Taken from 10+ Issue Two: Ten Meets Fashion Creative and Design Disrupter Yoon Ahn of Ambush
Hip-hop is the new rock’n’roll, rappers are the new rock stars,” says fashion creative and design disrupter Yoon Ahn. It’s night time in Tokyo, Ahn’s hometown, and after working on Ambush, her own line and streetwear-flexed wardrobe of own-or-die hoodies and wait-list Nike-collab sneakers, the designer has some rare spare time to speak on the phone about her incredible pre-fall men’s Dior-jewellery line-out.
Shibuya-based, the US-born and educated Ahn grew up in lots of places. Her father served in the US military and before the family finally settled in Seattle, when Ahn was a teenager, they lived in Korea, Hawaii and California. You can hear just the slightest West Coast twang in her voice, even now. Her life partner is Verbal, the Korean rap ace; the pair met when both were at the University of Boston, where Ahn was studying graphic design. It was then that she started designing trinkets for friends and later dreamt up some seriously complex pieces for Verbal. These early workings were to form the beginnings (huge Cuban chains and bronze baseball cap) of Verbal’s now-cult and much-revered street-meets-runway look. Dressing him in her latest designs grew her an influential customer base among the best-dressed rappers and rap fans. But it’s her work for Dior menswear that has given Ahn the opportunity to take jewellery design to the very next level. Alongside her good friend Kim Jones, the creative director of menswear at the house, she moves within a unit of fashion’s coolest provocateurs.
HAVE GEMS, WILL TRAVEL
When Ahn’s not in Tokyo, she’s in London, or Paris, or Seoul, or New York, and it’s from within this nonstop world, where rule-breaking design rules, that she is not only rethinking but reissuing luxury for newer times. But wherever she and Jones are, together or not, they are in constant contact. “We Insta DM more than WhatsApp,” she laughs. Here, for the first time, she reveals the very joined-up and collaborative design process across all the disciplines at the house. Is the way you design jewellery the same as what happens with ready-to-wear? “No,” says Ahn. “Kim sets the tone, but [the jewellery] happens when I see his outfit design as a whole. I look and think, ‘Who is this guy wearing Dior head to toe?’ He’s holding a Dior bag, wearing Dior shoes. The jewellery is almost like the cherry on the top.”
Any day of the week Yoon can be in contact with the London- or Paris-based studios, which under Jones’s tenure have become idea hubs, informing all aspects of the collection. It’s one that fuses craft with the street, tailoring with contemporary culture and, of course, unmatched design.
“I look at what the shoe guys are doing, what the apparel is doing, what the fabric is like, what the cut is like, and so on,” says Ahn. “I talk to the bag team, too, so that we can co-ordinate on the finishing. We talk about what exactly the metal parts of the collection will be, and we can share ideas together.” The whole thing is interlinked? “It doesn’t make sense for me to just think about my own thing. Dior customers usually buy the shoes and the bag, and then maybe the clothes. And then jewellery comes later on. I have to make sure that what I’m creating for them is complementing everything else on offer.” For autumn, Ahn’s designs skilfully riffed on Jones’s thought-provoking and on-the-nail collection of robo-futuristic ready-to-wear. Her articulated rings and industrial-looking bracelets, a necklace too, were the “cherry on top” to Jones’s vision.
But men’s jewellery: who would have thought that men would wear the designs they do now, let alone the dynamic articulations created by Ahn? Men – strike that – straight men have previously always been a little reserved when it comes to those “finishing touches.”
An Instagram alert from 10 Men cover star Swae Lee: the rapper is now broadcasting live to his millions of fans with a sneaky reveal of a new tune. Swae’s T-shirt and jeans are eclipsed by five-diamond chains of varying eye-watering carats and tennis bracelets on both wrists. Lots of them. An unreasonable amount for your average not-so-average rapper. But this is Swae Lee world, and it’s creative and talented and very shiny. New tune revealed, thousands of likes and an embarrassing amount of emoticons follow, and the rapper’s broadcast ends. But those rocks!
It’s in the wearing of jewels of such incredible calibre that talents such as Swae, with their huge numbers of followers on social media – Swae’s Instagram currently has 6.7 million – have reframed high-end jewellery design for a new, younger and more adventurous customer. The formerly closed doors to the world of fine jewellery have opened up.
