The rise of fashion and jewellery designer Yoon Ahn has been meteoric. But that’s not to say she’s not put in some serious hard graft.
Born in Korea and raised in America, it was while studying graphic design at Boston University that Yoon met her then-boyfriend – now husband – Japanese rapper Verbal with whom she launched AMBUSH back in 2002. What was initially a studio under which Yoon designed album artwork soon turned into so much more: a jewellery line (in 2008), an apparel line (in 2015) and a physical store-cum-studio that opened in Tokyo’s buzzing Shibuya district in 2016. The label gained an LVMH Prize nomination in 2017 and, unsurprisingly, rave reviews for its distinctive, forward-thinking take on luxury. Expect futuristic silver metallic parkas and orange bondage-style trousers send to Earth from Mars.
Yoon joins the number of creatives making waves in fashion with no formal training and counts Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Skepta as both friends and fans of her brand. While her idiosyncratic style has seen her collaborate with and consult for the likes of Nike, Off-White and Sacai. She’s also head of jewellery at Dior Homme, a position she was appointed by the brand’s artistic director Kim Jones last year – one which lends itself to her fresh take on modernity presented as armour-esque two-finger rings, heavy-duty silver choker chains and playful knuckle-dusters that spell out D‑I-O‑R.
At the tail end of 2018, Converse came knocking at Yoon’s door for a collaboration – one that’s spawned a unisex line of utilitarian-inspired Chucks out this week.
She’s been a fan of the shoe ever since she can remember. “All my favourite rock stars were wearing [Chucks],” says Yoon. “So when you’re a kid, that’s like the easiest way into their world and to be part of it – things like shoes or outfits.” Oh, how the roles have reversed.
During the innovation process, Yoon was drawn to the military bunny boot – a style that Converse produced for the U.S Military in the ’50s during the Korean War. A bit like Tetris, it all fell into place (“[It was] meant to be. I didn’t know that Converse produced those back in the day!”)
“The bunny [boot] has quite a unique shape, there’s something futuristic about the design. [It’s] very functional, too,” says Yoon. “They’re insulated, so you can actually walk in the snow for days and not freeze your toes off. For me, good design is when creativity meets functionality.”
With futuristic design comes food for thought. If the barrage of information on sustainability has taught us anything it’s to buy less, but to invest in pieces that last longer. So was durability an important factor for the designer?
“Sustainability is something that we need to care about – it is an urgent matter. It’s easy to point fingers at big corporations or big companies but I think we as individuals need to be responsible.” Yoon wants us to look at ourselves first before pointing the finger. “It should start at your home. It’s not just about looking at the brands, but all of us as consumers.”
The urgency of sustainability inevitably opens up conversations around possible tech advancements – something that’s appealing for a designer as forward-thinking as Yoon. While she’s talked about tech at length in previous interviews, I wonder whether the idea of a Blade Runner-style future ever worries her. In other words: is she scared that the world might one day be taken over by robots?
“There’s definitely a fear, because everything we do now is controlled by computers and, in the future, it will be even more. It’s not the analogue age anymore. Everything is digital and programmed. But the thing about robots is that they haven’t really figured out how the human brain works yet…”
Yoon’s interest in scientific and technological advances was apparent in AMBUSH’S AW19 collection, for which she cites David Bowie’s 1976 sci-fi film The Man Who Fell To Earth as a key inspiration. (“I was fascinated with the fact that someone’s always on the run and looking for something. I wanted the clothes to be about that.”)
But while Bowie’s character, David Newton, is a fictional character, I wonder what Yoon – a designer testing the limits of innovation – thinks about aliens herself. The question leaves Yoon wide-eyed and excited.
“I, with my limited knowledge of science, am just speaking logically. If the universe is that big, there has to be other living things out there. I’m sure they have more developed technology than us. I just don’t think we know yet because the information is being withheld.”
It must take some serious stamina to run an empire, head up Dior Homme’s jewellery division and mother two adorable cats (Caspar and Ariel), all while travelling the world. I’m exhausted even thinking about it, so I take the opportunity to ask how she winds down, hoping to note down some tips.
“Animals are natural healers for us. Nothing calms me down more than my cats purring – they sleep next to me every night. The frequency of a cat’s purr can heal your body. Google it! It’s really interesting. Them cuddling up next to me, and me just holding them – it instantly calms my stress.”
So if that’s how she winds down, what’s the one thing Yoon would create to make her life easier, if the possibilities were limitless? “Maybe a super pill that can immediately recharge you,” she laughs. “That would be great, wouldn’t it?”
What’s your star sign?
I’m a triple Saggitarus. Pretty intense.
Box fresh or worn in?
Toe rings: hit or miss?
Why not decorate your toes?
What song gets you pumped?
I found this Spotify playlist that has all the Raf Simons show songs on it.
Favourite thing to do in Tokyo?
Night in or night out?
Do you ever wish Instagram didn’t exist?
What phone do you own?
iPhone 11 Max.
Last meal you would eat?
Buttermilk fried chicken with a kale salad, one biscuit with lots of butter. Salted butter, French butter…
London or New York?
Can you tell me a joke?
Out of 10, how much do you love The Face?