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Choi targets both artistry and sales

Chief Designer of Johnny Hates Jazz hopes to expand market to Asia and U.S.


This is the first of a series of articles on up-and-coming South Korean designers. ― Ed.

It has been a while since the fashion savvy girls in South Korea first started to recognize Johnny Hates Jazz. The brand’s hip but classy collections are attracting not only so-called fashionistas like actress Gong Hyo-jin but also many foreign buyers ― a surprising achievement for a brand which only kicked off in December 2007.

With her collections seen to have both artistry and commercial value, Choi Ji-hyung, chief designer of the women’s brand, was chosen as one of the group of 10 designers representing Seoul, known as Seoul’s 10 Soul, in December. It is a project hosted by Seoul Metropolitan Government to promote Korean designers overseas. As part of the project, her brand was signed up with an agency that will take care of overseas marketing and sales starting next season as well as a newly opened showroom in Paris.

“We are excited about working with an agency, but more than that, we are very happy that the foreign judges who have great influence in the fashion industry understood our brand. Their evaluation of our brand perfectly matched our concept,” Choi told The Korea Herald at the brand’s showroom in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.

After graduating from the London College of Fashion in 2004, Choi worked as an assistant designer at Vivien Westwood until she launched her own brand. Johnny Hates Jazz targets women in their 20s and 30s who pursue a high-powered career but also know how to enjoy life. 
Choi Ji-hyung, chief designer of Johnny Hates Jazz, shows her 2011 S/S collections at the brand’s showroom in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Choi Ji-hyung, chief designer of Johnny Hates Jazz, shows her 2011 S/S collections at the brand’s showroom in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“That is why our collections have classic vests but also pieces with witty, unexpected designs. The price range is more reasonable compared to other local designer brands because it aims to be an accessible contemporary design brand, not a high-end brand,” said Choi.

The brand’s curiosity-evoking name certainly played a part in making a strong first impression. Choi explained that the name has a paradoxical wit that reflects the brand’s identity.

“I actually love jazz. The name is just like the clothes, they look classic and basic at first glance but peering into them more closely, you will see they have some sort of a twist. It is like saying that you hate something when you actually love it,” said Choi, adding that Johnny can refer to any man or woman.

There is, however, a British pop band of the same name. The brand has been trying to obtain legal permission to use the name since last year. In the meantime, the brand is also searching for a new name to better prepare for the brand’s advance into the overseas market.

With or without the original name, Choi’s collections have established quite an image already. She presented sophisticated looks inspired by Cuba, a city she has never been to, for the 2011 S/S collection, and those derived from vampires, which she obviously has never seen, for the 2011 F/W collection. Her next collection may be influenced by her recent honeymoon on Ko Samui, Thailand. Choi got married last month.

“The dream of wanting to go somewhere or the imagination that comes up to my mind after seeing something are my inspirations. But I cannot apply such inspirations, like the beautiful flower patterns I saw on Ko Samui, directly into my designs because Johnny should be very urbane, modern, chic and even rock ‘n’ roll. Interpreting the inspirations into something Johnny-like is the most difficult and also the most fun process,” said Choi.

Johnny Hates Jazz can be found in 10 select shops in department stores here, and at Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. Though foreign buyers rushed in orders after the last few Seoul Fashion Weeks, Choi delayed actually inking deals because she wanted to have an agency that can sort out the best shops.

“Now we are really starting. We are going to make deals with a wider variety of shops next season. I am especially interested in the Asian and U.S. markets,” said Choi.

Choi hopes to open the brand’s own online shop in July and the brand’s own shop in department stores here by next season. She is also thinking about designing men’s clothes.

“So far, Johnny Hates Jazz is mainly known among the fashion savvy. Our plan is to make it more popular among the general public, and also expand the market overseas,” said Choi.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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