Interview with the editor of Pictorial Project: How she created the biggest fashion project of Korea

My 6 centimeter heels pounding on the hot pavement of the thriving Apgujeong neighborhood in Gangnam with its upbeat music blasting out of clothing stores on every block, I frantically adjusted my tattered plaid blouse and military-style jacket, cursing as I tried to wipe a smudge of Nesquik chocolate milk off my tights. I remember muttering “Oh **** Konni stop being so unprofessional,” every two minutes as I ran into a small path packed with indie clothing stores and Korean makeup shops and finally got to Coffee Arco, where I was supposed to meet Dahee Jung, the editor of the Korean fashion magazine Pictorial Project. (For those of you that don’t know, Pictorial Project is Korea’s biggest independent fashion photography project magazine.)

Having taken two crazy taxi rides to get there straight after class, my once neatly-combed hair was looking like a mound of garden weed and I could feel my makeup clinging off my sweat(gross, I know. Note to self-please, please bring a mirror to next interview meeting). Anyhow, I had gotten there, and as I took a deep breath and scanned the vintage-style cafe for the slim, dressed-in-black, mysterious-looking, twenty-something Pictorial Project magazine editor I had met back at the 5th Korea Style Week, I saw her in the corner, reading the latest issue of Avenue magazine with a cold latte in hand.

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Absolutely stunning.

In her 4th year of university, she’s already the editor of a fashion magazine.

Unlike me, Dahee ‘unni’(a Korean term used when a girl refers to an older girl) was calm and poised, and I thought, “That’s how I wanna be when I go to university”-chic, independent, and open to new talent and new ideas(in this case, myself, as a young fashion blogger in the Korean fashion scene). Clumsily taking out my papers and voice recorder, I smiled nervously and started to ask Dahee unni about Pictorial Project and her fashion career journey.

“I knew I loved fashion, but I was skeptical of whether I had any real talent, so I made Pictorial Project to test my limits.”

PP was born in 2013 on Facebook! Dahee unni got together with about 40 people on Facebook who were interested in her personnel recruit post. Hearing this, I obviously had to ask-HOW? Unni, how did you get 40 people to work for your project when you were completely new to the industry? To this she replied, “Although we have an overflow of fashion projects right now, at the time there weren’t many project group businesses in the fashion field to begin with, so we had a fresher approach. I thought, ‘There must be other people out there with dreams similar to mine who are looking for that certain confirmation to carry on.’ ” What I found interesting about Pictorial Project as a magazine is that it didn’t actually start out as a magazine! Yup, that’s right-it wasn’t supposed to be a magazine, but rather a collection of photos that Dahee unni and her team of friends had worked on. Literally, a ‘Pictorial’ ‘Project’.

“And then we started to get offers from bookstores like Kyobo(the biggest bookstore line in Korea) that wanted to sell our stuff,”

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Volume 4 of Pictorial Project recently got completely sold out in bookstores in Korea, and now Pictorial Project is on a two-month renewal in order to provide their readers with even more artistic goodness. When I asked about it, Dahee unni calmly explained that ever since the start of Pictorial Project, so many other project-based fashion groups have been on the rise, and all of them have started converging toward the same theme and the same goal. After the 2-moth renewal period, Pictorial Project will be back with Volume 5, and there will be more copies for a wider range of readers(D:”My original targeted reader base was people already working in the field, but most of our actual sales are made by high school or university students who are pursuing a future in the fashion industry.”), and start being distributed as a web-zine too. However, the original overall style of the magazine will not be changing any time soon, says Dahee unni- “Pictorial Project doesn’t really have one main style. We’re just a mix of a bunch of things from different designers and photographers, and as a team we’re all about respecting everyone’s individuality. I think it’s what makes us unique!”

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“FASHION X ART: We care about artistic sensitivity, more than anything.

“We focus on blending fashion and art together, rather than just showing readers what the latest trend is and what they should wear this season. I guess you could say we literally are more of a pictorial than an actual fully-functioning magazine. Also, we don’t usually work with brands or designers that are already super-famous. We work mainly with independent designers that are new to the fashion scene, to give them a platform to showcase their work.”

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‘What if a vegetarian works at the butcher’s?’

“I try to create fresh, original images based on the most random, craziest ideas. For example, one day I might wake up and think, ‘What if a vegetarian works at the butcher’s?’ and voila, there’s my next photoshoot. But then again I must admit that you can never truly create images that people have never ever seen before; different images go round and round and we see similar things again and again like with trends. It’s just a new individual perspective on the image.”

