After being named the top designer at the Paris Fashion Week in February last year, Grace Moon came to Bangladesh. Her agents, friends and acquaintances were curious. Why Bangladesh? It seemed a very unlikely destination for the renowned Korean-American designer. But she went ahead with the trip and fell in love with Bangladesh. And she is back again. She recently exhibited her collection in Dhaka. Grace Moon spoke to Prothom Alo on her trip, fashion and a variety of issues in a recent interview.
After being named the best designer at the Paris Fashion Week in February last year, you came to Bangladesh as a part of the jury for Face of Asia. Did you know much about Bangladesh before that?
Actually Bangladesh’s readymade garments have a positive image in the international arena. Many well-known brands make their clothes here. That’s about as much as I knew.
How did people react when they heard you were off to Bangladesh immediately after the Paris Fashion Week glory?
No one could believe it. Actually after success in Paris, everyone has all sorts of plans. Plus the pandemic had started and so everyone was concerned. But I didn’t budge from my decision.
Why have you come back again now? Were there any obstructions in coming during the pandemic?
No obstruction, but many were worried this time too. But as I said, I stick to my decisions. I felt a pull from within. Or let me put it this way, destiny has brought me to Bangladesh.
In these two trips, how much could you get to know about the fashion industry here?
My first trip was very brief. But from whatever I could observe, I felt there was a lot of potential here. That made me particularly interested.
This time I have managed to stay longer, visited the stores, seen the work. The clothes are a lot like the Koreans’. The colours are interesting. But to tell the truth, there is still a lot I haven’t seen yet.
What are you thinking about Bangladesh? Any plans, any collaboration?
I am not a traditional custom designer. I am a western commercial designer. Even so, saris have entranced me. There is scope to work with this. Perhaps in the future.
The world is going through strange times. The fashion industry is going through a tough patch too. What are you planning, once things are back to normal?
So much has happened. Companies have been bankrupted, people have lost jobs, wages have been slashed, we have had to face so much adversity. Even so, there are three essentials that will always be needed – food, clothing and shelter. Then again, as a designer, as a creative person, we have to think what can be done ahead. I like working with newcomers and I do so. Like this time I worked with Azim. I stand by them.
What lesson has the pandemic given those involved in the fashion industry?
To be prepared for any situation – that is perhaps the biggest lesson because before this, we couldn’t think this way.
After World War II, Christian Dior’s ‘new look’ emerged on the scene. Will there be anything like that this time? Anything new and startling?
We designers are crazy. We are capable of doing just about anything. But now there is a lot of research into anti-virus clothing. People are looking towards organic thread, organic fabrics. So certainly something new will come up. Everyone is preparing for the future.
This times there were physical and digital fashion weeks and combinations of both. Which one are you for?
(Laughing after giving the question some thought) Physical. I say that because it is spontaneous. We are being deprived of human touch because of this pandemic. Seeing, talking, touching are all so very important. That’s why I am for physical.
There is a lot of talk about manufacturing recycled durable products. Is this reflected at all in your work?
I have been working on recycled clothing and even have created a collection. I want to do more. There is another thing. Plastic is a big concern globally. There is an enterprise that makes yarn out of this plastic. I am working with them.
Purchasing trends are changing. Most people are buying less, but buying better quality or buying what they actually want, something lasting. So what’s going to happen with fast fashion?
Actually there is a good side and a bad side to fast fashion. There are people who are behind the process. We have to look at things differently. We have to bring the story behind the scenes to the forefront. People are being exploited in the name of fast fashion. This needs to be changed.
Questions are now being raised about the justification of fashion weeks. The fashion week is facing a threat of extinction. How do you see the fashion week?
It is a creative storm. So much money and time is spent on just 20 minutes. But the youth can learn so much from there. This is a matter of pride for designers. They don’t do it just for fame. I think the fashion week must stay.
You were invited to present your collection at the New York fashion week in 2017. The patterns you used there, the colours and designs had reminiscence of Yves Saint Laurent. We you inspired by YSL?
Not really. I was actually wanting to uphold my heritage. That is my inspiration. I am a Korean American. When I am in America too, people think of me as Korean. I feel a designer’s identity is important. That is what I displayed in New York.
I basically like bright colours. Here too I exhibited colourful clothes. I like to display different colours in different ways. A fashion show is more than just exhibiting clothes, it is telling a story. At least, that is the way I think, the way I exhibit.
As an 18-year-old, you left behind your familiar world to study abroad. Were you scared at all?
Of course I was. I was really scared. I had learnt English, but not perfectly. I see here the young people speak English quite fluently.
Why did you choose to study fashion design?
From a very early age I had a knack for handwork. I would make all sorts of things. It came to me naturally. And I also wanted to be an icon. I wanted to inspire others. Not in Korea, but I wanted people in America, Europe and the Asian-Americans to follow me.
Korean, Japanese and Chinese designers are doing very well. They are attending the Fashion Weeks. How do you explain that?
They are certainly doing very well, but there are differences. Japanese designers get sponsors. The others don’t. Sponsorship is extremely important for such work. Also, there is another thing I realise because I live abroad. One has to understand the mindset of the western fashion world. The Asian designers haven’t been able to do so as yet.
What about the Indians?
They have talent. Their play with colours is brilliant. But outside of that, I don’t see any other feature that can attract me, that can win international attention.
Would you like to work with Indian designers?
Actually, I am interested in their culture, in seeing the way they work. But I really am not interested in working with them. I am more interested in working with Bangladesh. There are many talented young people here. It would be wonderful to guide them. That is one of the reasons of working with Azim.
Do you have any icon?
Certainly. Coco Chanel is my all-time icon. She has influenced me in all sorts of ways, has inspired me.
Do you have any message for the newcomers?
There is no shortcut to success. You must make an effort. You must learn. There is no alternative to this. You have to break yourself down regularly and build yourself up again. Most importantly, many have the potential, but how many can translate that into success? You must take on that challenge and go ahead.
* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir