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 : )

Korea Style Week, Celety, meeting the most famous fashion designers in Korea, and how I found out I can’t be a model

Hey readers,

I’ve never been pressured to write a post before, but tonight I am. Not in a bad way though. The pressure comes from my own enlightened desire to write something worthy of describing the awesomeness of the 4th Korea Style Week and all the things I learned and all the wonderful people I met through the experience.

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I honestly have so much I want to share about Korea Style Week this year that, despite my years of blogging experience, I don’t know where to start. The experience was overwhelming in such a lovely way that makes me feel all tingly just thinking about it right now.

 

BRANDS, BRANDS, BRANDS //MODERN SNAPBACKS AND CLASSIC JEWELRY

This year’s KSW was THE essence of my fashion blogging career(if you can call it a career). I feel that the most distinct feature and exclusive merit of buyer-to-buyer brand fairs like this is the diversity of brands. All the brands are willing to engage with the public and are very willing to communicate, which is something I truly appreciated as a fashion blogger at the event. Almost all the brand representatives I talked to were amiable and open to questions about the brand’s style in general, which made it easy for me to do interviews and gather resources.

Since it was a buyer-to-buyer fair, I inevitably anticipated that there would be limits on the creativity/originality of brands’ products but I was pleasantly surprised to see that in depth, every brand had their own ideals/motives and each held a sort of pride about their brand name, which I loved.

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Walking around the maze of brand booths, I could not take my eyes off all the clothes just beckoning for me to come buy them but interestingly for me the two exquisite hidden gems that I discovered this year in KSW were snapbacks and custom jewelry. This is amusing to me because I hardly ever wear snapbacks or pay much attention to my jewelry(hipsters leave angry comments now). It seems to me that hats or accessories have always been side-dishes to the main menu of my actual clothes, which, I now realize, is a very inappropriate attitude(since snapbacks are just the epitome of modern, youthful, hip culture).

 

HATER SNAPBACKS (http://hatersnapback.com/)

The most popular snapbacks at KSW were definitely those from the brand ‘HATer SNAPBACK’, and I could see why. Their snapbacks had a definite structure(unlike those other flimsy caps that you get from brands that don’t specialize in snapbacks) and a unique, appealing style. Their snapbacks seem like a whole new world of snapbacks. They succeeded in creating their own pedestal in the market of snapbacks.

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Each snapback has the famous upside-down-triangle brand logo in gold and the same structure. The only variants among all these snapbacks are the colors and patterns. It gives a sense of altered continuity. The snapbacks look great as one big collection and look equally as swag-filled separately, too.

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I would pick out one personal favorite if I could, but right now I’m hovering between the pink fluorescent one above and the tie-dye colored, leather printed one below.

IMG_2649IMG_2638 IMG_2639IMG_2708 IMG_2651Looking at these snapbacks makes me realize the importance of creating a distinct, consistent brand style. The certain image that you have of a brand can really decide whether you buy or not, and something that all successful brands have is a proper understanding of that fact. Sounds simple, but hard to put into action.


CELETY 

This is a brand I now personally feel extremely attached to. I approached the brand representative with the usual “Hi, I’m a fashion blogger and I want to feature your brand..” and she said, “Are you sure you’re a fashion blogger?”(I will still never know whether she was joking or not) Slightly offended, I replied, “I’ll show you my blog!” She smiled coolly and said, “I’m kidding.” At the time I was taken aback by her straightforwardness and humorous nature but I soon came to adore her relentless honesty. After talking about my blog and showing her my work, she was happy to collaborate.

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Jewelry is something I’ve never really experimented with. Personally, interacting with a jewelry brand was like pioneering in a whole new field. And it turns out I’m a jewelry geek.

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Intrigued by their painfully beautiful summer collection, I couldn’t have been more eager to work with Celety. I actually got the chance to interview the brand rep. of Celety(her name in Korean is 임그린), and it was honestly one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had as a blogger.

 

ME: What’s the most important thing in running a brand business?

REP: Uniqueness is great, but individual sensitivity is definitely crucial. I draw my inspiration and sensitivity from old pop, and therefore I don’t deviate too much from the classics. I just add my own color and structure.

ME: What’s the difference between clothing trends and accessory trends?

REP: Jewelry doesn’t really have cyclic trends. It’s been 8 years since I’ve been doing this work and I just reinterpret the classic styles of the past.

Brand Designer/Stylist: Accessories don’t trend on their own. They go with clothing trends.

ME: So accessories aren’t treated as a whole separate market; they walk alongside clothing fashion.

Brand Designer/Stylist: Yeah.

REP: I wouldn’t say ‘accessories’. Rather, use the word ‘custom jewelry’.

ME: Right. Custom jewelry. I have another thing I wanna know. When you design your own jewelry for your brand, I assume that a certain disparity must exist between your own personal style and the style that your consumers want from you. How do you deal with that?

REP: Yes, of course, there definitely is that gap between what you want and what your customers want. I basically just try to ease prevailing current trends into my own designs. It’s actually one of the reasons why I attend fashion fairs like this-to make our jewelry better known among the public and to find the line between my personal visions and public desires.

ME: Hmm. That makes sense.

REP: It’s really all about reinterpretation. I keep my analogue sensitivity but reinterpret it accordingly every time, just like brands like Ralph Lauren-I truly respect Ralph Lauren- or Yves Saint Laurent do with their fashion. They always have a sort of consistent structure, sensitivity, and sense of color but they manage to make their collections different every time. Our brand name, Celety, means celebration+party, and I got the idea from the song ‘Celebration’ by a band called Kool and the Gang. You should look them up.