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Dahee unni at work

“Passion pay”

a Korean term to describe receiving little or no pay for one’s work;

a term recently increasingly used to describe the Korean fashion industry

“I used to get a few people here and there being worried for my future, questioning how I was going to make money with just fashion. The fashion industry is infamous for being tough; lots of people start off at the bottom of the ladder and get paid measly amounts of money. ‘Passion pay’ in Korea was also recently a huge issue… but I don’t think anyone around me really was totally against me working in the fashion industry. Everyone that knows me knows I’m an energetic, active person who likes to roam around and work.”

Near the end of our interview, we shared a lot of ideas about the Korean fashion industry (since we’re both a part of it). I couldn’t help but nod enthusiastically, once again realizing the importance of having a clear outlook on the fashion industry to be successful in it. She said, I think the Korean fashion industry is the most interesting in the world. We’re so extremely sensitive to the latest trends and what other people are wearing, so people tend to consume fashion extremely fast, even though we’re not even one of the 5 major global fashion districts. The problem here is that when people consume fast, they’re also quick to throw clothes away. So many people buy cheap clothes from indie brands or street stores and get rid of them when they go out of style. No one seems to wear anything for a long time, like people used to do in the past.”

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“You mean magazines like Vogue, Cosmo, Elle, and W?”

Dahee unni sipped the last of her iced latte, smiling with her eyes, as I asked her about her views on mainstream magazines. I was genuinely curious of what someone who ran an artistic, individuality-based magazine would think of magazines that are targeted toward a more ‘popular’ and trend-based audience. Dahee unni was surprisingly very positive about all types of magazines, and I listened in awe, thinking ‘that’s how I want to be when I grow up’.

ME: “The fashion industry, especially the magazine sector, is under fire for promoting unrealistic body images and lookism standards, and I sometimes have friends that look down on fashion magazines because of their ‘lack of quality content’. What’s your stance on the whole issue?”

DAHEE UNNI: “You mean magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and W? I used to buy them and read through them when I was a kid and it would be really confusing. I would read a column in Vogue and be like, ‘the parade of a facade of luxury based on the latest trend which is… err what?’ And then I’d pick up a Cosmo and it would have so many different articles about different topics from celebrity gossip to a sophisticated piece on traditional Chanel eyeliner on the Paris runway and I’d never know what to read. But my thoughts changed completely after becoming an editor of a magazine myself. I began to understand fashion magazines properly. I think that while Vogue tends to stick to a certain concept or theme, Cosmopolitan also has it’s own style and it’s own story to tell. Every magazine shows what they can express best, and sometimes that just happens to be in line with modern beauty standards or the latest trends. And plus, there are lots of types of magazines… If you’re still young and need to read Vogue Girl but you’re reading Avenue, then you’re not really going to get much out of it. Similarly, if you want to see alternative artsy styles, you don’t look for it in Cosmopolitan.”

ME: “Hmm. That’s actually a really interesting point of view. So you don’t think there are any drawbacks with current..mainstream magazines?”

DAHEE UNNI: “Well, as a person who reads about five different magazines every month, I think there’s definitely a situation where each magazine is failing to be unique. Magazines that are more commercial tend to all have similar content, like what the latest trends are, how to get the guy/girl, what the latest beauty tips and tricks are, etc. I reckon it’s because magazines nowadays are desperate to fill up quantity, to make it sell.”

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The Pictorial Project team working on a photoshoot

“You’re doing it wrong, you’re going to fail,”

To wrap up the interview, I asked Dahee unni for a bit of personal advice on how to make in the fashion world.

ME: “Since I go to a foreign language high school, some around me are surprised when I tell them I’m going to be a fashion magazine editor because it’s an uncommon dream for someone in my situation. Some people even tell me not to pursue fashion! What should I do?”

DAHEE UNNI: “I think that times have changed A LOT since the last generation. People used to have to follow the ‘regular’ route to success, and if they worked hard enough, everything would work out fine. But that’s really not the case anymore. We’re in an era where success isn’t determined by the amount of effort you put into following the traditional path to success; it just simply cannot be determined. There are too many variables in today’s society. The line between professionals and non-professionals is unclear, and talent is everywhere. For example, to become a fashion magazine editor, you used to have to start from the bottom of the fashion industry, doing basic labor, and become an assistant, and then if any slots were open for writers you’d work hard again to become a writer, and ultimately an editor. But I didn’t do that-I just did my own thing, even though people would often tell me, ‘you’re doing it wrong, you’re going to fail.’ I think that in today’s world, you need to do what you love because it’s not going to work any other way. If you do something you don’t truly love, you’re going to be beaten by the people who are in that field of work because they really love it and are competent. Plus, I’d personally say ‘do what you love, and money will come naturally.’ ”

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Back to the start: I first met Pictorial Project at the 5th Korea Style Week.

They had a partnership with Korea Style Week and their own booth.

Thank you to Pictorial Project and Dahee unni : )

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