Rejina Pyo: Keep it simple in order to stand out
For Rejina Pyo, less is more. Where this year’s Autumn-Winter collections have been about larger-than-life designs and strong statements, the young designer held her own with a practical yet highly appealing range of clothing for the modern woman’s wardrobe. “The collection was about individuality,” says the Korean-born designer. “I imagined my friends in Korea, London and LA. We are all in different places, but are connected in spirit, and I thought about the idea of all of us living in a different time. So I intentionally made the clothes so that they don’t reflect a particular time. They are real clothes that people can wear.” Her ideal consumer is one who knows what they want. “Not everything suits everyone so they should know themselves.” This statement is justified, as self-discovery and motivation has been key to Pyo’s success. Her mother, being an artist herself, tried to talk her out of pursuing fashion. “She understood the struggle of this industry. She wanted me to have a ‘normal’ job so she tried to pull me away from design, but I always came back to it.”
So how did she end up being one of London’s freshest new designers? “I think I always wanted to do fashion, but I didn’t know what a fashion designer was. I would play around with fabric and go to my mom saying “Mom! Look at this.” I went to art school in Korea, where I ended up studying a mix of fashion design and textile art.” Pyo then worked in Korea, but describes it as being very difficult, with crazy hours and no money. But she had a big dream, and wasn’t about to let it go; and Central Saint Martins was the answer she had been looking for. “I heard about CSM and thought: what is this place, and why is everyone from there?”
She describes her experience at CSM as “one of kind”, saying she was lucky to have studied under Louise Wilson. “Louise taught me so much, not just fashion necessarily, but more about how to work, the nature of the industry and life in general.” From here on, it was an upward journey for the designer. She was part of the coveted CSM MA Fashion show at London Fashion Week, and won the Han Nefkens Fashion Award. Her collection in collaboration with H&M sold across Europe, and she grabbed the attention of Net-a-Porter and Harvey Nichols, amongst others, with her unique understated aesthetic.
Pyo’s biggest strength has always been patterns and garment construction. “I’m not really into crazy decorations on fabric; I like it better when the construction is more interesting.” For her AW16 presentation, she skilfully used 3D patterns and buttons, allowing for a sleeve to be detached from the body, or transforming a standard silhouette to embody a new character and shape. Contrast stitching on basic garments, use of bright accent colours, and the juxtaposition of stiff and flowing fabrics conveys just the right level of detail to be worn as daily wear, and yet stand out.
Her Korean roots do not influence her work in an obvious way, but Pyo feels privileged to be exposed to both Asian and European culture. “Both are so different in terms of their aesthetic, values and lifestyle. I am not conscious of the Korean influence when I am designing but I am sure it’s in me somewhere, affecting my decisions.” For her, the unpredictability of British fashion is the best part about it. According to the designer, British fashion takes more risks with young designers than any other place in the world does, and their diverse backgrounds interest her. “Sometimes it gets difficult, because there is a lot support with shows, but comparatively little business support. Luckily, I have found the Centre for Fashion Enterprise to be enormously helpful. They tell you how to manage cashflow, or register your trademark; things that you don’t usually think about.”
As for future projects, the designer plans to launch an online selling portal. “It often happens that some pieces aren’t bought by buyers, and people ask me on Instagram where they can get those pieces. The need for a website started from there. It is also a reaction to the shifting nature the fashion industry, in terms of showing a collection up to 6 months before it can be bought. I’m excited to be directly connected customers, and can’t wait to develop exclusive items for the website.”
The designer has evolved hugely since she started out as an independent designer, and feels frustrated when changes in fashion cause a current idea or solution to become redundant in a matter of one season. “Every season is a kind of reaction to the season before. You learn different elements every season and try to get better one step at a time.”