INTERVIEW: MINHEE JO ON HER CULT LABEL ‘AAIZÉL’

[The Aaizél woman is] free-spirited yet sensitive and focused. I love working with earthy tones and silhouettes that enhance the wearer’s existing beauty.

Minhee Jo, Aaizél

AAIZEL, MINHEE-JO, BT-EMERGING-DESIGNER AAIZEL, MINHEE-JO, BT-EMERGING-DESIGNER AAIZEL, MINHEE-JO, BT-EMERGING-DESIGNER

Meet Minhee Jo, of Aaizél: the South Korean born Melbournite (by way of LA and Christchurch, no less), who’s changing the face of fashion one timeless, sustainably-sound creation at a time.

A finalist for this year’s BT Emerging Fashion Designer Awards, Minhee has been lauded for her clean, minimalistic approach to garmentry, fusing elements of both Eastern and Western artistry to create a portfolio of staples and statement pieces alike.

She’s also been requested by a string of the celeb sphere’s heaviest of hitters, including Queen Bey, Bella Hadid, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Jessie J and Ms Kim Kardashian West (to name but a humble few).

How’s that for a home-grown brand that launched little over three years ago…

We caught up with the burgeoning design talent, for an insight into her aesthetic, creative process and sustainable approach to garment making.

TJ: How does it feel to have been named one of three finalists for this year’s BT Emerging Fashion Designer award? What does this accolade mean to you?

MJ: Such an unexpected pleasant surprise! I feel very honoured to have been selected. Local support means so much to me as a micro-business trying to grow in such a competitive industry, and the feeling of being included in something this grand gives me courage to keep going and push harder. This award opportunity has so many benefits, especially for a small independent business like Aaizél where the right guidance, financial planning, exposure and support are desperately needed and this award offers exactly all the key things I dream to have.

TJ: This year’s competition placed quite a high emphasis on sustainability; how big of a factor is this in your design process?

MJ: Sustainability is a major factor in my design process; I’m a firm believer in slow fashion, encouraging people to value quality and longevity over quantity and trends. Each collection is designed upon these values, focusing on creating interchangeable, long lasting pieces with a season-less approach catering to both hemispheres. Aaizél has been working closely with a textiles agency where their fabrics are sourced predominantly from finely edited stock previously used by high end brands (where they are unable to repeat these fabrics after a season). Every collection consists of carefully sourced fabrics, ensuring that ethical practice is embraced within the local production process. Also, all cutting is carefully monitored and managed in-house to make sure there’s absolute minimum wastage. We also use electronic, paperless trade with couriers to avoid unnecessary paper wastage is being carried out. Its important that we are always conscious and informed about labour conditions, wastage, water footprints and fibres in fashion industry, it’s also important to take pride in heightening customer awareness of where all products come from, how they’re is made and the social and environmental impact of their production.

TJ: Tell us bit more about yourself. What initiated your desire to enter into the design sphere?

MJ: I moved around different countries growing up due to my father’s work until I was 19 – that’s when I finally settled in Melbourne. Being able to experience different cultures, people and diverse environments at a young age opened my eyes; it allowed me to have a wider vision and to realize that creativity is forever limitless. I’ve always wanted to be an artist of some sort. I moved to Melbourne to study fashion at RMIT, and Melbourne for me was the perfect base to set myself up as I fell in love with the atmosphere and various experiences the city offered.

TJ: Where do you source your creative inspiration?

MJ: People, nature, food, fabric swatches, busy streets, galleries, exhibitions… to name a few. My main creative interest is art history, both European and Asian art, so I usually tend to be inspired by paintings. Also travelling revitalises me every time, and I always come back with immense gratitude, good energy and fresh ideas for the next collection.

TJ: Are you inspired by any other artistic forms or modes of expression?

MJ: Historical dramas/movies. Also my obsession over late 90s, early 2000s supermodels.

TJ: Tell us about the design process. How do you go about actualizing your creative vision?

MJ: As much as I would like to be unlimited and explorative in designing, I do have to work within my own criteria which is obviously quite limited by budget and availability of resources; fabrics, trims, equipment etc. I treat every previous collection as my own competition and research, where I revisit and analyse what works and what needs to improve. Now that I know which silhouettes, styles and elements work well for my audience, I revamp around the key pieces, still carrying the brand’s aesthetic and character.

TJ: You’re known for successfully melding elements of Western, European and Asian artistry; how has your cross-locational upbringing informed your approach to design?

MJ: Through cross-locational upbringing, I’ve found everyone’s style and taste so intriguing, particularly seeing socio-demographics in other countries, and the ways in which they express themselves in different regions. I’ve always been drawn to the diverse distinctiveness as well as subtle similarities between Western European and Asian art, not only just through art but also costumes and garment construction. I would draw out some elements I love from a certain era from European art, and pair these with pattern techniques I found fascinating in East Asian costumes.

TJ: Your garments have adorned an impressive array of clients. If you could dress anyone, who would it be and why?

MJ: Daria Werbowy, I think I was 15 or 16 when I first saw her in a Prada campaign and I instantly became obsessed with her. I’m in love with her unconventional, delicate, sultry, refined beauty that never goes out of fashion. Everything about her is so captivating in my eyes. Also Lily-Rose Depp, Kiko Mizuhara, Zoë Kravitz, Rosamund Pike and Margot Robbie!

TJ: How would you describe your design aesthetic? Who is the ultimate Aaizél muse?

MJ: Free-spirited yet sensitive and focused. I love working with earthy tones and silhouettes that enhance the wearer’s existing beauty. If I were to pick one muse right now, it would be Tsunaina.

TJ: Home is…?

MJ: Melbourne, where my thoughts and creativity can turn into 3D.

TJ: What has been your career highlight to date?

MJ: Being approached by Net-a-Porter just recently. Also receiving support and love from key industry icons I admire via Instagram. Being a finalist for Lane Crawford Creative Callout and of course being in the top three for BT Emerging Fashion Design Award with an opportunity to present the collection on the runway!

TJ: Where do you see yourself in ten years-time? What’s next for Minhee Jo?

MJ: In ten years time, I see myself with a team producing four full collections per year and bringing more light to Australian fashion. I’ve always wanted to not only just bring awareness to sustainable development, but also do something with the brand to make a social impact, especially through organizations that focus on helping young children learn and dream. Being in a partnership with a NY based philanthropic luxury retailer where 20% of the proceeds from every purchase goes towards children in need around the world, makes me feel proud and Aaizél relevant in today’s society as I see so many great brands taking steps for future generations.

AAIZEL, MINHEE-JO, BT-EMERGING-DESIGNER
Minhee Jo

Follow: instagram.com/aaizel

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DESIGN FASHION INTERVIEW