(Fashion) SHINHYE SUK
Shinhye Suk began her career by studying Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design. Her skills were further refined during the seven years she spent at Derek Lam Collection, a luxury New York brand, where she worked as a ready-to-wear designer. In this interview, she discusses her research and design process, the importance of maintaining her creative independence, and the visual artists who have inspired her recent collections.
Interview by Isabelle Sakelaris
You studied at Parsons School of Design and then acted as ready-to-wear designer for Derek Lam before starting your own line. How, if at all, has your design process changed since you launched LEHHO?
The design process has focused on the woman that I want to dress. In every stage — sketching to sourcing and production — I have the freedom to make the decisions that I want.
Previously I was following the concepts that were predetermined, whereas now I can evolve designs and concepts, having more independence to experiment freely.
In your notes on the Fall/Winter 2019 collection, you remark that “simplicity is not simple.” That is, for example, the integrity of the designs rely on expert sewing techniques. How do you take into account the labor required to make a garment during the design process?
I’ve worked with many pattern-makers and sewers over the years and the craftsmanship in Korea is incredible. This trust in my team allows me to have more freedom and creativity in the design process, because they understand the silhouettes I aim for from my sketches. For draped pieces I make the prototypes myself.
I have a very close relationship with my pattern-makers and sewers. Making sure that these artisans get paid a living wage, and accounting for their decades of experience, means that there’s mutual respect and a co-working process. We decide on the construction and finishing together to create the best possible result.
You also reveal that the visual artist Brâncuși influenced your work in the Fall/Winter 2019 collection. What was it like to evoke his work and principles in a different artistic medium?
It was a philosophical journey for sure! What Brâncuși does, to take the essence of an animal or form, and create a sculpture that has the spirit of the muse, was revolutionary in his time.
In our Fall/Winter 2019 collection you have pieces like the Spacebird Skirt which is inspired by “Bird in Space,” a modern sculpture. We played with the idea of this collection being somewhat futuristic and something you’d see in the age of space travel, but it’s sewed with a two-dimensional satin panel of “Bird in Space.” The Vega Jumpsuit demonstrates sculptural draping reminiscent of “Mademoiselle Pogany.”
So there were different ways to be inspired — taking a form and using it literally, as well as trying to create a feeling that represents that form.
You’ve written that your travels, art house films, and eclectic found objects also influence your work. It seems that all of these things have experience and finding in common. How do your experiences and discoveries influence your work in design?
I’m most influenced by the real things that I experience, whether it’s sight, hearing or feeling, and that naturally touches on my design work. The style I see on real people has the biggest impact on me, so I love observing how women dress in different contexts throughout my travels.
How do you balance research with intuition in the design process for a collection? Does one outweigh the other?
Just because there’s an inspiration and direction in the beginning, it doesn’t mean things go as planned in a linear way. The most important thing for me is a precise fit, a flattering silhouette, and a design element that is on point.
So we usually evolve concepts, and create each piece to be unique within a larger concept and inspiration.
For your Spring/Summer 2019 collection, inspired by Helen Frankenthaler, you hand-drew all of the prints. Do you practice any other forms of visual art apart from fashion design? How do they relate to your work as designer and Creative Director of LEHHO?
Ever since I was young, I was interested in drawing and I wanted to be a painter when I grew up. As a fashion designer now I’m constantly inspired by the work of other artists across different mediums — whether it is paintings, sculpture, music or film. At the time I found Frankenthaler to be very inspiring as a genre-changing female painter, and I tried emulating her principles.
You emphasize the importance of a woman’s choice and freedoms in your designs. Is this ideology aesthetic and/or political?
A woman’s ability to choose touches on all aspects of fashion- aesthetic, social, economic, political. On the surface my emphasis can be aesthetic, in the sense that the LEHHO Woman is choosing what she wants to wear, when she wants to wear it. She can show as much skin or as little skin as she wants, and I’m always considering comfort in the design process.
It’s also social, economic, and political in that I am an independent female designer, employing mostly women, to create products for women.
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Isabelle Sakelaris is an art writer and aspiring poet who lives and works in New York City.