Taipei, born designer Johan Ku, started his career as a graphic designer, and his collections dramatically demonstrate that influence as he blends geometric abstraction with sculptural knitwear to striking effect. While many young independent labels struggle to maintain longevity after their first few collections, Johan Ku continues to produce innovative structural knitwear and luxury ready-to-wear menswear and womenswear that strikes a balance between stunning expressive design and wearability. Over time, Ku has established himself as a knitwear designer to watch Winning Gen art’s Avant-Garde prize in 2009. This season, he created arguably his most beautiful designs, showcasing his AW22 collection through a digital film entitled ‘Jubilee’ as part of London Fashion Week. We caught up with the designer after he had previewed his collection to discover the inspiration behind it and to find out more about his love of the digital realm and his hopes for the future of the brand.
Congratulations on your AW22 collection, which we loved. What was the inspiration behind it?
The collection is inspired by geometric abstract arts and ancient Greek sculpture, as well as my curiosity of “What if both of them have a crash?”
While it continues to reference the Johan Ku sculptural silhouettes and feature unique textiles, it also shows you continuing to evolve as a designer. How important is that evolution to you, and what motivates you to keep striving to reach new levels?
It is quite important for me to keep the brand’s core value & aesthetics but still plus something more to expand the brand’s design assets and signatures. For example, in my runway debut collection, “The Two Faces”, on Tokyo Fashion Week October 2011, we did a full phosphorescent collection in which all the clothing glowed green or blue in the dark. In our AW19 collection “Sean”, which is inspired by the LGBT+ rights related movie “120 BPM”, we apply rainbows, pink and triangle icons into the collection for supporting the marriage equality issue in my hometown Taiwan. The motivation to keep evolving the brand’s DNA is simply because I would like to improve my design abilities and vision with the brand together.
It blends geometric abstraction graphics with your signature knits. You trained as a graphic designer, and we wondered how much that continues to inform the design process?
Colourways and patterns are often the first decisions I made for each collection. It must have some connections from my graphic design background, I guess.
How would you like the person who wears Johan Ku to feel about themselves when they wear one of your garments?
Feel not only confidently comfortable but also a piece of one-of-a-kind art as what they originally should be.
As with your previous pandemic collections, it showed in film format as part of London Fashion Week’s digital platform. Do you envisage continuing to concentrate on this medium post-pandemic, and do you have any preference between the cinematic scope and reach that film provides and the physical immediacy that comes with a live show?
As a long-term film lover and a fashion designer, it is quite natural for me to imagine the possibility between fashion and film. The dynamic interactions and vivid vibes of a physical show are also what a fashion film cannot replace. I think I am facing a dilemma without a very clear way out now. Any suggestions?
We understand you don’t have a physical shop and are wholly online. How beneficial was that in navigating the pandemic when so much physical retail suffered terribly, and how do you feel about the future of retail post-pandemic?
We have some physical retailers, but we only run an online shop to directly sell our designs to worldwide clients. I believe a physical flag shop is still necessary for certain brands. I also believe, however, the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance level of purchasing luxury goods online, and there is no way back.
We’ve seen many designers who have burst into the fashion industry and then disappeared after a couple of collections. What do you think the key to your success and longevity has been?
When I was a vocational school student majoring in Advertising Design, we were asked to study not only art skills and knowledge for graphic design but also basic knowledge in commerce. I had received a primary accounting lenience at the end of my first year because of that. Running a brand require skills and knowledge in design, production, trading, commerce, financing, plus more. Luckily or not, I have some foundations for all those things for running my own brand.
While you are on an ascendant journey as a designer, you have amassed a wealth of knowledge during your career to date. What advice would you give to the next generation of designers coming behind you?
The fashion business is literally “Fashion + business”. If you just want to create great fashion but have no interest in understanding how to run a business, working for other companies as a designer might be a better way than running your own brand.
The life of a designer can be a very pressurized one, particularly in these still uncertain times. How do you decompress and distress from those pressures?
Eat healthily, sleep well and having an easy-going life partner who loves you indeed might be my top three ways/elements of decompression.
Having shown us your beautiful AW22 collection, what goals and aspirations do you have for the brand for the rest of 2022?
A few days after we released our AW22 collection at London Fashion Week on 22nd February, the war in Ukraine took my heart away. World peace is the first thing that jumps to mind when I read your question. For the brand side, I wish we could have an interview in person, whether physical or online, for my SS23 collection, released on September 2022. Agree?
Johan Ku continues to produce innately wearable artwork while using it to address socio-political issues close to his heart. He is a master of sculptural innovation who has used his formative training and ingenuity to create a stunningly beautiful label that artfully blends exceptional design with wearable functionality. While the last few years have brought considerable challenges to the fashion industry, Johan’s choice to harness the digital realm and use it to his advantage shows a progressive thinker and highly enterprising designer. His latest collection elevates his label further, and for those who are lucky enough to own a piece of his work, they are also modern but sufficiently classic to be long-lasting, sustainable items. Johan Ku is a shining example of what great contemporary fashion should be.
Thanks to Johan for taking the time to talk to us and thanks to Andrea at Black PR for arranging it all.
You can connect with the brand here https://johanku.com/ and view the collection below.