If you think of the fashion designer Andre Kim as just a flamboyant figure of fun, think again. Kim is a shrewd businessman whose company makes W100 billion (US$1=W928) in sales from products using his name as a brand, and a hard worker who stages over 20 fashion shows per year, at home and abroad. There are 17 trademarks registered at the Korea Industrial Property Office under the name Andre Kim. Among them, a dozen or so are available under design license contracts and those include apartments, air conditioners, credit cards, bedclothes, lingerie and children’s clothes.
Kim is staging yet another fashion show to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic relations, a major part of a three-day Korean Wave festival, which started Wednesday. The show’s finale featured K-pop star Ivy.
Kim, then, is a crossover figure between pop culture, fashion and a star marketing. His slow, self-taught English and very marked Seoul accent are so unique that comedians love to mimic them. Once accused of contaminating the Korean language with his frequent use of English words such as “elegance”, “fantastic” and “beautiful”, he takes pride in speaking the Queen’s English.
You hold a lot of design licenses from apartments to refrigerator to air conditioner to children’s clothes. You must make good money.
“I’m very thankful. It seems many Koreans are disappointed that I only make haute couture. I want to make prêt-a-porter in the future, but that’s still just a plan. So I found a way to get closer to everyone through popular items like lingerie.”
Do you design all your products yourself?
“I bring my unique style and ideas to every item. Designers design items based on my ideas, and I make the final decision.”
For many decades, there have been rumors and gossip about him. Long Korea’s only male fashion designer and famous for wearing makeup, he has adopted and raised a son but never married. His proclivity to use beautiful male models has also raised some eyebrows.
You are famous for the love of your son.
“Yes, ever since I had my son, I’ve been truly happy. Now I know how all mothers and parents feel.”
In 1982, Kim adopted a five-month-old baby boy. Kim told him he was adopted when the child was five. Kim junior studied French literature at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and married one of the designers in Andre Kim’s atelier when he was 22. The couple had twins two years ago.
Why did you become a fashion designer?
I liked clothes even when I was a boy. When I saw a bride wearing a jok-du-ri (or bridal tiara), hwal-ot (traditional wedding outfit), and traditional wedding makeup, it was so beautiful. As I remember it, Korea was very beautiful and clean in the past. During the Japanese colonization and right after the Korean War, my village in the countryside was very poor. Yet a new bride wore new clothes for a year. Though it was economically difficult, people were always clean, neat and beautiful. The kitchen was gleaming, and my mother always wiped the floor clean. When I see today’s well-off people with their dirty houses, I get really annoyed. Even when we were poor, our food, clothes, and houses were clean and aesthetic. We are people with a high taste for culture.
You lived all your life surrounded by beautiful men and women but you aren’t married.
I enjoyed my work and I had affection for everyone around me. After some time passed, I lived for my son. If I had married, I would have been a very good husband. A loyal, faithful and true husband.”
During the two-hour interview, he uses the words “honesty” and “diligence” more than 20 times.
Why couldn’t you have fallen in love?
“I love my work too much. Even now I work on weekends since time is precious. On holiday, I continued my work overseas.
Do you like men more than women?
“No. I have more girl friends. No matter how much our world has changed and opened, I still like women with virtue, knowledge and intellect who take care of people around them and with a balanced character.
Who do you live with now?
“Before my son got married and moved out three years ago, I lived with him. Now I live with a housekeeper in the same apartment building as my son.
Do you do your own makeup?
“Of course. I apply basic cream, foundation and powder. I do the eye makeup as well. I dye my hair every day since I wash my face every day.
Transforming himself from a designer of fantasy into an entrepreneur, Kim may be a kind of barometer to gauge the diversity and openness of Korean society.