Jungeun Lee

02.18 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

cohn, Textile designer

Hyehwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

She weaves. She prints. She dyes. She knits. And she ties knots. All of these add up to what Jungeun Lee does for her textile brand cohn. Her handcrafted fabrics are made in small quantity and are then used to make clothes and home accessories. Her fabrics are left with scribbled traces of a marker, the hues of the southern lands where she visits with her husband, and threads of carefully chosen colors, woven in horizontal and vertical crossings. cohn’s fabric manifests the way she spends time. The small house nestled in Hyehwa-dong which she shares with her husband, Seungyul Oh, an artist based in New Zealand, used to accommodate her atelier aside from a beloved dwelling. Recently in May, she separated her studio cohn. shop and atelier in Changgyeonggungno.

Yoojin Jung

Please introduce yourself.

I’m a textile designer and I create fabrics myself and design patterns. I launched a brand of my own called cohn(cohn.kr) in spring of 2014. I used to make independant artworks by weaving or making silk screen prints but then I engaged myself into producing branded womenswear. I would say cohn aims to go deeper into ways to make beautiful fabric. All fabrics are made by fusing several techniques like weaving, dyeing and printing, which I then create into useful home accessories or clothes.

It seems that there are only a handful of independent textile designers in Korea.

I attended for two years at a textile design major in college here and left for Paris to study art graphics in the fine arts department. There I learned a wide range of art from photography to fine art. I used to make knitted or sewn fabrics and use them as sources for my artwork. And after I returned, I continued my personal work for a bit by making things out of the weaving mill that I bought for myself and then to vitalize a good living, I found my brand.

 

I imagine your products seek a different taste compared to other fashion designer labels, since your design starts from producing fabric.

To make my fabrics into a product, it was pretty easy for me to reach into clothing. In the first stages of designing, I wanted the fabric to stand out solely so I reduced as much detail as possible in the clothes but nowadays, I intend to make a good combination of the two so that they both appear beautiful. I think in the beginning I refused to make my brand anywhere near the others. And because of this engagement in producing both fabric and clothes, it’s pretty natural for me to turn my interest into womenswear more deeper. As long as I’m into this, I’d like to stick to making clothes that are beautiful but also witty.

Can you define the originality of your style?

There isn’t a particular style but I think it does merge with an Asian ambience. For my 2016 resort collection, I designed a fabric with multiple gradation. I visited New Zealand after my husband who works as an artist there and probably because the land sits in the South Pacific, the sun seemed much closer to earth. The purple-ish sunset, the rich and deep green, the vast blueness of the sky...those were the first of nature’s colors that I’ve ever seen. And I took that overwhelming impression into the fabric for my 2016 resort collection.

 

What are the attractions of textile?

I like fluidity so I choose to use flexible and soft fiber. Fiber is a fairly easy material to handle but for that reason it’s also open to a lot of possibilities to change. Textile design starts from scratch and using threads to weave into something, using raw fabrics to dye and make drawings are all very fun.

You were born and raised in Daegu and came to Seoul for the first time in high school to prepare for an art major in college.

My first-ever experience of Seoul was Hongdae where the art institute was located. I was quite impressed with the energetic and crowded streets, which would go on way past midnight. Seoul is where you can get yourself a pack of milk at convenient stores you can easily spot, even at late hours. The nights of other cities are still but in Seoul, the nights go on, filled with liveliness.

You went to Paris to extend your studies and came back to return to college.

In 2010, France faced a long-term nationwide walkout which caused a number of colleges to shut its doors. At that time, I was a philosophy student and was also tied to a foreign student visa, which I had to repeatedly extend every two months, and it felt as if I was keeping my head above water. Well I was planning on learning philosophy just enough for me to apply it to my work and not go too far as to majoring it anyway. I wanted to learn the basics of a wide range of studies and when I got back to Korea, heading back to college seemed like the best idea. And most of all, the school offered students the rare opportunity to work on giant-sized silk screens and knitting machines along with studio spaces within the school. I returned with a pleasant mind and enjoyed every bit of my college days.

How different is Seoul and Paris?

