Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
LIFEWTR’s Diversity in Design aims to empower talents from diverse backgrounds early in their careers, giving them a platform to reach a wider audience. Over the summer, Choi, Cloke, and Osterholm attended an Artist Bootcamp with fellow designers, as well as media managers, stylists, makeup artists, and set producers.
Before New York Fashion Week kicked off, Whitewall had the chance to speak with Choi about her Spring/Summer 2019 collection. The Seoul-born, Oklahoma-raised designer graduated from Parsons School of Design where she drew the attention of Kering and Yoox for her thesis, eventually creating a capsule collection for them, and later partnering with Bergdorf Goodman.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest collection?
JI WON CHOI: The inspiration for my latest collection is about collecting and taking control of my own identity. I am a Korean immigrant who grew up in Oklahoma, and I felt like an “other” and out of place for the majority of my life—like I didn’t belong in the country that I love and call home. It led me to reject my Korean culture completely when I was growing up.
What really helped me embrace my Korean culture was when I started traveling extensively. Experiencing and seeing the beauty in so many different cultures helped me see the beauty in our differences and I finally started to embrace my own.
This collection was born from a recent realization that I don’t have to choose one singular culture to identify with and that I can be both Korean and American and whatever else I am influenced by. I was inspired by the idea of piecing different cultural design elements—that don’t necessarily go together- to create a whole. That was very symbolic of how I feel about my own cultural identity.
There are elements that I have collected from my travels such as boarding passes, train tickets, flyers, exhibition tickets, metro tickets, etc. throughout the collection to tell the story of my journey towards self-acceptance and creation of my self-identity.
WW: Where do you typically start for a collection? Is it sketching, fabric, vision?
JWC: I always start with the concept first. I need to know what I am trying to say through my collection, and what message I am trying to get across. It is the most important step for me, because it is always something personal and something that I’m extremely passionate about. Once that is clear, then I know what other elements I need to make sure that this message is loud throughout the clothes.
WW: What role did fashion play in your life early on?
JWC: I was always very passionate about fashion and what I wore. I remember in high school, my peers would always ask me why I care so much about clothes and why I would dress so different. Looking back, I think that it was because I was compromising so much of myself when I was younger living in Oklahoma, fashion was the only sort of control and outlet that I had to express who I am.
WW: What made you want to pursue fashion as a career?
JWC: When I first started at Parsons, fashion wasn’t the plan for a career. I was leaning towards architecture or product design. Living in New York changed my view on fashion however, and it made me want to be a part of it. I loved how in a colorful and vibrant city like New York, you can clearly see the huge amount of power and influence fashion has on society. And I wanted to be a part of that influence.
WW: How do you want your voice to be heard in the fashion world?
JWC: I would just like to be heard!! There is so much noise in the fashion world right now: there are so many talented designers and it is easier today to just create a brand than ever before. To me, if I can just be heard and be able to connect with anyone, it’ll be considered a success.
WW: Who are the people you envision in your clothes?
JWC: The people I envision to wear my clothes are people who are different – they’re definitely people who don’t necessarily fit in, but they don’t care and they own it. They are bold and loud and vibrant and spirited. Or they aspire to be and fashion is the one step towards becoming so.
WW: What does the support of LIFEWTR during NYFW mean for you and your career?
JWC: The support of LIFEWTR means that I’m one step closer to being heard and that already is so incredible to me. I’m very grateful to be given this opportunity, which is something I’ve never expected when I first went into fashion.
WW: What’s next for you?
JWC: More creating!! I’m working to establish my brand and to be able to make more positive statements about our world that will be a step to a better, more inclusive society.