Daechul Kim

05.23 2017 INTERVIEW DATE

Lerici, Fashion director

To make a product that gives someone complete satisfaction might be impossible from the start. However, founder Daechul Kim of the bespoke brand Lerici has led his brand for the past 13 years, challenging the impossible. We met Kim at his showroom in Cheongdam-dong and talked about his brand, the name Lerici originating from a vacation spot north of Italy, which he loves despite the slight abashedness the name radiates, while in the back of the room masters in white gowns kept themselves busy with their hand-sewings.  www.lerici.kr

Hyemin Kwon

Have you always been fond of fashion?

Before Lerici, I worked in a different field. My first business was magazine publishing. I became interested in fashion while I was preparing for the launch of the magazine. Back then, there were no wedding magazines that targeted the luxury market. So instead of filling it with informations like others, I published <Le Mariage> that had a different perspective and method, focusing on wedding shoots.

 

Was the publication of <Le Mariage> successful?

Sadly, we stopped its publishment after three years. To run a magazine solely on advertisement from luxury brands was pretty tough in reality. As I made the painstaking decision on ceasing the publication, I came across a magazine article one day about Korean masters winning first place for the past couple of years straight at the International Vocational Training Competition. I had frequently encountered tailors while I ran my magazine and so I was drawn to the sewing masters among the many other participants described in the article. And at that time the society’s conscience and culture on clothes were developing and I had the impression that sooner or later hand-made, tailored suits will draw more attention in Korea, just like Europe. I saw bespoke suits as one of the upcoming cultural code along the change of time.

How did you get to know the masters that are now working for you?

The tailor industry has a labor union and the head of the union introduced me to a master and from then on I was able to increase my product line-ups. In 2005 when I started Lerici, the hand-sewn suits was sadly a declining industry. There was no competition so it was fairly easy to scout skilled tailors. Out of the ten masters whom I first began with, now there are eight left working with me ever since.

 

Working with a number of masters sounds like a tough part of the job.

It’s pretty hard for masters to be acknowledged as genuine masters. And they’re all aware of that so they show their hard efforts at all times. Just recently, a master in his 70s told me that if he was given some days off, he’d fly to Italy and visit one of its renowned studio on his own expense, and experience their long time know-hows. Working in this field for over 40 years wasn’t enough for him. I thought it was incredible, to have that strong will and passion to do the job right for as long as he can, despite the uncertainty of the number of years left ahead.

We assume there might be fierce competition among them.

Every master in our studio has great skills but no one brags about it. They’re all very humble. Otherwise the order within the studio will be disturbed. Every master who wishes to work at Lerici has to go through a three-month internship. And 80% end up quitting during the internship period. I think the tough part is, regardless of the higher income, the workload and the precision we ask for is a different world compared to their previous experiences. It takes about 70 hours to finish a suit at Lerici. This is like a tailor, who focused on a single skill for decades, accumulates his/her life into a single piece of suit, in those 70 hours.

Why did you decide to create this showroom?

I thought if a bespoke fashion house like us had every process of the making going on under one roof, there should exist a dominant sentiment that shephards the brand in total. So instead of just arranging antique furnitures to create a classic, European feel, I wanted something else. I always tell people that when we make our clothes, “the form must have a reason and the expression be simple.” And these clothes represent our brand, which led to the idea that our space must connect with the sentiment of our clothes. So from the structure of the building to the atmosphere inside, we changed everything. It took a whole year to begin by restructuring the building until its finish. We also commissioned artists from different fields to create products that would fit the mood of our clothes.

Being able to peep inside the working studio is pretty unique.

I really wanted to make the studio into an open space. So in order to enable visitors to see the work being done while the privacy is still kept, we made this long, horizontal, high window. The outdoor terrace was a must too. Not only does it serve as a great place for talking with visitors or for some tea, it’s also critical because in order to check the colors and textures precisely, you need to see the fabrics under natural light.

 

Your collaboration with photographer and craftsman Myoungwook Huh was quite remarkable as well.

We’ve known each other for quite some time. We usually exchange our thoughts on each others’ works and one day Myoungwook saw the inside of our suit. He took it by surprise when he noticed the rough and complicated traces of sewings, which were completely different compared to the clean and modest appearance. In every crossing of those threads, he saw the hard-working hours spent to complete a piece blended into every part of that piece. He told me that he wanted to take a couple of suits with him and tear them apart and paint his signature otchil paint over them. It was fantastic work. I realized that doing collaborations from time to time gave refreshing energy into my repeating days. 

Young generations are also beginning to show larger interest in bespoke. Do you feel the change?

Compared to when I established Lerici, yes, many things have changed. But as the interest increased, a number of misunderstandings grew as well. People who experience bespoke clothes for the first time tend to copy others. It could be a well-dressed celebrity or a handsome Italian gentleman. To blindly copy someone who has a different figure, skin color or even the mood, that’s the shortcut to failure. But failure isn’t always bad. Because failure can teach you lessons on what kind of fabric or silhouette really suits you. And then later on, people who used to insist on unique texture or color end up falling for the charm of ordinary and modest fabrics.

 

It’s been 13 years. How do you picture the upcoming years of Lerici?

Anyone who leads their own brand for over a decade would probably be looking back and miss the passion they had in the beginning. Because I do too. I want to be good all the time but I can’t always be perfect. There are actually times when our clothes don’t come out perfect. Our customer might not notice the slightest difference but makers do. We pour all our money and time into a piece but when the result isn’t perfect, it can sometimes get pretty upsetting. And this job is not as profitable as people may think so it can get tiring as well. I wonder if it’s about time we make a big change but it’s not like we came the wrong way so I decided to just wait and see. Engaging myself with this for a while have enabled me to build clothes and methods unique to Lerici only. And now I’m going to bring those to life one by one, taking my time, pacing slowly.