own voice within fashion because they think “that isn’t for me”. So I think that one of the issues is that a lot of people think that fashion is very exclusive, that fashion isn’t democratic.

Some would argue that there’s a reason for that - that the dream cannot stay alive if it isn’t exclusive. The whole point is that there’s a limited club that everyone wants to get into, but I actually think that these days that’s really changing. I think that people are growing sick and tired of this elitist fashion world, and that has happened because bloggers and social media personalities have become such a massive thing. Fashion is more becoming democratic, bloggers are becoming the voices for certain brands.

I would love to see people of different colours, of different shapes, of different backgrounds, feel that they are a part of the dream, and feel like they are represented by the media and brand editorials. I think we need more diversity in who we see as the icons of fashion. It’s great that a lot of people are putting the spotlight on the Jenners and the Hadids of the world, but there could be more diversity of recognition.

Keakie: Are there any signs that people are starting to get the recognition they deserve?

VK: Hari Nef was runner up in the Readers Choice Breakout Women of 2016 awards, and I think that’s really telling. It tells us that people of our generation clearly want to see more diversity in the fashion industry - so we voted for a transgender woman as one of the Breakout Women of the year. It tells us that we want to see transgender women treated as women and not as ‘add on’ nominations. It tells us that we wanted to see beautiful black women like Joan Smalls as normal in the industry, not as rare, or included for diversity points. I think that’s what people want now, and it’s evident in the fact that people voted for Hari Nef.

Because we want to see it, slowly I think the fashion industry will move towards including people who had formerly been relegated to the fringes in their campaigns. I think that over time they will become the new normal. Not in the sense that we will only see for instance black people in our campaigns, but in the sense that right now we see them as a ‘minority that we will include’, a message that still says “we are letting you in”. A future in which having strong representation of black people in fashion campaigns is ‘a given’, is what I think we are moving towards.

Keakie: Is this movement towards the normalisation of minorities inevitable, or do we need to do more to actively push it?

VK: It's interesting because we are living in a political time right now that has a lot to say about inclusivity and race. I am usually an optimist. Until recently I thought we were all going to this place where we cared about people being on the same page and that it wouldn’t be an issue. Given the current political climate, I am not so optimistic. I think we just have to voice it out more. People have to care about these issues more and they have to get angry about these issues more. The whole Black Lives Matter movement is massive because there’s an eminent problem. I think it is going to have to have more of a push because clearly we aren’t there yet.

I don’t have the answers for how we can get to the point where we don’t have to worry about those issues anymore, but I think that the more people demand for it in the fashion industry, the more that brands will have to respond because that is where they get their money from.

Keakie: What was a piece of advice you received from someone in the industry since winning the Voices challenge?

VK: I think that one piece of advice I’ve received is that people are listening at the highest levels. Inevitably, once the people who are in an industry now move on and the next generation comes to the fore, we will get to have a real say. Ultimately we are the ones who will come into these industries and have the power to make real differences. I think that what is really cool is that at the Voices conference Will.i.Am staged a really interesting conversation about technology and fashion. When Will went onto the stage, he said “there are so many people in this room who have been in here for years”. Addressing the present crowd, he essentially said “you’re so full of yourself. You think you know it all and you aren’t willing to change anything”. Then he pointed to us and said “these guys right here, they’re thirsty and these are the guys who are going to be making the change.” That was so cool to hear. More than advice, it was really encouraging to hear. He wanted to say that young people don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. In order to do so, we couldn’t do what had already been done - we had to do something new. So I got in contact with him after the conference and said “what would you suggest we do”, and he said that he believes that technology and fashion together is the future. So it was cool to hear someone like that believe in you and support you and say to you ‘do something new’.

Keakie: That’s amazing! So what’s next for you?

VK: Well, anything can happen. I’m graduating in June and then looking for a fashion related job. The Future Voices experience is a year long mentorship programme. I will be in touch with BoF and Topshop for the rest of the year. Given that two days changed my life, I can’t say what will happen for the rest of the year. I am a go-getter. I say yes to a good opportunity and then just run with it. I’ll look to get a job that helps me be a voice for the social causes we have been talking about in the fashion industry. That’s all I can do. The rest is out of my hands. But it will be fun!


Text: Eloka Agu

Images: David Suh | portfolio

Vienna Kim |portfolio | Instagram.

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