Eunhye Shin, designer and founder of LE 17 SEPTEMBRE, manages to drive us to her own sensitive, dreamlike and singular stylish private world. Despite she’s self-taught and started in the fashion industry with a personal blog, she’s now become one of the most interesting emerging voices within Korea’s fashion scene. Her bold, simple, exquisite and powerful designs prove that her brand is worth to keep an eye on.
How was it like growing up in Korea?
I majored in violin and I was in the musical field for almost ten years after graduating from college. Ever since I began playing the violin at the age of ten, I had to travel to Seoul, the capital city of Korea, almost every week to get my lessons. Yet I was also interested in fancy fashion labels like any other girls were. It was one of the ways I could get rid of my stress. So during what little spare time I had, I used to reform old clothes from my mother and make them look trendy on me. Nonetheless, I never thought I would have a career in the fashion world when I was young.
Where did the name LE 17 SEPTEMBRE come from?
It’s the date of my birthday in French, LE 17 SEPTEMBRE, and shortened to Le917. I named my company after my birthday wishing every Le917 piece would bring happiness and love like birthday gifts to my customers.
What’s the concept behind the brand?
It’s simply characterized by what I wanted to wear in my everyday life at ease. It should be timeless, minimalistic but not so obvious, and unisex with a hint of femininity. Also, the quality is what really matters the most because if a piece was to be timeless, it should be sustainable for many seasons and years.
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How do you describe the essence of the brand?
The best quality provided at a reasonable price range. Our direct-to-customer system allows us to keep reasonable prices by not giving margins to the merchandising giants. In order to do so, I work directly with a few skilled tailors since this is the only way both tailors and I could control the development of the designs and their quality at its best. This is also linked to why we can only produce in limited quantity. Limited quantity sometimes becomes a barrier for new customers, but this ‘rareness’ also seems to be giving higher satisfaction to our customers who hold limited pieces of LE 17 SEPTEMBRE.
What is the aesthetic you're striving for?
Simplicity is the most important part of the brand’s identity. It requires both audacity and acute discernment to draw a fine line between what is necessary and what is not. Refined simplicity is a virtue that I deem very important. I start by sketching a design in which the fabric could stand out on its own and work my way up to find the best-matching silhouette for it. When the fabric goes perfectly well with the structure I pictured for it, I feel ecstatic happiness. In every design of LE 17 SEPTEMBRE, there are seamlessly measured details, which at first glance seem stunningly simple. I believe that those details reflect the countless hours and love I put into each and every piece and the brand as a whole.
Your unique personal style and people’s interest in it made you think about conceiving the brand. How was that building process?
How I came to launch my own brand was so smooth that it almost felt like it was in my fate to do so. I began my personal blog back in 2011. I shared my daily life with the followers through written posts. Back then, I did not intend to commercialize my blog, I genuinely wanted to share what I like to wear in my everyday life and what I find joy in doing. It somehow led me to try making my own pieces, ones I wanted to wear, and the followers who shared the same thirst and aesthetic style became my first customers.
I am very grateful for the number of people who aspire to share the same fashion style as I do, and I am even more grateful for those customers who still think very dearly of the brand and the designs I create. I think this mutual aesthetic identification between the customers and myself is what keeps the brand alive and going – I call it LE 17 SEPTEMBRE’s DNA.
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You mention Instagram as a big outlet for many Korean bloggers or even brands. How does Instagramming relate to your process?
Instagram opened up a whole new world for this generation – it has no limits. A few years ago, I was just a small domestic business owner. But when I started sharing stories and designs on Instagram, the viewer range became very diverse and global. Instagram became such an important channel in expressing and connecting our Le917 DNA. Also, it is one of the reasons I could keep the retail price so reasonable: it allowed me to save a lot of marketing expenses. I try to return these expenses back to our customers by investing in high-quality fabrics.
What is your usual creative process like?
