Designer Ko Tae-yong has no doubts that he is one of the hottest and busiest menswear designers in Korea.
He recently held his label Beyond Closet’s spring-summer 2015 fashion show at Seoul Fashion Week from Oct. 17-22.
The collection won rave reviews from buyers and critics at home and abroad, for its unique, fun and preppy clothing lines.
“But the finale never means an ending in the fashion business,” Ko said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Oct. 20 at his showroom in trendy Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.
A spring-summer 2015 runway show by Beyond Closet (Seoul Fashion Week)
He was preparing to meet with buyers and gear up for another collection in Italy in January, New York in February and Seoul in March.
Ko is no stranger to TV, as he regularly appeared on “Fashion King Korea Season 2,” teaming up with celebrities for design competitions. Also, people can easily spot his signature puppy graffiti T-shirt and sweatshirts on the streets and on TV.
When asked what the secret behind his success is, the 33-year-old designer attributes his success to two factors: fun and experiencing as much as possible.
“Fashion is about having fun and goofing around,” said Ko. “If you think of fashion as part of work, good designs are hard to come by and you can’t really last for the long term. I travel a lot, go to clubs, listen to music, hang out with friends, work out regularly and try to have fun in life. That is where thoughts and inspiration come from.
“Maybe studying abroad or having parents who are in the fashion industry can help a lot, but the most important variable is experiencing various things.”
The designer is able to say this because he became interested in fashion much later in life than others in the industry did. “The first time I studied fashion was when I was 24, a junior in college, right after returning from mandatory military service in the Marines,” said Ko. “Prior to that, I studied social work.”
“I have always loved shopping so I was curious to know what it was like to make clothes,” he added.
After taking fashion classes, he knew that was something he wanted to do. So he changed his major to textiles and clothing, and graduated within two years.
Upon graduation, he launched Beyond Closet in 2008 and that same year became the youngest designer to make a debut at SFW. He gained prominence and popularity after designing the school uniform and clothes for the popular 2009 Korean TV drama “Boys Over Flowers.”
Like the school uniform designs in the drama, Beyond Classic takes its motif from preppy American classics and adds unique wit and Korean style to the collection.
“For this season, I was inspired by my high school days,” said Ko. “The collection depicts stylish students at their best and school gangs at their worst, kind of like ‘Gossip Girl.’”
He really enjoyed preparing for this collection and added that working with a tattooist for the first time to create jackets and shirts with an embroidered tattoo design on the back was very interesting.
“I don’t have tattoos on my body, but I would really like to get one,” Ko said with a smile. “But there are people who can’t get one for many reasons ranging from religious reasons to family restrictions to health issues. It began from there, the tattoos are embroidered on the part of the clothes where actual tattoos are drawn on the body, which can satisfy people’s fantasies (about getting a tattoo).”
To carry on the vibe of freedom and the elated mood of the collection, Ko worked with glitzy young K-pop idols: Kang Seung-yoon and Song Min-ho of YG Entertainment’s new boy group WINNER modeled on the runway, while Zico of K-pop boy group Block B wrote the music himself.
Ko’s casually elated tone suggests that it may be natural talent and a bit of luck that got him to where he is today and made him a part of the industry, where he is having a lot of fun. But there’s more to the story than that.
“There were very difficult times in the past,” said Ko. “For three years after the initial launch of the label, I didn’t make any money. It hasn’t been too long since I started making some money.” He said that sales have increased by 70 to 80 times since 2008.
“I am very grateful for the success,” said the designer. “I think it is important to keep investing in myself and the brand. That is why I try to make interesting fashion shows with various collaborations to engage with the audiences.
“There is still a long way to go and I would like to continue collaborating with the hottest and most unique artists to make the brand more interesting.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)