Russia is a country between Europe and Asia, but at the same time is none of both – there’s something truly unique about the mixture of these two influences. Same thing goes for one of its emerging (and most remarkable) designers, young fashion mastermind Jenia Kim, aka J. Kim. Coming from a family of Korean emigrants and having grown up in Uzbekistan, Jenia is a driven and focused designer with one big goal: to apprehend her Asian roots and making them the core of her brand, through clothes that satisfy the wishes and dreams of her customer – a modern, nonconformist woman. We met with her during the last edition of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia, as she presented her Spring/Summer ’16 collection.
I've been taking drawing lessons ever since I was 6 years old – I always knew I wanted to do something related to that and to the arts. Being older, it took me a couple of attempts to truly find my way, as I was forced to enrol in a course I didn't really like. But later I entered Fashion school and realised that was what I actually wanted to do.
Back when I was 16 or 17, I was already doing my first collections and showing them, joining competitions at school and so on. In 2013 I came back from New York and started the brand.
In New York I found something that I hadn't seen before here, in Russia, and that was the practical side of the business: how to do a lookbook, how to do a showroom, how to present a collection... In Russia, when you study a degree, you obtain a technical knowledge, but not so much a practical one. New York changed me profoundly, it gave me a completely new vision and mindset, and I took the decision of not only working in Russia, but Europe or the US as well.
In the beginning, when I was in high school, I had no idea whatsoever about Asia and the Asian culture. I was designing business wear, or sportswear, but I hadn't found something I truly felt identified with yet. I was looking for my own style and at that very same time I had some inner problems, not really knowing what I wanted to do or pursue. In New York I was coincidentally living in Chinatown, so after the trip I decided in all my collections there should be something from Asian culture.
While studying fashion, I realised how many designers worked with Japanese or Chinese silhouettes, fabrics, or ideas; but no one had really gone in depth with Korean culture. That's why I first decided to focus on this country, although as I keep on designing new collections, I mix references from different countries.
It's not that I know thousands of things about Asia, I learn as I design and discover something new every time. Something which, of course, then I translate to the clothes. And, gladly, I’ve been thanked for spreading a little bit the Asian culture here in Russia!
With the people who live in Moscow, whom I can talk to and communicate with, it's really easy for them to understand my reasons, my ideas and the thoughts behind each collection. But in the end, it's the same for those people who come to the store and see my designs for the first time – even though I don't get to talk to them or they don't really know about me, I have the feeling they also get the idea, they can see what inspires me. It's really visible in the way I make my clothes, it's difficult not to appreciate the Korean influences!
Before, in previous seasons, Asia was a big hit. Back then I guess my collections were really attractive, but to be honest I think that's over now, if you present something with super obvious Asian references, it's not really interesting anymore – people is not buying it. Now the decade of the 70s seems to be the big thing. In this collection, for instance, I've left some Asian details, as that's my main inspiration, but it's not so obvious anymore. Despite that, Korean designers are really huge right now, and that's why these kind of influences and references are attractive to the wide audience.
I don't have any sales points in Korea, my prices are still too high – now Korean designers are focused on prints but my conception is a bit different (handmade, with natural fabrics), and that makes my designs more expensive. However, I'm happy as I feel a lot of interest in the brand right now, I've been getting in touch with different buyers and stores from Central Asia.
But France is my priority right now, there are many customers there and for me it's really important to have sales points there as well as the showroom.
I got a bit tired of only focusing in Korea, so this time I moved and decided to focus more in India, a country I love. Their tradition is amazing. It's a subtle touch though, Indian fashion tradition is really opulent, so I cleaned it up leaving just a few touches here and there. So you can find the earrings, the necklaces, some Indian traditions, mixed with the Korean ideas. I also left some colours inspired by the Indian spices and their warmth.
I don't really feel part of a group, here in Russia. I could definitely move and go somewhere else. I also think a lot about my ideal customer, or the place where my clothes would work best, but I don't think there's one yet, although I'm looking for it. While some people really understand my clothes, there's still a lot of others who don't. For instance, I have two good friends who embody my ideal customer: modern woman, looking forward to know and learn new things and not just being satisfied by what's already given, they want to discover something new by themselves. But, unfortunately, I feel like there's not too many of these people – not yet, at least!