Amber Park’s world is a whirlwind. Ever since she was a kid, the Korean-American artist would use anything as a canvas, even if that meant ruining her mum’s white walls and covering her body with markers. “I used to terrorise my mum,” she says. “It was slightly concerning.” These days, she’s moved on from doodles to creating visuals for the likes of Lil Nas X, Camilla Cabello and Katy Perry. But even when working with pop’s biggest stars, Park has never stopped seeing the world as her personal playground, where her kaleidoscopic dreams can unleash havoc.
Her latest adventure? PLAY! POP! GO!, the fashion label and lifestyle platform that encapsulates Park’s boundless energy and perpetual reverie. Think: Hello Kitty meets high fashion meets the metaverse. Bridging the gap between IRL and virtual fashion collections, PPG gamifies luxury streetwear and art objects, inviting users to immerse themselves in a digital dream factory while expressing their personal style. There’s proper clothes up for grabs, but users can also buy “phygital” counterparts of pieces in the collection, to be worn by custom avatars on Park’s online platform – oh, and there are interactive games too. Park’s vision, then, pays homage to a Gen Z childhood spent online, evoking nostalgia for beloved games such as Club Penguin and The Sims.
Today, Park drops PPG’s first capsule collection, The Kidz Love to Play. Expect faux leather patch trousers, trucker hats and tank tops – perfect companions for your next night out or online.
Hey Amber! What was your upbringing like, and how do you feel this shaped the way you work now?
I grew up in a residential suburb that’s about an hour north of Los Angeles. My family was a pretty conservative Korean Christian family and my mum sent me to private school for much of my adolescence. Young Amber was the epitome of “perfect Korean immigrant child”. My mum’s aspiration was for me to work hard, receive an Ivy League education and become a lawyer.
Looking back, I am so thankful for the sacrifices she made for me to have a shot at this “American dream”. From a very young age she instilled in me a fighting spirit and taught me to never back down or let others define me.
Even though I grew up in this very regimented, traditional upbringing, everything about my life today is about breaking the rules, colouring outside the lines and this spirit of being free. The next evolution of Amber as an adult involves relearning how to be a “kid” again and not being so fixated on perfection.
Can you tell us a bit about your trajectory into the art world?
It was a complete accident. I never knew a professional creative industry existed. But early on, I knew I was different. My creative passion was probably sparked by being a huge fan of toys, anime and music. As a kid, my number one hero was Hello Kitty. I always wanted to be a kawaii hero in my own posh world.
When I started posting work for fun on Instagram, I had no accessible outlet for creativity or expression at home or school. I was bullied for my clothes, my interests, my music – growing up, anything Asian or kawaii was seen as weird. Posting on Instagram wasn’t about showcasing my work in front of an audience at the time. It was more so a release for me to transfer all of the ideas in my head into the world. Little did I know, those ideas would be discovered by American rappers and pop stars, and allow me to create a career out of making art.
My art practice is self-taught. I believe not having any formal art education allowed me to lean into emotion and expression. To me, art is storytelling and the greatest healer, the greatest outlet of expression and therapy.
Your inner child seems to be at the heart of PLAY! POP! GO! Why do you think it’s so important to honour our inner child’s imagination?
During the pandemic, we were all reconnecting with our truest selves – our inner child. Personally, I went on a very intense spiritual journey. I learned to breathe and hold space for myself, and take the time to process a lot of childhood trauma and tensions I had with my own identity. I also realised I was not happy. It made me think a lot about what “joy” and “purpose” truly were as concepts, and what they would look like for me.
The inner child represents this sense of innocence and naivety of how you look and experience the world. As a kid, everything is brand new, colourful, and exciting – there is this exhilarating, electric curiosity and wonder. As adults, most of us lose that. To me, it’s important to honour and activate our inner child. This realisation was the starting point for the world of PLAY! POP! GO! The mission is to inspire others to embark on this relearning and seeing the world as a playground – a blank canvas for you to play and dream in.
What do you daydream about?
I am in this constant state of dreaming. Oftentimes there is this negative connotation of daydreaming with complacency, but I think it’s truly an extension of our thought process and our creativity. For me, right now I am daydreaming a lot about what a PLAY! POP! GO! amusement park will look like, which is the ultimate vision.
Also, it’s been so cold in LA, so I’m daydreaming about a very hot sunny European summer as I get ready for my trip. I’m such a sunshine Leo empath – I need light!
Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?
Growing up, I was always an outcast and actually quite shy and introverted. I was a bit on the spectrum and I had a really hard time interacting with kids my age, so I often escaped into my own worlds and created my own friends. They all are kind of early renditions of what ended up becoming the Dreamerz, mascots of the PLAY! POP! GO! world. These cartoonish, rainbow, psychedelic, kawaii trolls were always friends that I had since very early on. Also, I think a lot of the cartoon characters I watched as a kid – Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Spongebob and Powerpuff Girls – would be friends and I would escape into their worlds.
Can you drop the details on what your digital Amber Park avatar looks like?
Digital Amber Park is like the real me! But maybe she has a better skincare routine and has a bit more of a cute smile than I do.
How does the way you dress reflect your own identity?
I think people expect me to dress in this very cartoonish out of this world colourful way, but I will say my daily wardrobe is pretty based on casual workwear – a tee or top, baggy cargo trousers. My own personal taste is [based] in minimalism and streetwear and neutral colours – I love greys, creams, blacks and earthy colours. It is very juxtaposed to all the colourful tattoos on my arms and the worlds I create with my art.
Thinking back to games like Club Penguin, The Sims and Stardoll, why do you think we spend so much time creating digital identities?
I believe that humans are innately two things: social creatures and narcissists. We like to create experiences around ourselves. We are the main character of our own lives, and we also want to feel like we are loved and we belong. I think when you look at these digital gaming platforms, they offer instantaneous community, social interaction and escapism, which has now evolved into how we personify ourselves on social media. I also think we innately have this childlike nature – we want to play.
What do you hope people will take away from PLAY! POP! GO!?
I hope people are inspired. I want them to have fun, to feel loved, to be free, to dream. To activate and open their minds to innovation. To create and imagine on their own terms.
Oh my god, where do I begin? I am a simp for pop music. I think with my own story and identity, it would need to be an Asian pop girly – glitz, glamour! Blackpink would be such a dream. On the fashion end, Nigo’s reign with Bape was always so inspiring as a kid, so a Nigo collab would also be a dream come true. But my ultimate dream collab would be with the icon herself Hello Kitty. That’s when I’ll know I’ve made it!
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share details about?
PLAY! POP! GO!’s first physical fashion collection is dropping on June 21st. We also will be releasing details on our customisable avatars and digital closet system real soon.
‘The Kidz Love to Play’ the pre-fall fashion capsule collection by PLAY! POP! GO! is available from the 21st June 2023 at playpopgo.com