ME: Sure.

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(‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang)

 

I learned a lot from the short 8-minute conversation that we had. It made me think of jewelry from a new perspective. Not just as an ‘accessory’ but as an actual part of the whole fashion scene. Later, the Celety brand rep. told me that she likes plain white tees with a simple eyeliner and a high bun, because they’re easier to coordinate jewelry with. This made me look at fashion from a whole new point of view. Fashion isn’t just about the clothes you wear. It’s about how you wear them and what you wear them with. And it’s also about perspective. In an industry where objectivity is almost nothing but a myth and sales are based on interaction through common style, every sector of the industry has a strikingly unique point of view towards fashion and towards other sectors. Albeit modern youthful fashion labels focus on studs, statement tees, and bright floral shorts, jewelry brands like Celety appreciate a clean cut look more, because apparently a simple, plain look is more convenient when styling and matching jewelry.

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(The brand rep. gave me this necklace as a gift. I picked it out myself because of the ethnic feel and the combination of colors. I still cannot get over how stunning the necklace looks and how much it means to me. It’s an embodiment of all the sleepless, blogging-filled nights that have led up to this moment.)

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(Yay I’m wearing the necklace!)

I know that Celety will forever have a special place in my heart and my career. The brand rep. said she would invite me to future brand store openings and all that jazz, so, looking bright here!

GETTING TO MEET THE MOST FAMOUS FASHION DESIGNERS IN KOREA//THE RUNWAY

This was a huge part of KSW for me since, well, obviously, it’s not every day that you get to meet the role model of your whole career. Watching the runway shows at KSW and seeing Ko Tae Yong(고태용) and Hwang Jae Keun(황재근) was something that I never thought I’d be doing at this stage of my life and being there and witnessing their presence before my eyes was so inspiring in itself.

I learned a lot from listening to them talk.

Ko Tae Yong, who recently had his own show in New York Fashion Week just this year, designs for Reebok and his own brand, Beyond Closet. I watched him intently. His shades were reflecting light, and they shimmered because he kept adjusting them incessantly. He was also fiddling with his fringe a lot as he spoke. His choice of garments to the event was simpler than I had expected. He looked carefree yet down to designing business in loose black trousers and a loose shirt to go with.

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Ko Tae Yong’s words about how a fearless spirit is imperative in becoming a fashion designer really channeled my attitude towards being head-first and non-stop rather than over-thinking every single situation and being too careful to take risks. During his interview, he calmly stated that the most important difference between designer clothes and clothes sold at 4900 won is that designer clothes are sold at a much higher price because they have a sense of identity, unlike clothes that are mass produced in a factory. It cleared things up a little for me and I learned not to view the high-fashion designer brand world with my usual negativity and slight cockiness, since although the high-fashion world may be clouded by stereotypes of unlimited wealth and useless hubris, there is definitely a reason why those classic brands are still a huge success in the industry, and there’s a lot to learn from them.

 

Hwang Jae Keun is the ultimate champion of Project Runway Korea. That means he’s a renowned, experienced designer(Whoo, shocker). He gave styling tips and answered questions from the audience, and although I didn’t get to directly ask him anything due to time management issues, I did learn a thing or two about the concept of fashion.

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I realize now that I’ve been so selfish about fashion and art. I always had that selfish ‘i-don’t-want-your-influence-because-fashion-should-be-personal-and-genuine’ type of mindset when it came to styling or designing, but Hwang Jae Keun’s talk on what fashion meant was an eye-opening turning point. He said that fashion was ‘communication‘, because not only does a fashion designer have to express his individual identity but he also must excel in creating a common ground in which to bond with his consumers. I remember an internet article I read about Lana Del Rey saying that she doesn’t like it when people listen to and reinterpret her music because she makes her music solely for herself. At the time I was sympathetic of what she said to a certain extent, but I’m slowly leaning away from that point of view to the less-stubborn side.

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The runway shows were a delight.

 

HOW I FOUND OUT I CAN’T MODEL

Now, I’m usually the one behind the camera, taking pictures of other people (or heavenly items that I find once in a while in the back of my wardrobe), and I gotta confess that although taking the photos is great because I get to direct everything and create my own little work of art, sometimes, once in a while, I do want to be the girl standing in front of the camera, basking in the glorious spotlight of that camera beam. It’s probably not just me(I hope.), I bet a lot of girls and guys have flipped through W magazine or Vogue thinking, ‘Oh man, I gotta do that someday’. So since I was at KSW with my lil’ sis, I decided to switch roles for a change!

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“Like this?”

“No no, put your chin down a little more, and SMIZE. You know what Tyra Banks told you on ANTM.”

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“Ohhh okay like THIS!”

“Ehh.. move your head back a little.”

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“What, you mean like THIS??”

“Gurrlll you ain’t ever gonna be a model. Stop that this instant people are watching”

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“OHMYGEERRRRRD”

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Okay, this last pic is the least monstrous one out of all of them. This will have to do.

 

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(This is how it’s supposed to be done.)

All my sleepless nights of watching America’s Next Top Model and I still can’t take a good photo. Well that makes me feel professional.

LAST THOUGHTS…

Upon concluding this exclusive, one-of-a-kind, fashion-filled post, I’d like to give a huge internet hug to my readers(whether they want it or not) and I’d like to say thank you to everyone that’s supported me and brought me here. Although I still consider myself a beginner, I must say that I’ve come further in this than I expected myself to be at this time of my life and I’m grateful of the fact that I can still find the positive, pure energy in me to continue on with this passion of mine. I’m having the time of my life here, and I guess I can only try hard and hope things just keep on escalating.

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