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Backstage at the AW20 Fashion East London Fashion Week
Goom HeoPhotography Simone Steenberg

Goom Heo is the much-memed Korean designer subverting modern masculinity

The former Dazed 100 designer made her debut as part of the Fashion East family at LFW this weekend

Goom Heo doesn’t make the kind of menswear that will see you blend into the crowd: in fact, her wildly imaginative clothing will do quite the opposite. From trousers that look like a cascade of soft, sheer fabric and tight, knitted bodysuits rendered in angular geometric patterns, to her brilliantly bizarre square-toed leather boots, the Korean designer creates menswear as if there were no rules. 

Having grown up in South Korea before moving to Springfield, Illinois, Heo landed in London to study at Central Saint Martins without any prior experience in fashion. Despite this, she completed a BA and an MA, switching from womenswear to menswear in the process: “I was a bit bored and wanted to try something different,” she explains of the decision. The move made sense, given her creative vision isn’t so much about gender but personal expression through clothes. 

Now, having caught the attention of founder Lulu Kennedy, Heo joins the Fashion East fold for AW20, making her debut as part of the family – alongside the likes of Saul Nash, Gareth Wrighton, and Ancuta Sarca – at London Fashion Week this weekend. It’s not just Kennedy and the industry’s press and buyers that have fallen for her subversive aesthetic, though. Heo has also won over fashion’s number one critic, the internet, with her graduate collection having been turned into a series of memes which, knowingly or otherwise, exemplify the radical evolution of men’s style. 

Here, following her first ever Fashion East show, we catch up with Heo, to talk Korean culture, ‘normal’ dressing, and her unique, offbeat vision.

Was there a specific moment when you realised you wanted to be a fashion designer? 

Goom Heo: I never thought I wanted to do fashion or be a fashion designer. I went to the States as an exchange student to study to be a translator, which is a very different profession! While there, I watched a documentary about Central Saint Martins and all the best fashion schools in the world and realised I wanted to go there, so I started preparing my portfolio. I don’t have any art or fashion background, so I wasn’t sure what to prepare. It was the first time I actually did proper drawings and collages.  

Do you think moving to London influenced your vision a lot? 

Goom Heo: Definitely, because in both Korea and the States I lived in small towns, so what I saw in terms of people or art and culture was very limited. When I moved to London, it was like a different world. I met so many of my friends from all different places, and what I saw every day was very new and fresh. 

Do you reference Korean culture in your work? Or is there something about the culture surrounding clothes that you try to hold on to? 

Goom Heo: Definitely. It really came through when I did my final collection in BA. It was mainly about people back home, and in other Asian countries – I found myself very interested in how they dress and styles on the streets. I didn’t appreciate it before, how cool people style themselves. But when I came back after studying in London, I found it very striking, especially the older people. It wasn’t about tradition or subcultures, more about people I saw on the streets in my hometown. 

Would you say the attitude people have to clothes and dressing is very different in Korea compared to the West? 

Goom Heo: Now, I think it's kind of similar. But the one thing I realised when I moved was that people didn't appreciate vintage or old clothes back home. I find vintage very interesting because of how unique it is. But I think now in Korea and other Asian countries, people appreciate old clothes or vintage more, and also they can express themselves through dressing by just being really like, you know, iconic.

What was the most important thing you learnt at Central Saint Martins?

Goom Heo: To believe in yourself and what you do, but to always question it because you can't just be happy with what you've done, you have to strive to be better. I also learnt to trust myself to move forward

You studied womenswear before switching to menswear. Why did you make this decision? 

Goom Heo: When I did an internship at Kenzo over my placement year I was in the menswear department even though I didn't have any background in menswear. I think with all the experience I had there when I came back to do the final year I just wanted to try. Even my garments for women were never about fitted dresses, it was always based on menswear-type block designs and patterns. I was also a bit bored and wanted to try something new! 

Is there a particular reason why you prefer menswear? 

Goom Heo: I think it’s not really about the preference of doing menswear or womenswear, it’s more about the people I want to show my clothes on. It’s more about people than it is about gender. I often see my clothes put on women by stylists as well. 

Do you ever find menswear as a field is a bit conservative – that it’s all about jackets and trousers, and essentially dressing normal? 

Goom Heo: I don’t think so – in St Martins especially they don’t teach this way. I had my own idea of what menswear should be like, and it was never about other people telling me what it should be like. You never get told that you have to have skills or be able to make a good tailored jacket. I was the only person concerned about that, but making a collection helped me overcome this. Menswear can be anything.