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Ambush SS16 lookbook
Ambush SS16 lookbookCourtesy of Ambush

Japanese jewellery inspired by subcultural rebels

Following collaborations with Louis Vuitton and Sacai, the designer behind Ambush talks disaffected youth and new male attitudes to jewellery

The jewellery label Ambush has come a long way since its beginnings in 2008, when its creators, Japanese rapper Verbal and his wife Yoon were announcing their presence through eyeball necklaces and brightly coloured enamelled rings that said “POW”. Ambush has since garnered collaborations with Sacai, Kim Jones for Louis Vuitton and Jun Takahashi’s Undercover as well as admiration from the apex of K-pop stars – like CL and G-Dragon, who happened to be chilling in their showroom during Paris menswear week, when yours truly went to check out their latest collection entitled “Halbstarke”.

Named after the subcultural and rebellious movement of Americana-obsessed German teens in the 1950s, the collection evokes the mood of Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberger’s portrayal of these disenfranchised youths with its junky assemblages of metal padlocks and weighty sterling silver chains. The central motif is the bent metal nail, curved into rings and pendants. It’s a clever inverted reference to the traditional Japanese proverb “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down,” as Verbal and Yoon are seeking to rebel in their own way with what they’re doing at Ambush. As the husband and wife duo get set to open their first store in Shibuya in Tokyo, we spoke to Yoon, the creative force behind Ambush, about her ambitions and the innately Japanese approach towards subcultures.

What attracted you to the Halbstarke kids in Weinberger’s photographs?

Yoon: I was drawn to the extreme style of these blue collar kids, a DIY fashion which was kind of mocking masculine and feminine stereotypes yet had a very disaffected and pure attitude about it. They seemed oblivious of how stunning they looked in the pictures which made them more beautiful to look at. All the puncturing, stitching and riveting were so raw, and that’s the same spirit we take in our approach to making accessories. We don’t look at jewellery as a status symbol but as an extension of self-expression. 

What made you two want to start Ambush in the first place and how has the aesthetic changed since you first started?  

Yoon: A few years ago, we were looking for jewellery for a show but couldn’t find anything suitable and decided to make customised pieces with some jewelers we knew. Friends started asking for pieces so we made small  ‘POW!’ rings to give out. Next thing you know stores were asking for them so the demand grew. By around 2012, after a few more playful pieces we thought it through and decided to put together a full collection with a story behind it.

Ambush started out from an honest place of just wanting to make what we wanted to make. Our approach was much more juvenile, naive in a sense. We didn’t think about how we could turn it into a huge house or even a five-year plan. Our style was more bold and loud – kind of like who can scream the loudest to be heard. Over time, we started to see that sometimes it’s not about the volume but getting hold of the right keynote to cut through the noise. With our new direction, making all our pieces in sterling silver, we are definitely onto the next chapter as a brand. The response has been really good. 

Your jewellery is unisex – how have you seen men’s attitudes towards jewellery change over the years?  

Yoon: Contrary to popular belief, it always been men who had the most ostentatious looks with jewels because it was a symbol of power and status throughout the history for centuries. So I find it a bit interesting when people look at men who wear lots of jewelry as a feminine thing in our time. I also see some distinction between Asian men and Western men. Asian men tends to be more fluid and delicate with their style because they are less restricted by the ideals of masculinity, thus more playful when it comes to accessorising.

The Japanese seem to be really skilled at reinterpreting established subcultures like, for example, the Japanese take on English punk. Why do you think that is? How do you avoid cliches or straight-forward pastiches? 

Yoon: Japan is an island country where cultures and subcultures have been imported, so people’s interpretations of cultures are often based on experience in the third person and automatically appropriated in their head. When it comes to inspiration, I’m not interested in the literal surface facade, I always try to understand and seek what those people sought and try to find answers to why I was drawn to them in the first place. That’s the place where ideas come from.

“Asian men tends to be more fluid and delicate with their style because they are less restricted by the ideals of masculinity, thus more playful when it comes to accessorising” – Yoon, Ambush

How important is it that Ambush’s pieces are crafted in Japan? I know you guys research very deeply into the way your pieces are made and the origins of certain makers.  

Yoon: Very important to us. Since we are still at the growing stage as a brand, it’s wonderful to be able to head to the factory anytime, talk over and get it down to details with the artisans. Also it’s a good feeling to give something back to the society in our own way.

Ambush has had a lot of hype and of course you have a lot of cool celebrity endorsement. How do you avoid the pitfalls of fast-paced hype to build a brand with longevity?  

Yoon: We believe in an organic process of growth. We don’t do forced paid advertising with people we don’t know. It just happens that some of our friends are well-known people in the industry and they are showing love because they believe in what we create. Also, customers are too smart for that now. They will see right through what’s unnatural.