Soon Il Kwon was born in Seoul, Korea. Throughout his childhood, he was constantly surrounded by art, as his father was an art collector.
Fast-forward several decades and Soon Il is now an emerging designer in New York, attracting the attention of many major publications, including The New York Times and Style.com. He was also a finalist in the Parsons’ Designer of the Year competition.
His story is a real American Dream—Soon Il moved to New York City with a suitcase, having never been to the city before.
In The Art Issue, he shares his story, drawing parallels between his fashion work and other personal interests.
1. Could you tell me a little bit about your move to New York?
I’ve been here since 2008. I was originally going to study car design.
2. Car design, that’s very different.
Yeah, automotive design but, you know, I just changed my mind. I got a ticket and I didn’t have anything with me: just packed my suitcase, booked a hotel for two days and found a place to live. I decided to go to Parsons [Parsons The New School for Design]. I didn’t have any information about Parsons beforehand, so I only applied after I moved.
I shopped a lot when I just got here. It was my first time in New York City. It’s so crowded here, but I love it.
I only had one friend in the city.
3. What about your family? Where are they based?
My sister is in L.A. She is running a fashion company – it’s a really big company but it is very different. Her company is more like Forever 21. She is my older sister and is six years older than me. She’s been in the States for about 15 years.
4. So what did you do after you moved?
I studied at Parsons and interned for two companies, one of them was pretty small but the other was Marchesa, which is couture and it’s very different from my designs. I learned a lot: how to run the company, how to make samples, do photoshoots and everything in-between.
I graduated last May. And, so far, I’ve created two collections.
5. Could you tell us a bit more about them?
I was getting influenced by something I was really obsessed with at that point. It was cars for my thesis and I decided to look at vintage pieces.
My second collection was influenced by vintage bicycles.
I think of elements that are like Porsche, and transform that into feminine, girly things.
6. And where do you produce the pieces?
Some of the pieces here, and some in Korea. I have the best pattern-maker there.
7. So why did you decide to do womenswear?
I plan to do menswear too, for my next collection. But womenswear is much hotter and much more complicated.
8. What about the fabrics that you use, do you have a favourite fabric?
I always mix very light silk and wool, and thick cashmere. My pieces have a lot of colour and colour-blocking, and I only use the finest leather and silk.
9. What are your plans for the next five years?
They are going to be sort of planned ahead. I’m going to make one more collection, and I would love to work for big companies after that. Like Bottega Veneta, or a major American fashion company.
10. Is there a person in your life who has really helped you throughout this journey?
Some family members and friends have been very supportive.
I met a lot of nice people in New York and they’re still helping me right now. One of them is my former teacher, Jonathan Farmer, at Parsons. He graduated from RCA London and he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.
Model photography and illustrations courtesy of Soon Il Kwon.