Fashion Designer Rejina Pyo’s approach pretty much sums up the era we are in and shows us how being stylish without doing too much is definitely the new cool. At the intersection of the worldwide fashion industry concerns, the designer has created a brand that addresses an environmentally-friendly and inclusive perspective. She proposes well-cut pieces, puffy-sleeved dresses, retro tailoring, and organic color combinations that don’t always attach to any one trend. Through training, trials, and no budget campaign, her croc-effect bags and pumps are recognizable by all and seen on every fashionista. Based in London since her beginnings, the brand is praised for being, at the same time, a retail and street-style sensation.
Meet Fashion Designer Rejina Pyo
Born in South Korea, Rejina Pyo belongs to the new generation of emerging and independent designers who are redefining the fashion landscape. Her designs possess the right measure between ready-to-wear, elegance without doing too much and timelessness. Pyo studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Known for its massive flow of alumni to international fashion houses, Pyo imagined a career worthy of her ambitions. Although her eponymous brand is presented in the London Fashion Week, the designer keeps an eye on the Korean fashion industry in full swing. For All the Pretty Birds, the founder and fashion designer Rejina Pyo shared her brand’s humble beginnings, her love for vintage, the figures who inspired her not to give up her vision, and the downside of becoming an Instagram social media superstar.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: You seem to have a deep admiration for puffy-sleeved dresses, retro tailors, and unexpected color combinations. How much of your own style is in your creations? Does vintage play a fundamental role in the way you envision clothing and how it influences your brand?
Rejina Pyo: I have always been drawn to unconventional, bold color combinations and architectural silhouettes. These are definitely the signature of the brand. My personal wardrobe is a mix of vintage pieces and my own label. I wouldn’t say I like anything to feel too over-thought or obvious. I want it to feel effortless and fun to wear. The draw of vintage to me is that each piece feels personal and unique to you. It’s not a trend item that everyone has for one season. It has been sourced with care. I hope that women wear my pieces in the same way, mix with other pieces they love, be creative with their style, and take risks.
AWK: Seoul has its fashion week and seems to steal the show from its neighbor, Tokyo, which offers a more offbeat vibe. Korean style is full of promising design talent, glittering street style, and a genuine interest in what’s next. How do you keep an eye on what is happening in Seoul? In your opinion, what’s so special about Korean fashion? What is your relationship with the new wave of Korean creators? How would you explain the media’s appeal to this new wave?
RP: We have a team and an office in Seoul, as well as many Korean employees in our London office, so we are still very connected to the culture and lifestyle there as a brand. When I go back, Seoul sometimes feels like visiting the future. I used to feel that Korean style was more casual than British style, but now it has really evolved very quickly as a leader in fashion, beauty, and design culture.
AWK: You are a graduate of one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world, Central Saint Martins. Today many alumni are at the head of big houses or their own brands. From the American Marc Jacobs, the Greek Mary Katrantzou, or the Serbian Roksanda Ilincic for whom you worked with. What distinguishes the institutions from other design schools? Were you ever afraid to lose a part of yourself by entering such a large international structure? Did Korea lack enough infrastructure to propel you to this level?
RP: When I was younger in Seoul, reading fashion magazines and designer profiles, all the great designers seemed to come from CSM. I decided that is where I wanted to apply, and I got in, and even though it was a huge risk, I enrolled in the MA program. The transition was difficult; when I first arrived, I did not speak much English, and it was an extremely challenging academic environment. However, my tutor, the late Louise Wilson, really pushed us to be the best designers we could be. We used to say that graduating from that program was a badge of honor! I did feel like to have the kind of brand I wanted to build; I wanted to stay in London. Back then, Korean fashion did not have the profile it did today. When I first started to meet with buyers, they would tell me that they didn’t want to buy a “Korean Brand” even though we were based in the UK. I’m happy to see that this is now changing, and designers from Korea are becoming more prevalent in the international scene.
AWK: What’s interesting about your eponymous brand is that you understand the woman’s body. Your pieces are elegant without being flashy, modern without necessarily sticking to the trend, and well-cut without being too tight. What are your sources of inspiration? And above all, what are the particularities when a woman creates for other women?
RP: My team of women and I are in constant conversation about who is wearing the piece and their concerns. The items are never designed just for a runway. We are all our own customers.
AWK: You’ve mentioned your mother as a primary source of inspiration in design. You also refer to your mentor, Louise Wilson, a cult professor at Central Saint Martins, as a second mother. What did these two figures have in common in your fashion journey? What did they instill in you?
RP: I have always felt that my mother was ahead of her time. She was a designer, owned a gallery, and from a young age, instilled in me the idea that we should consume ethically and minimize waste. She is my biggest inspiration to this day. Louise helped me to define who I was as a designer. Obviously, there is a tendency to try and stand out in fashion school and become loudest or the most avant-garde. She taught us that it was really about figuring out your true strengths as a designer and becoming the best at that.
AWK: You grew up in Seoul, a homogeneous society. Then you arrived in London, where cultural diversity is everywhere. What was your initial reaction? What impact has this had on your brand? And why is it necessary to realize more inclusion in fashion?
RP: One of the reasons I wanted to study and live in London was its multicultural landscape. Prior to moving here, I had never experienced racism, so it was a shock to be confronted by it for the first time in my life and to experience it first hand. As a result, it is very important to me both personally and as a brand to be an instrument for change within racial injustice and lead by example with inclusivity, in all its forms, at the forefront of everything we do.
AWK: You’ve become the favorite designer of influencers. From Copenhagen to London and Milan, Rejina Pyo bags and shoes flooded Instagram to the point of being part of the influencer’s basic uniform. Instagram is a great tool to strengthen an emerging brand’s community like yours. When does it get to be too much for you? Are you afraid of being too fashionable?
RP: When the brand first launched, Instagram was an amazing tool for getting significant exposure on no budget. Influencers and editors embraced the brand, relationships we continue to foster and develop. To this day, we only advertise in this organic way. We don’t buy ads or produce massive campaigns. However, I prefer that the brand be a slow burner rather than short-lived instant success. I don’t want to be too oversaturated so that people feel it’s too trendy. We really want to focus on creating lasting quality garments that can be cherished over many years, not this year’s bag or shoe.
AWK: The global economy has been hit hard by Covid-19. How do you think of Rejina Pyo’s teamwork under these circumstances? Are you thinking of reducing the number of pieces per collection or continue with your approach before Covid-19?
RP: We are very proud of how the team managed to keep everything going during the lockdown and continue to do so. We were presented with very new, very real challenges; however, we decided to use this as an opportunity to slow down and rethink how we are doing things and make some fundamental changes. This has been the silver lining to such incredibly challenging times.
AWK: Do you think fashion has finally become more democratic, more environmentally-friendly, and more inclusive after international confinement? What is Rejina Pyo’s positioning in this new world?
RP: Another positive effect of these strange times was an outpouring of conversations around environmental impact, inclusivity, and the fashion industry’s future. This unique situation we were all in together sort of forced the industry to consider what was essential to operate and how change is possible. We looked inward and took the time to reflect on ourselves and how our businesses were structured. I hope that we continue to learn and grow and to improve as we have.
Images supplied by Rejina Pyo.