The Korean words “ii se” translate into English as “second generation”. While designers Terrence and Kevin Kim employ the phrase in the more literal sense – alluding to the twins’ fused cultural upbringing – there is a palpable feeling that it captures the futurism of the Korean menswear market. A far cry from the isolationist creatives of 19th century Northeast Asia, modern Korean designers are a rigorous and cosmopolitan bunch. While the Kim twins fall neatly into that category, it is their experience with cultural dualism that inspires a series of unique products imbued with universal appeal.
Fresh off a 6 part HYPEBEAST feature, “The Costs of Starting a Fashion Brand“, we at TVG reached out to the Kims for some quality face time. Fortunately, Terrence relished a break from his hectic mid-year schedule and chatted with us about II-SE’s brand profile, the Kim design philosophy and so much more.
The Versatile Gent – As a consumer, II-SE always struck me as a brand that constantly incorporated historical and cultural references into its designs. Is traditional Korean culture a prominent part of your design process?
Terrence Kim – I’d say it definitely is. While the minute details in each design may be overlooked, as soon as customers start paying attention they will see where our inspiration comes from. For instance, the cut of our duffle bag straps is directly inspired by the shaped collars predominant in traditional hanbok clothing. There are so many little details like that in our designs.
Terrence is not exaggerating. In fact, the trademark feature of most II-SE goods is that they are dyed with a combination of volcanic ash, persimmon fruit and charcoal. This historical conditioning technique results in more graduated coloration, and (almost anachronistically) complements the streamlined silhouettes of II-SE luggage. The twins also employ coveted materials including lambskin and Argentinian buffalo, often working multiple textiles into a single piece.
TVG – I remember, now a few years back, being introduced to II-SE. My initial impression was frustration with how popular your products were! Bearing that in mind, what drives you (and Kevin) to manufacture in such limited quantities? Roughly 90 percent of the time I’ve been on the e-store, literally everything was sold out.
TK – We don’t manufacture to scale because we still consider ourselves a start-up brand. If we had extremely high levels of funding, we would consider increasing our order quantities. However, starting this year there will be a lot of positive changes to the brand that enable us to create a more varied and larger number of products. But if all our product is constantly selling out, that can’t be the worst problem to have, right?
TVG – From what I’ve previously learned, you and Kevin both grew up in the United States. Since moving back to Korea, do you find that the American experience informs your design process?
TK – We continue to spend a lot of our time in America, living in different parts of it. That in turn has shaped how we think, feel, and create. I think that diversity will always be important to us and undoubtedly affects the creative output of the II-SE brand. More than anything, we truly believe that what we create through II-SE is an extension of ourselves. Not 100 per cent American, and not 100 per cent Korean. Rather, it is a well balanced mixture of both.
TVG – Like so many young designers who have garnered loyal followings, you did not have any formal training in the industry. Did you look to any established designers for inspiration?
TK – Whenever we begin the process of creating new products, our inspiration is twofold. Firstly, it comes from traditional Korean culture. I am particularly interested in Korean architecture. Secondly, and interestingly, we find a lot of inspiration in the modernist tendencies of brands like Jil Sander and The Row. Because so much of our product isn’t gender specific, womenswear is often a great starting point.
II-SE is no stranger to the Australian market. With a limited third party presence through Saxony, select II-SE products have already circulated throughout the country. With trade show exposure in the immediate future and talk of a full ready to wear collection, the South Korean start-up is poised to enter its most high-profile period yet.