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[Herald Interview] Yie Sun-yuul has the world at her heels

Shoe designer is inspired by coral, stone, cubes, alphabet and more

In today’s fashion scene, heels are getting lower and lower. But that doesn’t mean they’re going out of style. Rather, there’s more room to experiment with lower and thicker heels.

Yie Sun-yuul, head of Yuul Yie, is all about experimenting with heels. The heels are what reflect Yuul Yie’s design philosophy.

Designer Yie Sun-yuul (Yuul Yie)
Designer Yie Sun-yuul (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)

They’re inspired by coral reefs, stones on the street, cubes or even the Arabic alphabet. Yet the overall figures are simple, consisting of circles, triangles, squares and simple waves. The brand’s signature Y-shaped heel is basically a trapezoid.

Sold at select trendy shops around the world, including Harvey Nichols, Nordstrom, Lane Crawford and 10 Corso Como, the brand generates a large part of its sales overseas. Its shoes are also often featured in editorial spreads in foreign fashion magazines including Vogue Italia, Elle UK and InStyle Germany.

Yie studied women’s fashion at fashion school Esmod Seoul. She worked as an intern at French womenswear brand Vanessa Bruno and pursued a career in women’s fashion. But her life took a different path when a friend suggested launching a shoe brand together.

“Visiting a shoe factory, I was fascinated by the shoemaking process. I had never felt that sensation even when making clothes. The sound of hammering the heels, the smell of cutting leather … it gave me goose bumps,” Yie told The Korea Herald at the brand’s showroom in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul.

After working with her friend for a while, Yie struck out solo, creating her own brand, Ma Vie En Rose, in 2010. She changed the name to Yuul Yie few years later.

Even now, shoes still fascinate her.

“Those in the shoemaking business often say, ‘No one gets bored with shoes.’ In the past decade, my passion for shoes has never dwindled,” Yie said.

Yuul Yie presents a new collection four times a year. As part of a premium brand, the shoes are priced 300,000 won to 500,000 won ($250-$420). One can tell Yuul Yie shoes right away by their distinctive heels, the designer said. 

Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)

But it is not just about the heels. Yie likes to experiment with body shapes, materials and colors too.

Yuul Yie’s latest autumn-winter collection, “Day and Night,” was inspired by the notion that light is what defines day and night. The collection uses contrasting colors to represent sunlight and streetlamps.

Yuul Yie launched its second label, YY by Yuul Yie, in 2015, targeting the local online market. It continues the Yuul Yie brand identity but has fewer details and a more affordable price point. Presented through two collections a year, YY by Yuul Yie shoes are priced around 200,000 won.

Yie launched the second label after presenting a simple pair of ankle boots that bore the brand’s signature Y-shaped heels in a lower price than usual. The response was phenomenal.

“I have always thought I was too bold for the local market. It was a turning point that made me think that I could appeal to local consumers. It meant a lot to be accepted by local consumers for the first time,” the designer said.

Based in Seongsu-dong, a hub of handmade shoe production in Seoul, Yie greatly appreciates the local shoe manufacturing scene. Though established overseas with showrooms in London, Paris and New York, the brand does not have any immediate plans to shift its base out of Seoul.

“Yuul Yie is a handmade shoe brand and we have to visit the factory every day to check production,” the designer said. “The efficiency of production in the Seongsu area is incomparable. The system that our designated factory and my brand have built over the years cannot be rebuilt in other places. Here, the production can immediately adjust to the buyer’s needs.”
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)
Yuul Yie’s autumn-winter collection “Day and Night” (Yuul Yie)

Yie has now expanded into jewelry and bags. Though the projects are still exciting for her, she finds accessories easier to make than shoes.

“Bags do not have to be in different sizes. But for shoes, the size range is huge. Yuul Yie produces shoes from 220 to 290 millimeters. For one design, there has to be three different sizes for heels -- small, medium and large -- varying by the angle,” she said.

But then, that is why Yie is in love with shoes.

“Shoe designing is a three-dimensional work that happens on tiny feet. Every season, I delve into a new territory, shaping sculptures,” she said.

By Im Eun-byel (