Junghee Oh+Jiyoung Yun

09.22 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

Studio Fennec, Designers

Suseok-dong, Namyangju, Gyeonggi-do

Husband and wife Junghee Oh and Jiyoung Yun are founders and designers of a leather goods brand Studio Fennec. Amidst their hectic, restless days, their sole refuge and playground is their home. They’ve been longing to live in a space that embrace their perfect rest and entertainment and after enduring a long period of time with anticipation, their paradise have finally come to life.

Hyemin Kwon

Please introduce yourselves.

We’ve been married for five years and we run our brand Fennec together. Aside from our main job, we also run a bar called ‘Enzo’ in Seongsu-dong and engage ourselves in designing fashion-related graphics as well.

How did Studio Fennec begin?

(Oh) Before establishing Fennec, I was employed at a company as a graphic designer. I used to work on my MacBook most of the time but finding a nice laptop case wasn’t easy so I went ahead and made a sample version myself. Then my friends and acquaintances showed interest, which sparked me to draw up a business out of it and that’s how it all began.

‘Fennec’ is known as the ‘desert fox.’

(Oh) When we were debating on our brand name, I was picturing myself talking to a client, hearing out their needs and advices, then the image of a desert fox came up, particularly for its large ears. From <Little Prince>, which I love, fennec has always been my favorite. There, its famous quote “tame me” also matches with our leather goods perfectly. Because leathers become more charming as it wears, according to the way one ‘tames’ it.

Studio Fennec’s major product is your wallet, which triggered your public fame.

(Oh) If there’s a market where people spend big money on the brand name, there’s always the opposite that seeks to make reasonable purchases. Our aim was to make basic and timeless, authentic leather wallets that were affordable. As far as wallets were concerned, there was either the luxury or the cheap market and we’ve pioneered the mid-market, so to speak.

(Yun) Everyone tried to talk us out of it. Nobody thought running a brand would make sense by selling our wallets by our price. But today, our competing brands are adjusting their price range to ours.

(Oh) Our strength is quality. Our products are manufactured at a renown leather production factory that treats leathers excellently. Besides, we make the same product all the time so we’re able to achieve better quality over time. We take every single one of our products seriously, which explains why we don’t have that many product lines every year. If we make them right, the trend is never a problem. We even have a wallet that’s being released every season for four years straight.

A number of people fantasize about a married life where the couple work as partners in the same field, which the two of you are living. Could you describe your typical day?

(Yun) We’re basically glued to each other all day. Our work requires us to be together even concerning the littlest things as well as attending meetings, doing market research and going through sample productions. Actually though, my husband’s the type that has to take me with him all the time, even to go out and get some takeout food. They say if a married couple work together there’ll be frequent arguments and won’t be able to spend individual time which can be tough, but so far I think we’re maintaining a good balance between marriage and work partners.

(Oh) There’s a reason why I enjoy spending every moment with my wife. I’m the kind of person that likes to be around people and there was also a time when I envied those that had a wide network of people, but now I simply prefer the comfortable time hanging out with friends that are on the same wavelength. And one of them is of course, my wife.

We were told the reason you built this house was to spend enjoyable time with your close friends.

(Yun) Before moving to this place, we used to live in an apartment building but we realized that it didn’t fit our lifestyles and began for the first time to consider building a house for ourselves. I love having my friends over for drinks. There was this one time when we all got slightly drunk and started dancing to the music but we knew that we had to calm our excitement because of the people downstairs. Then I thought, ‘Why can’t I listen to my music loud nor can I even dance as much as I want, in my own house?’ and made the firm decision to move to a detached house. We started searching for the right house and land right away, on every weekends for about two years.

(Oh) The reason we designed the open kitchen with an undisturbed view of the livingroom was because I wanted my wife to be able to talk face to face with her friends while she was in the kitchen. Our previous one was blocked from the living room so it wasn’t easy to talk to someone in either spaces.

We want to hear more about the house, which took you a year from designing to moving in. What sparked you to build your house in this neighborhood?

