For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, music, food, dance, fashion, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.
Before starting your own label, Ashlyn, you worked under the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Raf Simons. What did you learn from those experiences?
When I interviewed at Yohji, I said, “I am the white canvas, so you can dye me in any color, in your color.” That happened with each designer: Yohji Yamamoto at the start, then Alexander Wang, and finally Raf Simons. At Yohji, what I learned about was respect for time, human resources, and effective processes. While working under Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, I learned that Raf and Yohji are seeking the same kind of inspiration. They really respect the culture and history of fashion, and then fuse original ideas into their collections.
What was it like jumping from being a part of the team under established creative directors to being the head of your own brand?
Whenever I joined a new creative team, I really needed to understand what they loved, what they liked, and also the original idea—if there’s a company name, like Calvin Klein. When I launched Ashlyn, that experience was really helpful in managing and setting up the philosophy of the brand. I’m literally building my own bible. Whenever I say something during a fitting, whatever I say to my team or my coworkers, it becomes part of that bible. When I interned at Issey Miyake, one of my bosses said to me, “The brand should be a religion. Everyone needs to believe 100 percent, even more than 100 percent, in the same thing. With that, you can be a successful brand.”
What do you consider to be your most original quality?
My pattern-making skills, draping skills, and attention to detail. I really consider how we can finish the inside and out, and how you feel in each piece. I hope my clothing gives clients a really strong energy and attitude.
In a conscious commitment to slow fashion, you make every Ashlyn piece to order. Did you think about sustainability as you were starting out?
As a mom of two kids, I needed to think about our earth and environment and, at the same time, maintain my job. We are going into a global boiling stage, so everyone needs to come up with new ideas. It’s not just mentioning recycled fabric, but presenting zero-waste fashion and pushing that idea so that we can get other people to think about the issues we are facing.
You were born in South Korea, and now your brand is based in the United States. Is it important for you to incorporate aspects of both places into your work?
All of my experiences come out very naturally in my designs. I’m like the composer mixing all those cultures, but there is a traditional Korean item of clothing called the Dangui that I reference in my work.
What was your style like when you were a teenager?
I really loved the miniskirt. I would always test how mini it could be. I also changed my clothing several times a day. My kids are doing the same thing now. I loved to explore different occasions: the morning vibe, lunch vibe, and dinner vibe.
What does originality mean to you?
Being honest with oneself—that’s originality. Not a trend, not buying things or copying someone else. I try to be very honest with myself, what I see, and ultimately what I make.
What’s your most prized possession in your closet?
After I started my own brand, I slowly put all my clothing in hiding and started wearing my own designs. In my winter 2023 collection, there was a coat called the Pacey. When I draped it, I was thinking of ceramics and very fine sculpture, specifically the Joseon dynasty jar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I added beautiful lines and a combination of grays. I really love it.
Who do you consider original?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I read the picture book No Truth Without Ruth to my daughters when I knew they were old enough. I wanted them to understand a woman who excelled throughout her life with determination and resilience, how she faced many personal and professional challenges and still forged ahead with strength, justice, and humanity.
Hair by Jenny Kim for Oribe at Frank Reps; makeup by Grace Ahn for MAC Cosmetics at Day One Studio; photo assistant: Angel Diaz.