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‘No one can fill his space yet’

It is hard to believe that a year has already passed since Andre Kim’s death, Toh Shin-woo, chairman of Model Center International, told The Korea Herald on Thursday. Photos of Kim and files and documents related to the late fashion designer’s shows were still easily spotted in Toh’s office in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul.

“They say a person’s true value is only unveiled after his death. Well, so was his. He had quite a number of anti-fans when he was alive but after he passed away, as the media revealed everything about him including his personal life, they disappeared as well. Now, there is no designer good enough to fill his big empty space yet,” said Toh. 
To Shin-woo shows a photo of Andre Kim and himself taken in 2006 in Cambodia when Kim held the first-ever fashion show at Angkor Wat. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
To Shin-woo shows a photo of Andre Kim and himself taken in 2006 in Cambodia when Kim held the first-ever fashion show at Angkor Wat. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Toh was Kim’s longtime business partner who directed his fashion shows for nearly 30 years, and a close friend who stayed at the wake for days after the fashion icon died of complications from colorectal cancer on Aug. 12 last year.

More than a friend, Kim was Toh’s “mentor and most respected teacher ever.”

The two first met in 1982 when Toh was nominated as president of Korea Model Association. He went to Kim’s boutique, which was then situated near Gyeongbokgung, to introduce himself. Having debuted in 1962, Kim was then already a big-name designer who had held a fashion show in Paris (1966) and been presented with Korea’s Presidential Culture and Art Medal (1977) for the contribution he made to the local fashion industry.

“He seemed to be someone living in another world. Although, as I worked with him, I soon realized what a delicate and attentive man he was. He paid as much attention as possible to everyone he met, even to the tiniest details in their private lives,” he said.

After the 1982 Andre Kim charity fashion show organized by Seoul International Women’s Association, Toh was put in charge of all of Kim’s shows. No matter what other work came in, he was always there for Kim when needed because Toh was the only person Kim wanted there.

Kim was respectable in so many ways, said Toh.

“His day always seemed to be too short ― he read every single newspaper published in the country; looked after his staff, close celebrities and diplomatic figures; and of course, created designs. He said that he kept a sketch book and a pencil by his bed to sketch immediately when an idea came to his mind during his sleep,” said Toh.

The amazing part was that everything he did came straight from his heart.

“It was especially obvious when it was about his adopted son (Kim Joong-do, current president of Andre Kim Design Atelier). He loved him so much that he would call him several times a day just to check how he is doing, what he ate, and what he would like to have for dinner,” said Toh.

Kim was very fond of charity events and made many donations. Naturally, he became the Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF in 2003. The fashion show held last year to cherish memories of Andre Kim was also held jointly with the organization.

“His shows always had a dramatic love story of a couple meeting, parting, and marrying in the end. And there is also a part where a woman undresses seven layers of clothes, which Kim explained as undressing of her sorrows. I made sure to maintain the parts like that which Kim emphasized, and paid extra attention so that he could be content when he sees the show from up there,” said Toh, who directed the show.

“But for the finale, as Kim could not come out and bow, we edited video footage of his appearances in former show finales and played it. The audience was in tears,” said Toh, looking as if he were holding back tears.

Toh will also be in charge of Andre Kim fashion shows to come.

“It will include his representative works and several pieces that have not been shown to the public yet. And the designers at the atelier are also preparing new designs on their own. The show will be held overseas, too, just like before,” said Toh.

By Park Min-young ( )