the korean designer reclaiming the meaning of weird
Goom Heo won the prestigious L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award for her CSM MA collection, and now the young Korean designer is planning her next move.
Photography Reece + Dean
As the lights went down on the CSM MA fashion show in February, Goom Heo was awarded the prestigious L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award alongside her classmate Sheryn Akiki. It was her second accolade, having won the equivalent BA prize back in 2017. "I thought I’d screwed up because I couldn’t speak very well in my interview," she recalls. "I found out about ten seconds before they called my name and just couldn't believe it! Now, Goom is back in her native Korea, gathering her thoughts and getting ready for her return to London.
Goom’s off-kilter sportswear earns its sophisticated stripes in a new collaboration with photographic duo Reece + Dean. Strips of blue and green jersey adorn the arms of a monochrome striped bodysuit, like a subversive Sonic the Hedgehog with a black plastic codpiece. Another look — flowing brown chiffon erupting from bold, geometric embroidery — provides a more metaphorical sonic boom. Her work is an otherworldly ode to the spaces and places she has occupied. “I grew up in South Korea, spent some time studying in Illinois and now live in London,” she says. “My work is inspired by all of those places. Some people see my designs as crazy, but I just think of them as everyday clothes.”
You’ve lived in a lot of very different places, each with vastly different approaches to fashion. How have those experiences shaped your work?
My hometown — Jinju in South Korea — is really quiet and a lot of the people there are farmers, so there is nothing related to art. I didn’t even know how to draw, because in Korean schools you are taught to reproduce what you see in front of you; there is no creativity. Then during high school, I went to Illinois as an exchange student and took an art class which was so free, I couldn’t believe it. My teacher showed me a documentary about fashion schools and I decided that I wanted to go to CSM because of that. I started preparing my portfolio as soon as I got back to Korea. I changed a lot during my foundation year at CSM. I had never dyed my hair in Korea and always wore simple colours because I wasn’t brave enough to try anything bolder or more playful. Seeing how my friends at CSM dressed up inspired me so much. It made me want to try something new.
When I went back to Korea for summer after my first year, my hair was pink and blue and I dressed differently to everyone else. People in my hometown just didn’t understand it. They were so shocked, they would call me “crazy” and “weird” and whisper about me. That was a few years ago, but this collection is a delayed way of processing that reaction. I wanted to redefine and reclaim those words to show that what other people see as crazy and weird could just be normal. Those things don’t have to mean standing out or having people point at you.
The idea of dressing up for the everyday and normalising “crazy” clothes is really popular at CSM — who do you imagine wearing your clothes?
Yeah, watching what other students were wearing definitely gave me the confidence to dress differently and rethink what normal was for me. There’s no specific person I design for, though. I do menswear, but it could be for anyone, anyone brave enough to walk down the street, get on a tube and go to work in my clothes and not be ashamed of what they’re wearing. In the kind of world I imagine those people living in, my clothes are just normal everyday clothes.
You took a year-long break after your BA to recalibrate, before switching from womenswear to menswear for your final collection. Why did that break feel necessary and what did you learn from it?
It was about myself as a designer and how I wanted to change and progress. To be honest, I was really scared when I decided to take that break. All of my best friends were in my class and they would have graduated by the time I got back. Even my tutor advised me not to do it, but I just wanted to go home, go somewhere that has nothing to do with fashion. It was really relaxing, although I did end up taking a course on traditional Korean embroidery with a load of grannies! I realised I wanted to do something different. But even then, menswear wasn’t on my radar. It had always seemed too technical and difficult. I worked on menswear at Kenzo for my placement year, which finally prompted me to make the switch. After that, my work developed a lot. It felt more natural.
Your designs have received both critical acclaim and popular critique — you won the L’Oréal Professionnel awards for both your BA and MA collections, but the former was made into a series of memes. How did that impact your work?
When I started my MA, I had the added pressure of living up to my BA, because I’d won the L’Oréal Professionnel Young Talent Award. Fabio [Piras, director of the MA Fashion course at CSM] realised that and helped me to block that out. I just tried to focus on my own work. I couldn’t believe it when Fabio told me I’d won again. There are so many people at CSM who get recognition and coverage before they’ve had a chance to figure out their aesthetic. I want people to judge me by my work, so I want my work to represent me.
As for the memes of my BA collection, I loved them! My brother kept sending me links when comedians were making fun of my work. People in Spain and even in Korea were seeing my work — I found it so funny. Those people didn’t work in fashion, but they were still interested in my work. I think less about what people say about my work and more about the statement I’m trying to make. If I design for the statement I want to make, the reactions will come without me trying. Whether it’s a good or a bad reaction, it’s better than nothing.
Has was this collaboration with Reece + Dean?
We had so much fun on set. It inspires me to see someone from a completely different area of fashion change my collection in such a cool way. They thought of poses I never would have suggested and brought a sense of drama to the clothes. I think it captured how the clothes look walking down the catwalk: the way the chiffon pieces expand and flow freely whilst the tighter clothes underneath create contrast. We also found a great hair and make-up artist, Daeun Jung, who mirrored my textile prints on the wigs. I’m really happy with the photos!