From a young age, Seoul-based hairstylist Gabe Sin was surrounded by the rich culture and history of Korea. Today, his work reflects a deep appreciation and understanding of this connection to the past, as he transforms traditional elements into avant-garde hair designs that blur the line between fashion and art. 
Drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources, including Korean interior design, film, and even his grandmother's mother-of-pearl pieces, Sin has become known for his unique style that seamlessly blends fantasy with reality. He allows us to gain an introspective glimpse into his creative process, that birthed his latest series From Earth, and how his work has evolved over time.
Gabe Sin 20.jpg
First off, would you mind introducing yourself and your work to anyone who may be unfamiliar?
My name is Gabe Sin, and I am Seoul-based hairstylist. My work is often inspired by Korean traditional elements with a sense of fantasy. I create headpieces, style wigs, and do both fashion and beauty concentrated works.
Your work is known for drawing references from Korean history and culture and transforming them into wearable pieces. What specific elements of Korean culture do you find most inspiring and how do you translate them into your designs?
My inspiration comes from my childhood memories and experiences. Using jagae pieces from furniture and objects that I saw at my grandparent’s place and other designed pieces that I saw from other interiors. Using such an element was natural to me because I grew up with them and I was familiar with them. I don’t believe that I have transformed the history and culture of Korea to wearable pieces; but I believe that if I translate such familiarity into my pieces, then the audience would naturally connect and be attracted to my styling because they also share the same experience and memories as I did. The power of my design came from this connection and familiarity.
Can you walk us through the process of creating one of your jagae hair pieces? What materials do you use, and how long does it typically take to complete one piece?
The time that takes to complete on piece is usually one-week long. The process starts from visiting one of two jagae stores that are available in Seoul. I speak with the store owner to find a rare and exquisite jagae design that he or she may have in the storage. The craftmanship of jagaes is very unique and rare to find; and it’s really up to the store owners to sell them or not and even the price can vary depending on their mood. Before I visit these stores, I would create a headpiece first and find a jagae design that would suit the headpiece that I have in mind.
You've said that you find loose inspiration from a variety of sources, including glimpses of films, dramas, artworks, and animations. Can you tell us about a specific piece of art or media that has inspired one of your designs?
These days, my biggest platform of inspiration is Pinterest; but I have been looking into the works of James Jin. I have been loving fantasy elements lately.
Gabe Sin 11.jpg
You’ve previously mentioned your grandmother's home was filled with mother-of-pearl pieces, which has influenced your work. Can you tell us more about your personal connection to this traditional Korean craft technique?
I do not really have a personal connection to Korean craft technique.
How do you approach collaborations with other creatives? What qualities do you look for in a collaborator, and how do you work together to bring your vision to life?
My biggest collaborators for my work are photographer Cho Giseok and make-up artist Oh Seong Seok. We have been working closely together for all of our creative [lives] and spend much time together. We would have a casual conversation that could lead to some sort of inspiration to do personal work. Their comments or ideas give me some sort of homework to do, and they also push me to challenge myself in creating my works.
Your latest series, From Earth, features designs that recreate branches, roots, and organic forms. What inspired this series, and what challenges did you face in bringing it to life?
My series, From Earth, started three years ago. My collaborators at that time were on locations for many projects and saw many trees as we were travelling around. In that year, I did many braided pieces and thought of branches when seeing these braids. Throughout the year, I suggested recreating these pieces into trees so it started as a very small tree. At the end of the year, I always want to do a personal work that could summarise what I have been doing in that year; so that time, I wanted to create something big and told the photographer, stylist, and make-up artist about it. The challenge that I had when bringing this to life was that it takes a very long time and hard physical work. Branches in nature grow out and split into numerous branches that also grow out; and to express this through hair, I need both big and small pieces. When I first did the shoot, it took 9-10 assistants and a total 12 hours to put everything together on the shoot day. We started braiding from the model’s natural hair and extended them into the wig pieces. The recent work that I did for Vogue took me five days with help of 7 assistants and additional helpers. Everyone was just braiding the hair all day. And small pieces take even more delicate technique to put them together. I learnt from my previous experience that the model cannot stand more than 12 hours for us to complete the piece; so this time, I made the pieces prior to the shoot day and brought them together to install them onto the model’s hair so she didn’t suffer as much. It is very time consuming and honestly, physically painful work, so I probably won’t do it again until I am left with just good memories.
