When he first watched the film In the Mood for Love, after a friend recommended it to him, designer Jekeun Cho's life changed radically. This cathartic experience, coupled with his unconditional love for Hedi Slimane, encouraged him to pursue his dream. It was then that he decided to start his own menswear ready-to-wear brand, Jekeun. He now presents his new Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Walking Contradiction, in which he explores the conflict between what we can see and its literal state. We sat down to talk with him about the exciting fashion scene that we can now find in the country where he was born, South Korea, how he sees colour and how he applies it to his work and his plans for the future.
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Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? Where are you answering from?
My name is Jekeun Cho. I was born in South Korea, with Japanese heritage and Chinese background. I moved to London to study fashion, which is where I am currently and where I founded my menswear ready-to-wear brand, Jekeun.
You immersed yourself in the world of fashion, to which you are now committed with body and soul, after graduating from your bachelor's degree in Public Administration at Fudan University in Shanghai, right? How did this sudden turn in your life come about?
I’ve loved fashion since my teen years. My idol was Hedi Slimane, I bought everything I could whenever I had money, but I never thought I could be a fashion designer because I’m from a very ordinary family, so I decided on a safer university route. After graduating from Fudan, I was acting idle on a friend’s sofa in Shanghai waiting for job interviews. My friend was a film fanatic whose sister was an actress. He introduced me to the film In the Mood for Love and I absolutely loved it, it changed my life ever since (I’m going to watch it again at the cinema tonight).
I was in awe with all the moods from the film, everything about it fascinates me, the feeling of it and all the in/out metaphors by sensitive touches. I’ve loved the director Wong Kar-wai ever since and admire a lot more the cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. He served the scenes very carefully and beautifully and it pushed me to do something more with life rather than settling. This was around age 26 that I decided I would do whatever it takes to become a fashion designer.
Where does your passion for fashion come from? Did someone in your family work in fashion, who were your main references when you were a child?
I am the unusual one of the family, none of my family work in or are interested in fashion except my beloved Japanese great-grandmother who was a seamstress. She moved to South Korea from Japan for love. Sadly, my great-grandfather died a few years after, and she had to survive with two kids in a foreign land. All she had was an old sewing machine, so she used it to make and alter clothes for people in the village. I am keeping the machine with me; she continues to inspire me.
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While in London, you got your Master of Arts in Fashion Design Technology: Menswear at London College of Fashion, and you were one of the most outstanding students in your promotion. What do you enjoy most about menswear?
I generally love the structure of menswear. Solid chests, shoulder lines, cuts, open pockets from a long history of functional reasoning. I genuinely love to see how they work together to make a man look great like wearing armour and a man in armour may not be a soldier. The best part is I can play them to pain and twist my own story.
Your first collection was selected to be showcased in London Collections in 2016, wasn’t it? How do you remember this moment and what did it mean to you?
I can’t remember it that clearly because it was so hectic, and it went so quickly but it was an amazing experience. It was fun but the journey wasn’t easy. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I lacked skill and experience compared to my colleagues, but it could also be the fact that I was working from a blank state that contributed in my favour. Seeing my pieces alongside everyone else on the runway made me feel like I was in the same bracket but equally, I felt that I had so much more work to put in if this was ever going to happen for me again.
Now you’re presenting your new Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Walking Contradiction. The subtly manipulated silhouettes, the vibrant colours and prints and the idea that fashion has an important meaning behind it are some of its most distinctive characteristics. What can you tell us about this latest collection? It also has a close relationship with psychology, doesn't it? Tell us more about this.
We all have our own narratives and difficulties. We believe all the struggles are from what we can see and what we can’t see. We want to express this concept metaphorically in fashion. So, our core idea of the brand is to discuss this topic and make agendas through our methodology, fashion. We use a lot of bold colours so that on the surface, people see the vibrancy of the brand. However, we draw on elements of depression when starting a new collection. These depressed elements slowly vanish until the end which remains as a silhouette, hidden details but unexpected and the entire mood of the collection.
Our Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Walking Contradiction, continues to explore our core concept of conflict between what we can see and its literal state. We use silhouettes from vintage military uniforms which represent ideas of masculinity. We transform these silhouettes with incompatible components such as bold colours and hunched shoulders to show a lack of confidence. The patterns from the fur coats and the textiles on the knitwear are from brain-scanning images of people with depression. We took our photo shoot in a closed space, with a few models with dim but contrasted lights. We think it gives the right tension and mood that we wanted to show.
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Colour is one of the main protagonists in your work. Intense shades, risky combinations that leave no one indifferent. What are your favourite colour mixes or patterns? Any designer/b rand that you especially like how they work with colour?
These colours are a tribute to people like me, who wear dull clothing to hide or blend in instead of expressing themselves. I like all colours. I really like forest green, orange, ultramarine and coral at the moment (I might like neon pink more than orange later). There is not a particular colour I don’t like, it depends on how comfortable they feel in your eyes not because they are wrong but I’m trying not to use more than four colours in a look and, of course, I need black and white to support other colours.
I really respect Walter Van Beirendonck, I love his way of expressing colour. He comes across as brave, strong, and youthful. I had a chance to do an internship with him and to this day I still feel upset about the fact that I couldn’t do it.
London is (and will continue to be) one of the essential capitals on the international fashion map. But new scenes have erupted in cities like Seoul, which are now vying to dethrone major European capitals as industry powerhouses. What do you think? And which cities do you think are ahead when it comes to experimentation and innovation?
Every time I go back to Seoul to see my family, I am always surprised by how quickly things shift. Men wearing makeup is nothing new in Seoul, people are not afraid to get on board with new styles and are very keen to taste new things. Shops are rushing to present new trendy spaces competitively. People then experience them and develop them with their existing culture. That is one of the reasons why Korean culture has become so popular. There are still a few questions, but I personally insist Seoul will be one of the fashion cities very soon. Also, Shanghai is one of my favourite cities. It is filled with a new generation of fashion innovators. They are wild and brave; I always enjoy seeing what they will create.
What are your future plans? Will we see you present your collections soon on a catwalk?
My near future plan is to keep pushing myself and pushing forward in the creative process to create something of significance to communicate with my audience. I also want to focus on how I can contribute to mental health awareness, I hope to collaborate with mental health organisations to make headway with the cause. I personally feel mental health is a huge part of the brands' existence. It would of course be a dream to see my work on the catwalk. If I work hard enough, that dream will be a reality.
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