RHYMES AND RUBIES
The new wave of rap artists comes not only armed with the best rhymes, but also a killer dress sense. Swae, A$AP Rocky, Kanye, Gucci Mane, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert are pursued by photographers all day, every day, and the pictures they generate are beamed to every corner of the world via social media and influential hype sites. Their style influence is immeasurable.
“I think that rappers have got it down,” says Ahn. “They know how to wear clothes and jewellery, they love [collaboratively] making jewellery. And they love flaunting it.” Like women? “I can’t think of any woman who flaunts their jewellery to the extent that [male] rappers do. They pile it on. I mean, look at these guys, look at Migos.
“It’s kinda back to how it was. In the old days, men used to wear more jewellery because it was a symbol of power and class. Wearing jewellery for men wasn’t a taboo thing. But then – I don’t know when in history – things shifted and it became shameful for men to dress in a certain way. Rappers are now the ones who love wearing jewellery, love wearing the brands, being loud and being flamboyant. I think the general public is starting to be conditioned and getting used to this change in pop culture.” And did anyone miss the ice on the red carpet at the Met Gala? Camp has never been as spendy.
Snapchat and Instagram have clearly changed everything – is that why more straight men are into jewels? “I think that’s why, in general, straight guys are more receptive to fashion,” says Ahn. “I think another big, big reason is really the rise of Asia, especially Chinese consumers consuming everything.” The figures prove her right. Research carried out in the past decade by De Beers, arguably the world’s most influential diamond dealer, found that 67% of men aged between 30 and 44 in China want to own diamonds. Meanwhile, the research agency Euromonitor recently reported that “global sales of men’s luxury fine jewellery reached $5.3 billion in 2017, up from $4.3 billion in 2012, an increase of 22%.”
The growth in men’s jewellery, suggests Selfridges’ menswear buying manager Jack Cassidy, is only going one way – “There’s definitely a spike in jewellery sales for men. Men used to buy rings in the main, and still do, but necklaces are doing really well.” Yoon’s own line “walks out”, but it’s the Dior men’s shop in the store, and Ahn’s work for the label, that has really caught the imagination of shoppers. “You know Dior are taking the men’s jewellery business seriously when they partner such awesome design talents as Kim Jones together with somebody as pioneering as Yoon,” says Cassidy. “Watch this space.” Ahn acknowledges consumers’ influence: “They have the power and they are going to dictate what the business is going to become.”
HOW THE HIGH SHINE HAPPENS
Ahn treats all her collections created with Jones as a joint endeavour, but for pre-fall, a talented third party joined the two. “This time was actually kind of a collaboration between [Hajime] Sorayama’s work and Kim’s,” says Ahn of the artist whose huge silver robot figure dominated that catwalk. “I wanted to capture that very mechanical, android aspect of his work. I imagined that the people wearing the clothes felt like androids as well – that’s where the jewellery ideas came from.”
How does your design process work? “I hand sketch, then we go into 2D drawings. And then we go into actual sizing, and then if it fits, we go into 3D drawings. And from there it goes into wax, and then, when we have the wax mould of the jewellery, we can see how it looks on the hand, and so on. If you feel like it’s right, then we go into casting.”
Ahn tries out everything she wears. Her work mixes fine metals and gems in new articulations and housings, but she has become a pin-up for not only new designs but how to wear them. “If you’re a chef and you’re serving the food without tasting it first… can you be sure?” she says. “The look is one thing, but you have to know how it feels. Are the pieces heavy or comfortable when you move? It’s so important to know, so I road test them.”
And today’s look? Any cool new jewellery moves? “Well, today I’m wearing a white diamond tennis bracelet,” she says, “but I’m actually wearing it round my neck – like a choker. And I’ve mixed that with gold hoop earrings. Is that cool enough?” Yes – always. And the rest.
Interview is taken from 10+ ISSUE TWO – EVERYONE, VOCAL, TOGETHER, available to order HERE.
SCHOOL OF ROCKS
Photographer Hiroshi Manaka
Fashion Editor Anna Pesonen
Text Richard Gray
Creative direction Anna Pesonen and Badé Fatona
Hair and make-up Rie Shiraishi
Talent Yoon Ahn
Set designer Akihiro Yamaya
Fashion assistant Mitja Olenik
Production Sae Nakamura