Half German and half Korean, Jennifer Koch designed her FortuneCookieLand menswear collection as a fun yet savvy confrontation with the stereotypes people tend to make about East-Asian cultures, stereotypes Jennifer has experienced firsthand. Collaging fortune cookie wrappers, takeout packaging and “Asian” Halloween costumes, the collection reflects the obtuse tendency by some to see anything Japanese, Korean and Chinese as uniformly and generically “Oriental.”
Informed by her technical training in sewing and patternmaking, Jennifer’s work features oversized tracksuit silhouettes in vibrant, provocatively familiar textiles. FortuneCookieLand displays an intelligent, hip hop, big fashion sensibility. Sampling and transforming tacky pop culture clichés in a way not dissimilar to Jeremy Scott and Moschino, Jennifer seeks both spread fun and put a stop to annoying racist behaviours. The message seems to be, those who wear the joke understand the joke.
What is your background prior to the MA?
I studied Fashion Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Trier, Germany. It’s a very technical school and it gave me a good foundation regarding sewing and patternmaking. After my BA, I wanted to take a year off to model full-time and I ended up being a Model for 4 years before applying at the RCA.
How did your background inform your work at RCA?
My background helped me a lot in terms of making and executing my collection. My education made it easier for me to develop clothing and modelling informed my work regarding fit, styling, and how I want my models to feel. I want my work to be comfortable and wearable and help the wearer feel confident and not be restricted in anyway while wearing my clothes.
How has your work and technique progressed over the past year?
I became more confident in expressing my vision quicker in decision making.
Do you prefer to work at day or night?
I’m definitely a day person. I tend to start early in the day and like to unwind in the evening 🙂
What was the starting point for your final collection?
I’m half German and half Korean but I grew up in Germany. Since I look Asian, I experienced a lot of awkward moments with people asking weird questions regarding my heritage. I was often confronted with stereotypes and appropriation. With time, I got really annoyed with assumptions: ‘yeah, but where are you really from?’, ‘you are really tall for an Asian’, ‘your German is good’, etc. I wanted my final collection to be my weapon against these stereotypes as well as making a home for anyone who experienced similar things.
How did your idea develop?
Some people tend to believe that there is an overall east-Asian culture (meaning Japan, China and Korea have the same in culture, language and history.) I call this stereotype FortuneCookieLand. I started to collect ‘oriental’ things, items that look Asian but are not founded in any Asian culture or are appropriating Korean, Japanese or Chinese culture. I started with fortune cookies and ‘Chinese’ takeaway boxes. Later I added ‘Asian’ Halloween costumes and started to drip on a body and make collages in 2D. I wanted to keep it light and fun, but at the same time make people think how to approach people with a different cultural background without using stereotypes and assumptions.
What was your biggest struggle?
My biggest struggle was to keep my clothes sophisticated and fun at the same time. It is easy to drift into something costumey or gimmicky and lose the message. Tune it down too much on the other hand and it will end up looking boring.
How do you hope people respond to your work when they first see it? Is there a message you are trying to convey?
(Laughs.) I hope to make them see the humour and to make them smile. And next time they meet someone new, they might not make any weird assumptions. (No, I can’t speak with the Chinese waitress, and no, we are not related and no, I cannot read what’s written on the chopsticks. And also, please don’t use chopsticks in your hair to look Asian, that’s like putting forks in your hair.)
Words Troy Wise Images Courtesy of Jennifer Koch