The new menswear label Zero_Underscore confirms that Seoul in South Korea is one of the most vibrant centres of fashion in the world these days. Its very accomplished inaugural collection for Autumn/Winter 2011 is entitled ‘Back in Black’ and it celebrates long-lasting, timeless and always modern garments and colours in fashion. This is done very effectively while mixing high-quality cotton and wool with leather and zip details to create a new classic sartorial language for menswear that deserves to achieve more popularity beyond Seoul.
The Style Examiner met Hyungbae Kim, the talented creative director behind Zero_Underscore, to find out more about this promising and exciting menswear brand, and brings you this exclusive interview.
Where did it all start for you and for Zero_Underscore?
I studied at the Department of Costume Designs in Myongji University in Korea, majoring in women’s apparel. While I was studying, I tried to get as much practical experience as possible by working as an assistant designer with the womenswear brand ‘Giovedi Miso’ and as a freelance sample maker at the same time. During this period, I found that menswear was more interesting to me than women’s. So I decided to quit school and started learning tailoring by myself. After a couple of years, I went to New York with a desire for learning and a greater perspective on fashion, and I studied menswear at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I acquired very important professional skills there under terrific professionals such as Stefan Miljanich, a Gilded Age designer. Upon graduation, I secured an intern position with Theory Men, and after that I returned to Korea and launched Zero_Underscore.
Why the name Zero-Underscore?
The word ‘Zero’, corresponding to a starting point of all creations, symbolizes the designer’s intent and ‘Underscore’, meaning underlines, represents the idea that clothes and accessories should focus on the needs and tastes of the customer. It’s a balance between the creative vision and the practical usage of fashion.
How would you describe your current collection?
The first collection of Zero_Underscore, with the slogan of ‘timeless, long-lasting and modern’ is aimed at breaking the existing framework of menswear, starting with a tailored piece inspired by an ancient symbol of masculinity: the armour of a knight in the medieval era in Europe. Once this idea was established, a differentiated design was sensitively pursued in the details of each work with sheepskin and cowhide juxtaposed over wool flannel and cotton twill fabric. The quality of materials, the precision of the patterns, the elaborate tailor work, the use of high-quality subsidiary materials, and the finish techniques differentiate Zero_Underscore’s approach to fashion from labels whose garments do not make it beyond one season or a year. Zero_Underscore focuses on the sustainability of fashion at all levels while placing priority on small quantities of high-quality of pieces.
At the same time, the first collection of Zero_Underscore, under the name ‘Back In Black’, has been loosely inspired by the tunes of heavy metal group AC/DC, and connects fashion with the self-confidence, dignity and intensiveness of the band’s members, particularly in the moment when they cried out ‘I am back’ at the live concert ‘Monsters in Moscow’ in the early 1990s. The colour combination of black, white and grey also emphasizes the male silhouette and the details of each garment in the collection.
Which designers inspire you?
All designers inspire me. I get inspired by the details that I observe in almost all designers’ apparel, having a tendency to put emphasis on detailed aspects as well as fits. Sometimes I find inspiration in men’s garments that emphasize Goth feelings and being modern. I might say that experimental forms by designers such as Gareth Pugh, Boris Bidjan Saberi, or Maison Martin Margiela also serve as inspirational sources. It’s a difficult thing to pick just a certain designer, as I feel that I get design inspirations from everything including concepts, thoughts and feelings.
What do you think of contemporary Korean fashion and fashion designers?
Although it’s not easy for a young designer who has just completed his first small-scale collection to discuss Korean fashion, I think that (and from my subjective standpoint) it seems to be in a depressed stage preceding a big jump yet. Whereas several famous designers such as June J, Song Zio, and Youngmi Woo have their names known on the overseas collection stages, compete with world designers, and solidify their positions, new talented and able designers have it difficult.
It’s tough for medium and low-priced Korean brands to compete and survive. In addition, even if Korean labels focus on making high-quality clothes, Korean consumers still perceive foreign brands as more appealing. As a result, breaking into the domestic market becomes a difficult hurdle. In addition, the consumer market is not only small but also concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan areas, which leads to fierce competition between national brands. However, and with some government support, talented domestic designers are breaking into domestic and international markets. Slowly, I think that the days for the Marc Jacobs of Korea to emerge may not be too far away.
What are your expansion plans for Zero_Underscore?
The slogan of Zero_Underscore is ‘timeless, long-lasting, and modern’. While our initial plan was centered on getting positive responses from the domestic market in this season, I’d like to expand into markets overseas while exploring more diversified colors, fabrics and designs to allow for Zero_Underscore to be known in the global fashion arena.