Representing the creative future

The Royal 20: Hyun Oh

Somewhere in between light pastel and bright neon yellow, Hyun Oh engages us in past conversations that have led to her graduate collection, and shares the challenges she faced along the way. As Hyun began to develop a relationship with each of her garments throughout the year, she focused not only on design principles, but also the quality of her collection. Considering the commercial and conceptual elements of branding, Hyun balances her work between artisan and wearable design, and firmly believes we should invest in the emotional value of a garment.

Where did your primary inspiration for this collection come from?

In a way my work is an extension of my own identity, but it is unconsciously found. The core of my final collection stems from a personal story, although it is something I believe everyone has in common and therefore can share with one another. The research started from looking at my friends who were posting ‘#throwback’ childhood photos on Instagram. I also found inspiration from everyday life – from tube journeys to small conversations – things that are ‘nothing’ but very much ‘something’.

The approach to design at the RCA is very liberal and individual, with students being encouraged to create their own research. How did you do this, and how has it affected the way you interpret a concept?

To me research was more about storytelling and sharing. I wanted people to reminisce their childhood, their past, their time, and their story through my work. As my project was quite conceptual, I had to find something that would enable people to understand and visualise what I wanted to say. To help with this, I found artist Do Ho Suh and photographer Shirley Baker as well as looking back at my own photographs.

The RCA seems to offer resources and space to push creativity: how important is this to the design process and how has your approach changed since the MA?

Sometimes you have to try even though you know it’s not going to work, and learn from your mistakes. It is hard when you don’t find an immediate solution to your problems but once you find it, you feel as if you are opening a window and getting some fresh air. For me, it was finding the balance between being a knitwear designer and womenswear designer. Knit is very traditional and has its limitations, but at the same time this can be a healthy challenge. Combining woven with knit, especially joining them together was difficult but it all worked out in the end.

Do you aspire to launch your own brand or work for someone else?

I would like to work for someone to gain more experience in becoming an independent designer. I am not ready to launch my own brand yet, although recently – after the RCA show and showroom – people have been asking about ordering my work.

When developing and transforming your collection, how important was working with different creative forms and materials as opposed to what we may think of as traditional garments?

My knitting is very traditional and my fabrication is also very simple and classic. My collection was more about the construction and combination of the two. I tried working with different forms and materials, but it just wasn’t me. I don’t think art and design have to be different. In the end it all comes together – from usual to unusual, back to usual. That’s what I’ve discovered.

Do you understand your work as design or as art?

My work is absolutely design but how I start it is art. I have been drawing since I was six years old and have always done art until I started studying fashion. Most of my early research focused on my artistic side as I desired to make something unusual. However, I found myself reverting back to what I call ‘accessible creativity’.

In what way would you like the fashion industry to change?

I think everything is moving too fast. I wish we had more time to think. To observe what we have, feel and wear. Fashion is about creating space and an invisible connection. To me, it is about building a relationship between our body and a piece of clothing. Garments should be more than an object of adornment and be focused on the emotional value rather than the monetary value.