Would you say that there’s a connection between the naturalism in the project and hair artistry? Or is it purely a nod to the avant-garde?
Hair artistry in my case is solely connected to my experience; things I have seen, touched, or experienced throughout my life which are naturally absorbed and translated into my work.
Gabe Sin 1.jpg
How has your work evolved since you first started making hair pieces? Are there any particular milestones or turning points that stand out to you?
I have become more experimental and boundless when making hairpieces. When I first started making them, my focus was how to make them stand out. I wanted to make sure that my hair pieces stand out and they’re really something; but nowadays, I want to focus on harmony: how can my pieces add an extra touch and creativity to the work. The turning point of my career is when I started doing personal works with photographer Cho Giseok because I started using and discovering new materials like resigns and jagaes to create headpieces in addition to hair styling and hair pieces. It allowed me to explore more mechanical aspects of design and expanded my territory as a hair stylist.
Your work is undeniably eye-catching and whimsical. How do you balance creating designs that are both visually stunning and wearable?
Before I design a headpiece, I ensure that it is wearable at the end. I run a simulation in my head that focuses on the realistic aspects of design such as materials, length, and etc; and details come later. I used to just brainstorm in my head, but I have been trying to sketch my ideas out so it’s more visible before I start working.
Can you walk us through a typical day in the studio? What does your creative process look like, from ideation to completion?
A typical day in the studio starts from cleaning; then, I would just sit down and do whatever comes to my mind. I would do research and look through different images on Pinterest, surf online, listen to music and etc. I have ideas in my mind, but I don’t physically start working until everything comes together in my head. As I said before, I like to think through the different aspects of the creative process and when I think I am ready, then I sit down and start creating a piece. It takes a longer time for me to think through, but when I start working, it’s definitely quicker to complete. I would say maximum one day to complete a piece.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in hair design?
Just do it if you really want to do it. I love what I do and I am very happy with what I do; but it's a very challenging job.
Gabe Sin 21.jpg
Your work is known for celebrating and reimagining traditional Korean art and culture. How do you hope to inspire others to explore and appreciate their own cultural heritage through your work?
I am very pleased to hear that my work is known for celebrating and reimagining traditional Korean art and culture; but my work is based on things I am familiar with and I didn’t necessarily have an intention to inspire others to appreciate their own cultural heritage; but as I mentioned before, I believe in that there’s a strong power when the audience can relate and feel connected. So as long as you are not afraid to utilise such familiarity, you will naturally appreciate your own culture and its beauty.
Your work has been featured in numerous publications and exhibitions. What have been some of the most exciting moments in your career so far?
I was very pleased and honoured to be featured in Vogue. I am very grateful to everyone who helped me to be featured in the story and bring my work into life.
Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for your work? Are there any projects or collaborations that you are particularly excited about?
My ultimate goal is to help my team to grow bigger; I wish that I could train my assistants well so that when they can be on their own, they can create more phenomenal pieces and be more than a hairstylist. I also wish that I could do what I can do to support all of my collaborators in the best way I can so we can all grow and evolve together.
Gabe Sin 3.jpg
Gabe Sin 17.jpg
Gabe Sin 16.jpg
Gabe Sin 12.jpg
Gabe Sin 13.jpg
Gabe Sin 14.jpg
Gabe Sin 15.jpg
Gabe Sin 8.jpg
Gabe Sin 6.jpg
Gabe Sin 18.jpg
Gabe Sin 19.jpg
Gabe Sin 2.jpg