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Q&A: Fashion Designer Kathleen Kye

As soon as she graduated from Central Saint Martins, one of the top three fashion schools in the world, she launched her own brand, KYE.

Written by
jin soo lee
Last year, she was one of the finalists for the LVMH Prize and Karl Lagerfeld called her a genius after he went through her collection. She, who seems like a person with sheer talent, often used words like “right” and “hard” during our interview with her.

During fashion week, you finished two collections; KYE and a collaborative project with the delivery service firm, Baedal Minjok (Baemin). Wasn’t that too much work? 

Working on them, I thought “I should definitely do one thing at a time from now on.” [laughs] In fact, when Baemin first suggested we work together, I was curious to know what they wanted to do with me. Did they want to design a uniform? But Baemin said they wanted to combine Hangul fonts and fashion. Now, that was new. The whole thing took about six months, including the brainstorming process. Making something fun out of serious themes fits my brand quite well, so I made show pieces and organized a collection as well. Preparing for the collection wasn’t too difficult, but my first exhibition (“The Space Collection”) was quite hard because it was something of a different genre. Preparing outfits for a person on a runway and filling up a space are totally different things. 

Your work was new, even among other clothes with Hangul prints on them.

It was young and perky. Most of the outfits with Hangul are classic, like those with traditional calligraphy by designer Lee Sang-bong. I wanted to be different and show a sophisticated atmosphere and street mood at the same time so that you can read what’s written on the outfit and think it’s witty. So, I incorporated wordplay and sentences with double meaning. 

“Hate” was the theme of your main collection. Why was that?

I give shape to the thoughts I have while I prepare for the season. Maybe I was hated this time? [laughs] It’s more and more common to dis others and people make a joke out of hating someone, even between friends. I just wanted to talk about how hatred is becoming lighter and how uncomfortable that is.

How do you make outfits out of abstract concepts?

For example, this season I thought about the emotion of hatred and focused on the word “hate.” And to convey its dark emotions in a bright way and deliver the strong impression of the word itself, I used typographic elements in my design. Suddenly, I remembered that the snake is a symbol of betrayal so I used that element as well.
Sometimes when I can’t think of anything, I call my friend and say: “Please share some of your ideas with me!” [laughs]

Five years have passed since you first launched your brand in 2011.
I started my brand without knowing anything. A buyer from the boutique, Candy Shop, saw my show and suggested I start one, and so I’m still learning. But one thing I was sure about when I first launched my brand was that I would not care about whether my clothes sell or not. For young designers like me, huge retailers like Åland are very intriguing. But I thought working there would make me successful in the short term, but not in the long run. I tried to establish my brand identity
instead. The stronger my collection gets, the
more possibilities I will have.

A lot of the local brands have second lines, but not KYE.
Most of the local brands that have in-house second brands sell t-shirts, which are branded with their logos, at different shopping malls. I’d like to start another brand, but if I am going to do it, I want to do it right. Aside from KYE, I’d like make a different name and create quality products.

As a designer from Seoul, how do you view its fashion scene?
Unlike Europe, whose fashion is quite dead, people in Asia consume fashion. There are a lot of Asian buyers in fashion shows abroad and a number of Asians are in the front row as well. Quite a lot of focus is put on Seoul right now but it’s not in the center of fashion yet. A lot of plagiarism is going on here. However, I still like Dongdaemun. Korea is the only country in the world where you can place an order and get the product(s) the next day. The workaholic atmosphere fits me pretty well too. In Europe you have to wait for two months before you get anything!

Any plans for next year?
I try to live each day to the fullest. I have rough plans for next week, next season and next year, but I believe if I try hard today, tomorrow will be fine. In fact, I hate disappointment and maybe that’s why I don’t make any plans. But I will have collections in New York and Seoul for sure, and a huge collaboration is on the way as well. A work I poured in a year and a half of time into will be released soon. I will also launch a women’s outfit brand that’s separate from KYE.

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