I never fantasized much about Paris. So there wasn’t any excuse for likely disappointments. But I noticed there was a big difference in the people’s passion and love for the city compared to that of Seoul. Citizens in Paris have a great amount of pride in where they live. On the other hand, a lot of the people in Seoul seem to treat the city as a mere physical space just to meet their needs. But it’s understandable because it attracted the mass and grew massively in such short time on top of the ruins caused by the Japanese Colonial era and the Korean War. And I see now that our generation have started to recover respect for the city of Seoul and I think it’s a very nice move.

What triggered you to settle in Hyehwa-dong?

After I returned from Paris, Seoul was a whole new world. It was pretty obvious because I only spent two years in this city before I left. In 2010, I went to a lot of those rising hot places, only to learn that they lacked stores for everyday necessities, like hardware stores or hair salons or bakeries, and instead were full of cafes and pubs. In fact, I had to go as far as to take the subway in order to clear those daily duties. Seoul has a lot to offer but also lacks a number of other things and is full of those complicated places. I had to find a place to live and as I started my way towards east from my longtime favorite Samcheong-dong and Bukchon, past Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung, that’s when I finally found the right place for me here.

 

This is the first home for the two of you, who each lived such different lives.

I think marriage changes a lot of the unexpected. I used to keep my house hippie-like, full of stuff I couldn’t dare to get rid of but now it’s gotten a whole lot simple, thanks to my tidy husband. The house has become a calm place—and a lot more supportive in allowing me to concentrate more on my work.

What did you consider most when you arranged this house?

In the beginning, commissioning an interior specialist to design our house sounded like someone else’s scenario. But it did happen to us after we asked for some suggestions to our interior designer friends of studio grav(www.grav.kr) for our new home. Excluding the chairs, all of our furnitures, the bed, desk and shelves etc. were order-made with the help of our friends. There wasn’t enough room for a regular sofa so we made a bench-like one to replace it. The furnitures we originally wanted were just too expensive. Beneath the bench sofa and the wall that faces the bed are accommodated with storage units. And as for the desk, if we were to make it large enough to room a keyboard, we figured it would take up too much space so instead we made a sliding drawer for the keyboard. So, everything was based on functionality before anything else. Making your house pretty is nice but we focused more around how to make the best of scattering the space and make good use of every corner.

Which aspects of Hyehwa-dong are you attracted to?

There’s a cinema nearby, a cool cafe and a dry cleaning closeby as well, and these are just enough convenience for me. I heard from a friend when I was in Paris that the Paris locals don’t call themselves Parisien, whereas we perceive Parisien as a certain style. It actually means people of Paris that have lived in the city for many generations. Sort of like a Seoul-native. You can find large number of neighbors here that have been living in their houses for a long period of time and you’d walk up the street one day and hear many of the the elderly saying “I’ve been living in the same house for almost 60 years.” And those elderly have a great deal of affection for this neighborhood that they’d willingly participate in making the area look nice and pretty. There are a lot of those tranquil excitements spread evenly throughout Hyehwa-dong.

Does the regionality of Jongno change your lifestyle in any way?

I live pretty much the same way wherever I am and Jongno allows me to live that way. I spend most of my time working at home. I take quick walks around the area, go for a quick visit to a coffee place for beans and sometimes hang out for movies and these are the daily routines which I’m happy to continue to live on.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Dongyang Seorim

271-1 Changgyeonggungno, Jongno-gu, Seoul
4 Hyehwa
02-762-0715

A bookstore with a sign that reads ‘Since 1953 Dongyang Seorim’ immediately gives you a hint of how old this place is. It was when the aftermath of the Korean War had still taken place throughout the nation and the wife of artist Ucchin Chang, Sungyeong Lee, decided to open up a bookstore near the almost-deserted rotary of Hyehwa-dong. It was to financially support themselves after her husband quit his job at an art university and suffuse himself with his art and alcohol. The 1960’s was a golden age of bookstores in Hyehwa-dong(usually goes by the name ‘daehakno,’ meaning university street) that stood along the swarming streets of the young college and high school students, day and night. And amid the crowd, Dongyang Seorim stood as a hideout for numberless celebrities of all areas and often made its appearance in old Korean movies. Today it faces a difficult time to survive along with other independent bookstores, but still keeps its place firm, carried on by its third generation owner. There’s not much uniqueness to it nor does it promote or brand itself — it’s just a normal, everyday bookstore in your neighborhood that accommodates just enough variety of reference and humanities books. Appreciating its original function and meaning of a bookstore, Lee recommends us to take a look.