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Yoon Ahn’s jewelry brand AMBUSH has taken the world by storm, branching out to collaborate with houses like Bvlgari, Off-White, sacai, RIMOWA, UNDERCOVER, and the NBA. But the increased attention hasn’t left Ahn star-struck. She is still breaking the rules, using her instincts to design what she wants, when she wants.
Most recently, her label teamed up with Nike and Moët & Chandon—two monumental collaborations that are new for the athletic and champagne worlds, for respective reasons. She has also designed some of Dior’s latest bijouterie as the house’s men’s jewelry designer and is making her inaugural mark on the fashion world this season. For Spring/Summer 2021, AMBUSH debuted its first full collection of apparel, centered around comfort. We heard from the designer, who has an unbridled spirit, about how the roadmap is based on timing, storytelling, and a gut feeling.
WHITEWALL: Your Spring/Summer 2021 collection is your first full fashion campaign. How are these pieces different than clothing pieces we’ve seen from AMBUSH in the past?
YOON AHN: Three years ago, we put out an apparel section of our brand, but it was made to be a canvas for the jewelry. The jewelry story was so strong, so we added the clothing to complete that story for each collection. Before COVID, I saw the direction we could take to solidify what we wanted to do, so with Spring/Summer 2021 I wanted to start from scratch. I wanted to give it more of a main role in the movie, rather than just a supporting role. I think you can have two main characters in the same movie.
WW: The collection’s theme is centered around comfort and plays on the word “house,” which feels timely today with all of us looking for comfort while spending more time at home. What is the importance of these two facets for you?
YA: I’ve always believed that clothing, no matter what it looks like, needs to be very comfortable. Comfort doesn’t always mean sweatshirts and T-shirts; it means something you feel at home in. I wanted to develop that language in the apparel side of the story.
The concept now is the maison. What house is AMBUSH? It’s funny because we use the term “house” with big brands like Dior and Chanel, but for us, it’s more like we’re building the structure from the ground up. Those brands are older, so they have time to tell its story and the heritage sides. But AMBUSH is building from nothing, and I’m telling my own story from now on, more than being focused on the past. I’m using that metaphor each season as we build out each room. Hopefully, in a few years we’ll have a house.
WW: Your relationship with Nike is not new, although your latest Nike Dunk High style is—particularly the vibrant “Cosmic Fuchsia” one. How did you decide upon the color and the detail of extending the brand’s check beyond the silhouette?
YA: We started working on the Tokyo Olympics collection for last year, and the Dunk was part of that. Then the Olympics went out the window because of COVID and the Dunk got pushed to this year. Because it was about Tokyo and the Olympics, I wanted to give a love call to the city I’m from. It’s about Japan and the unique cultures that this country gave birth to. I was looking into the unique bicycle and truck subculture, where people soup up their cars, trucks, and bikes and they look crazy. I thought it would be cool if your shoe looked like that, with an almost- frozen movement to them.
I extended the check and made them more sculptural. A lot of other collaborations kept the shape but changed the materials and colors, so I wanted to take it the future. It’s got a big swoosh, lifting off. And I wanted to make them pink because this is Japan. I mean, come on, it’s kawaii. What other color is there other than the brightest pink?
WW: Your latest design for Moët and Chandon marks the first collaboration for you with a champagne house, and the first artist-designed bottle for them in 152 years. Proceeds from its sale are being donated to the World Land Trust. What inspired this?
YA: What blew me away was that a lot of us forget, when we make things, where it came from. Without the grapes, it’s nothing. It’s about nature and what it has given us. That’s where the World Land Trust donation idea came from. We took it from Earth, so let’s give it back to Earth.
For the bottle design, I think Moët and Chandon is so iconic— from the words to the red wax stamp. I wanted to strip it down even more. I made everything black-and-white so you could see the red dot—and I made it even more red—and I put “Moët” in stark white, so it stands out even more.
By Moët asking me to redefine or redesign the bottle, it’s almost a window to the future for the next generation. It’s more personal. Here in Japan, when you go to smaller bars, you can buy the bottle, write your name on it, and they keep it for you. I wanted to do that same concept for the champagne. It’s similar to how they write on the bottle down in the vault, but with a fun connection to Japan and my culture.
WW: You’re also the men’s jewelry designer at Dior, which stemmed from your long-standing friendship with Kim Jones. How did you two first meet?
YA: Kim and I go way back. I was working on Kanye’s Pastelle line a long time ago, and my partner, Verbal, was with Teriyaki Boyz and did a song with him. They were performing live and I was backstage, and so was Kim. We’ve been in touch ever since. When I used to go to London in the mid-2000s, I used to go to his house and he’d show me his collection of Seditionaries and Vivienne Westwood stuff, which at the time I was really into. This was before Dunhill and of course Vuitton and now Dior. After he left Vuitton, he told me that no matter which house he went to he wanted me to do the jewelry. And I said “Of course.”
It’s been fun, and a big learning experience, because I’ve never worked at a fashion house. I’ve always been on the outside—at shows and watching how things happen, a little bit of this and that. I think he’s the best right now out of all the male designers, so being able to work closely with him is an honor.
The first thing I did with the team was develop icons for them. What they needed was putting forward the “CD.” Everyone has it—the GGs, the CCs, the LVs. I wanted to make that iconic, and then from there, we could divert into intricate and interesting pieces.
By having had my brand for a while, I understood the market. Customers, especially now, don’t really care if it’s men’s or women’s. It comes down to aesthetic. At the end, I go with what Kim wants to do with the collection and the story for each season, but if the designs are good, men and women are all going to go shop regardless of which section it’s located in.