We talk to Minju Kim, the winner of last year's H&M Design Award.
When Minju Kim triumphantly took home the H&M Design Award for her collection Dear, My Friend last year, she not only received praise from Ann-Sophie Johansson, Head of Design at the Swedish retail giant, but also from fellow jury members Sølve Sundsbø, blogger Hanneli Mustaparta and Tim Blanks. Indeed, Another Man's senior contributing editor deemed the South Korean graduate’s work to reflect a “positive, bright outlook on life” – a character trait the colourful Blanks endorses by default.
At that point, Minju was still a Bachelor student. Last week, the skilful and inventive designer became a fully-fledged graduate of the Antwerp Academy of Fine Art’s Fashion Department. She presented her final collection Be Cover to a prestigious jury that, uniquely for the occasion of the institution’s 50th anniversary, included each of the insurgent Antwerp Six.
How did it make you feel, graduating at such an important time in the history of the Academy?
I felt so lucky; it was the happiest moment of my "fashion life" so far. It was a beautiful 50th anniversary show, and I still can't believe that I was part of this huge event. It was an honour to be presenting my immature collection, with a nervous voice, to this jury. I will never forget it. I can feel still in the air. I haven’t woken up yet!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt?
During these four years, the teachers always helped me look towards myself, to do what I love and truly express what I desire to. It didn't matter if it was beautiful or ugly; they really wanted to see who I am. Because of this foundation from my amazing teachers, I will never stop observing my own world.
"For Be Cover, I developed my own version of Elphaba, the beautiful green witch from the musical Wicked"
What was the inspiration behind Be Cover?
I developed my own version of Elphaba, the beautiful green witch from the musical “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz”. Her amazing energy and soft heart are covered by her green skin. I wanted to create a new exterior for her, that matched the way I see her, without prejudice. She’s beautiful and a brave hero to me.
At which point in your life did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
To be honest, it took me a long time to realize that this is really my dream. I started painting before I discovered fashion. I was very into drawing and playing around with drawing materials. After graduating from Korean fashion school (SADI), I was unsure which way to go, drawing or fashion. Luckily, in Antwerp I found the school that allowed me to do both in a balanced way. I could focus on my drawing and then turn it into reality through fashion. After a time of enjoying both freely, fashion became my one dream.
How has Antwerp influenced your South Korean sensibility?
The whole process of learning at the Academy made me such a strong person. I’m no longer daunted about showing my designs and creative world.
What are your plans for the future?
I always wish for people to feel my happiness when they see my collection. Sharing my emotions through fashion is my dream. Before I won the H&M award, my goal was to work for a fashion house. But now, after creating two collections since, I realise how fantastic being a fashion designer is. This year I pushed myself really hard to make these two collections, and somehow I feel I can't stop it now. I am so addicted to the joys of my fashion world. I want to continue on from what I’ve been studying, keep on making a lot of drawings, keep on dreaming – it doesn't matter where.
Photography: Quentin De Wispelaere
Styling consultant: Edmund Ooi Kee Song
Make-up: Sigrid Volders for Chanel
Hair: Sigrid Volders for Kevin Murphy
Model: Jessica at Jill Models Management
Photographic assistants: Fiona Crott, Anton Lothin
Styling assistants: Choi Goeun, Jayda Lee
All clothes by Minju Kim