It all starts with the fabrics. After I choose which one to use, I begin imagining stories for each piece. Everything that surrounds me becomes an endless source of inspiration, from the people on the streets to beautiful objects I see and feel. Also, being a Korean designer as I am, the lines and colours in the Korean traditional clothes and architecture are very inspirational and I also try to bring them about in my designs too.
I love the concept of not reproducing pieces once they’re sold out, and not counting on retail. Actually, you’ve rejected many offers. Any chance you’ll be opening your own retail store at some point?
It is firstly because I want to keep myself close to the customers and, secondly, I have so many other new designs I want to make. The direct-to-customers system gives me the opportunity to carefully examine who my clients are. I have been building good relationships with them and I value that very much. Every time they visit my showroom in Seoul – it’s open for reservations during a certain period of time –, they share their own experiences with Le917’s pieces on how the fitting was, which pieces they liked the most, and so on. Those insights are a very important asset for the brand, which strengthens Le917’s DNA. I would like to keep that strong bond together hence I have rejected many offers from retailers. I’m planning on expanding the size of the showroom so that I could invite more of my customers and meet them in person more often. But I think opening up a formal retail store should wait a bit longer.
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How would you describe the evolution of many Japanese brands over the last few years, especially in United States’ outlets?
Honestly, I envy them. Japan has numerous world-renowned designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. Recently, Rei Kawakubo’s exhibition was successfully held at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think this reflects how much Japanese fashion designers are recognized in the American market. Having carefully observed the Japanese fashion industry, it seems to me that Japan is susceptive of new things, especially in the fashion world.
Their adventurous approach to try out new designs and new colour mixes have definitely helped the Japanese fashion industry to develop. Also, as far as I know, Japanese governments are very supportive of its fashion industry. Korean fashion industry is growing too – there are several Korean brands already being distinguished in the European market. I hope that the Korean government would provide support and financial aids so that brands with high potential could also prosper both domestically and internationally.
Can you tell us what has been your biggest challenge to date?
The pressure is getting bigger every year. The business was very small at first, and I designed one or two pieces each month, but now I have to design a collection for every season. As I have no educational background in fashion, I literally had to study and teach myself in the process of making each piece in the beginning.
One of the hardest challenges was the communications with partners who have been in the fashion industry for over a few decades. They are the super gurus in the field and they all have their own unique expertise and know-how, which is not that flexible to negotiate. But now, all those experiences have become such a huge asset to me. I believe that I’m still in the course of refining the whole process every day. This all means I still have a lot of room for potential and growth, and that gives me a lot of energy.
Who is your audience? How do you picture the Le917 customer?
I don’t want to standardize my customers. Anyone and everyone can be our customer. Our pieces suit all ages and body types because I designed them to do so. One thing that I am very sure of is that all my customers dare to surprise themselves with something new and are not afraid of challenging themselves in style. Seeing how they make their own style through our pieces is very interesting and inspirational to me.
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What is your inspiration?
The fabrics. As there is a saying that goes “Best ingredients make the best food”, I believe good fabrics bring good clothes. Prior to capturing the details of the design, I spread out all the fabrics that I myself have carefully collected from the market at home during the night and start dreaming and picturing how I could transform them into one final piece. This very moment with each fabric gives me much inspiration and this is how I come up with a theme for each collection. My time with each fabric is extremely important because Le917’s pieces are so minimalistic that the fabric itself has to stand out the most efficiently. Also, all the women who live their lives fiercely and fighting for their careers are always a constant source of inspiration.
What’s Le917’s most iconic piece?
There are two: an oversized winter coat with a simple silhouette, and a beautifully shaped blouse with textured fabrics. But really, all the designs are iconic, it is very hard to pick just a few.
What comes next?
We are planning to move our office to some larger showroom space. Also, hopefully, I may be working with some international and domestic retailers just as a surprise for my customers in the near future. So I am looking forward to being connected with a more diverse group of customers in the future.
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