(Oh) Actually, in the beginning we went around our previous neighborhood, Bongcheon-dong in Seoul, searching for a land to build our house on. And soon we were shocked at how expensive it was. Considering the land and construction costs, we realized it was just absolutely impossible to build a house there. After about a year wandering the city, we turned our eyes to the outskirts of Seoul. And from then on for another year, we spent our weekends going to cities to cities in Gyeonggi-do like Gwangju, Yongin, Opo and many other. Then we came across Deokso and we found ourselves standing at a place without a single tall building ahead, not to mention the great open view of Han River. It blew our minds. It was the first place that got me thinking we should build our house here no matter what, even if that meant taking out a large loan. The only land available for purchase was this rather dull land which had some restrictions to construction but we signed our papers without hesitation.

Was there a specific request for the architect?

(Oh) We didn’t want unnecessary, fancy details. We told the architect that we wanted a blend of Tadao Ando and Dieter Rams’ style but he didn’t quite comprehend. So we asked him to take the German minimalism of the 70s in mind, picturing our house as a single mass--just simple without frills.

We assume the change of your dwelling space must’ve brought change to your lifestyle as well. 

(Yun) There’s a bicycle lane by the Han River which is right in front of our house. We couldn’t bare to think of riding a bike when we lived on the hills of Bongcheon-dong but now we’re frequently out on our bikes.

(Oh) It takes us about an hour to get to Seongsu Bridge and riding as far as to Mapo Bridge isn’t so difficult. The view after sunset along the bicycle lane is just fantastic. Enjoying the night view on your car down the Gangbyeon Expressway is incomparable to the view you see at night as you ride your bike along the river so close to you.

For the two of you who run a brand based in Seoul, which is a city with such quicksilver trend, how do you feel about the city?

(Oh) Well it lacks an earnest mind. If you look at Japan, the people appreciate the history of shops that run for generations, and there’s always a high demand of those, hence the shops being able to maintain their business going. On the contrary, I always thought Seoul was a city that lacked the will to succeed the tradition and instead was busy chasing trends. But now I like that about Seoul. There’s no other city in the world that’s as sensitive and fast-changing as this city when it comes to trend. You know, if you look on the bright side, it’s pretty interesting. It could turn out to be the city’s strength so I don’t think we should look at it negatively only.

(Yun) I love the city’s fast speed and the shiny stuff. For a person from the countryside, Seoul was always a city in my dreams. I used to fantasize the skyscrapers and the fancy, metropolitan things. And I love Seoul. When we moved in to Namyangju city, I was a little afraid that I might be living a tedious life like I did back in my hometown but it’s pretty close to Seoul, so luckily I don’t need to travel too far in order to fulfill my cultural needs. It’s like I’m living with a fair balance of the benefits.

We’re pretty sure there’s a direction in life you seek to walk together with Studio Fennec. Could you share it with us?

(Yun) We started this because we wanted to live our lives doing what we want like everybody else, and we’re grateful for the love and being able to run our brand upwards with sustainability. Launching our products in Tokyu Hands in Tokyo was a dream-come-true and we’re currenting setting up our independent store in Daikanyama. We’re so amazed with our success that when we lie down on our bed at night we often talk about how magical it is for us country bumpkins who have come all the way to Seoul have made something of ourselves.(laugh) Our biggest goal is to develop our brand stronger but we also have our personal dream. Traveling is a big part of our lives and we’d like to travel around the world on our motorcycles some day.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Night streets of Hongdae

2 9 Hongik Univ.

“When you walk down the neon-signed streets of Hongdae at night after a nice drink or two, it always makes your heart flutter with excitement, making you feel young again.”

 

One of the most busy areas of Seoul, Hongdae is full of cafes, small galleries, art supply shops, accessories shop, fashion shops, live-music bars and clubs. It was the cradle of the underground culture that spread across a number of clubs and small-sized performance stages. We cannot deny that its particular artistic and unique atmosphere have lost its color after the streets became commercial, but it is where Junghee Oh and Jiyoung Yun first began their relationship which makes the region special for the two. Whenever they need to soothe their troubled minds, they sit down at one of the cart bars (Pojangmacha) for some drinks and roam the night streets of Hongdae holding hands and talking.