The current fashion industry could be compared to a turbulent and stormy sea: there is too much much noise and confusion all around and very little chance to find a safe direction. New designers appear on the horizon of the already rather clogged fashion week calendars, fuelling the thirst of the fashion media for something new and visually striking, a vapid search for that spark of innovation that is becoming more and more elusive.
Compared to the sound and fury reigning supreme in the industry, Mason Jung is a solid vessel, calmly sailing on. Born in Seoul, he graduated in Clothing and Textiles from Kyung Hee University before moving to London, where he continued his studies at the Royal College of Art. Restriction, order, convention, discipline and formal wear – themes inspired by his Korean roots and his two-year sting in the Korean army – inspired his graduation collection, paving the way for an in-depth research in menswear that literally subverts certain rules and canons.
Classical tailoring and craftsmanship are indeed mere starting points for Mason Jung's pieces as the designer looks at harmony, balance and proportions and more generally at the rules of construction of key garments to bend them. The results are wearable and desirable hybrid suits, pieces that literally destroy menswear archetypes, garments that lose their restrictive or controlling character thanks to subtle and almost invisible lines. A dress shirt turns into a denim or biker jacket; a coat fuses with a classic jacket; garments get unbalanced by surreal and magnified elements, from welt pockets to sleeves and collars, while specific details like plackets, collars and belts blend together to create continuous lines.
If you go beyond the conceptual research, you realise that Mason Jung is having fun and laughing at conventions, telling us that fashion should not be an empty chaos full of sound and fury, but a subtle and ironic game of sculpturally sartorial transformations.
You were recently featured in the "The Future of Fashion is Now" exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, how was it?
Mason Jung: It was an interesting exhibition which suggests various spectra and possibilities of fashion. From my collection Sleeping Suit (2009) and Blanket Suit (2009) were displayed. It was great to show the pieces in a static setting accompanied by narratives and process, which is more suited to communicate the nature of my work, rather than on a runway.
In your opinion, where is the real "future of fashion": in the techniques linked to printing, in specific materials like smart textiles, or will genuine innovations come from new solutions in tailoring?
Mason Jung: Innovation will happen in all areas in terms of creation and production. Technical advancement will enable designers to explore greater possibilities. However, what is desired is a different matter. It would be interesting to observe different phases of fashion in the past years to see how certain aesthetics and trends have been appreciated and then disregarded, and how the consensus was formed. Fashion is now more democratised and commercialised than ever, but popularity seems to be the most important measure to judge good fashion. Brands and designers are focusing more on PR activities than genuine contents. I think this has also somehow driven design into easy solutions such as surface decoration which can be readily understood and recognised. Ironically, despite advanced technology we are witnessing the most homogeneous fashion ever seen.
Your pieces reveal a time consuming research into fashion and menswear: do you think that nowadays the rhythms of the fashion industry are too fast and this is why, quite often, what we see on the runways does not produce real and tangible innovations?
Mason Jung: I think true innovation is being asked in how we communicate and consume fashion. Now we need to reconsider the fashion cycle - such as seasonal buy-and-clear distribution mechanisms - and wonder whether it is still a reasonable system for the future. In addition, fashion has also got great potential as a communication medium beyond seasonal commodities.
Last year you designed the Möbius shirt - how long did it take to develop such a clean, yet cleverly constructed piece?
Mason Jung: Sometimes an idea just pops up in your head like a songwriter conceiving a melody. However, realising the idea and configuring the physicality of a garment takes time. In the case of the Möbius shirt, I got the idea for a one piece garment a long time ago. I managed to merge the front and back of a shirt into one continuous pattern, but then I have been testing for a while how to make garments on different grains (direction of weave) to see how they fall differently and experimented with striped fabrics to maximise the effect of design. The whole development was carried on gradually with consideration over time.
Since you started designing, you have been experimenting with "camouflage" and have produced tailored hybrids - the biker jacket/dress shirt; the convertible shirt and the shirt with jacket sleeve - can hybridisation spawn innovation and, if yes, in which ways?
Mason Jung: My work started as visualisation of personal thoughts and views. Having spent my youth in a restricted society, it was more of a response to formality and restriction. The series "Camouflage" evokes conventions embedded in menswear. I devised fossilised details that remind of men's unchanged dress codes. The idea expanded into wider aspects of clothing and culture in fashion. The hybrids in the "Assemblage" series are instead the results of questioning categorial definitions of clothing. Hybridisation is a tool to visualise the enquiry and it often produces interesting results.
In your designs we can often detect elements and inspirations that look borrowed from other fields rather than just fashion/tailoring. Do disciplines such as art, architecture or science inform the construction of your pieces?
Mason Jung: I don't try to find source of inspirations, everything happens in an organic and natural way. My work has always been a representation of my enquiry adorned with personal aesthetic. But, when it comes to configuration and construction, I do take a more methodical and scientific approach and that often reflects in the designs.
Specific themes and elements have emerged from the latest menswear shows: there is a certain tendency to uniform and erase genders, and some critics stated that menswear looks more refreshing and revolutionary than womenswear. As a designer, would you agree with these points?
Mason Jung: I suppose menswear has been more conservative, in other words less explored and also less commercially fierce than womenswear, and this has created room for experiments.
Though you are considered as a menswear designer, some of your features would be great also in womenswear: would you reinterpret them in designs for women?
Mason Jung: Some of my work is deeply related with menswear, its conventions and limitations. These designs need to exist in their context to remain meaningful. Likewise, if I were to design womenswear I would start from an enquiry related to women.
What has changed in your design practice since you graduated?
Mason Jung: I have been operating a practice-based studio with all designs and manufacture done in-house. Over the past years, efficiency and productivity has been improving as experience and know-how accumulated.
What plans do you have for 2015?
Mason Jung: I will continue to expand and add new pieces to my collection. I am also working on a new project which will propose an exciting concept. You can keep updated about future developments on my site.
All images in this post courtesy/copyright Mason Jung.
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