In this sweet end of the afternoon, towards what spectacle are the (very) skinny models of Rokh heading? Dressed in the spring-summer 2022 collection, presented during Paris Fashion Week Thursday, September 30, these heroines stroll with a determined step in the monumental entrance vestibule of the Petit Palais. Perhaps for the premiere of a Don Giovanni at the Opera, suggest the long gloved arms, an embroidered bustier dress and another with a long train, the feathered tops, the pieces devoured with crystals, the lace details… Yet, on these same silhouettes, the cargo pants , PVC mini dresses, deconstructed denim trench coats and outfits or letter vermeil jewelry made from helium balloons plead instead for a punk concert by The Damned, whose electric guitar strands twist at full volume.
“I wanted to marry this season a masculine utilitarian vocabulary, patch pockets, rigid cotton, with very feminine evening references, a theatrical glamor all in silk satin”, says the author of this explosive mix, Rok Hwang, the day before the show, between two fittings. If this is only the sixth collection that he unveils during the Parisian fashion week, many, already, have stopped looking at the thirty-something as a beginner. His dismantled and recomposed locker room and his prestigious CV (three years studying in Phoebe Philo’s studio at Céline, then consultations for Chloé and Louis Vuitton), coupled with his immediate sympathy, made him a designer esteemed by the more aesthetes of buyers and stylists.
His strength ? Classic pieces with a bourgeois appearance – the gabardine trench coat, the blazer, the floral dress… – but dismantled, groomed according to his wishes. Under the hand of the one who drapes himself in his studio in north London, before developing techniques and products with his team of eight, the houndstooth cardigan transforms into an architectural top. The wrap skirt flips up. The raincoat is reborn as a mini-skirt. Asymmetrical seams, removable sleeves, buttons on Sunday with Monday, etc. are favored.
A singular language
Son of a professor and an academic who teaches economics, born in South Korea, Rok Hwang grew up in Austin, Texas, in the family trailer. “I was a good boy with, deep inside me, a certain penchant for rebellion that I expressed little”, he says, a rascal smile. Attracted by the British music scene, from the Stone Roses to Joy Division, he landed in Manchester in 2004, “Naive and stupid”, and discovers there a whole unsuspected creative population: Gothic creatures, melancholic punks … The day he stumbles upon a documentary on the Central Saint Martins school, he understands that he is more made for visual creation than musical creation, integrates the course with ease, forges a taste for conventional codes “To brutalize, to make nervous”.
From the launch of his personal label Rokh (his first name taken from the initial of his name) in 2016, buyers supported him, a special LVMH prize in 2018 further comforting him. It must be said that his singular language is a double blow. Rok Hwang attracts minimalists who sniff the quality of European manufacturing and taste his speech on a timeless garment (rather than registering the season, each label of his designs prefers to display a permanent “0000” next to the logo). But it also touches a public sensitive to the intimate memories discreetly narrated by its collections: an American road trip in 1994 in his father’s Lincoln for the summer of 2020, an ode to his sister for the winter of 2020, his anxieties of child for summer 2021 …
“Now that I have a loyal clientele, I gladly interact with those who wear my pieces, to understand their expectations, refine the cuts, keep a commercial reality”, he says, immediately answering yes when asked if he feels he is improving over time. “My work was a kind of private diary, witness to my feelings, bearer of my poetry. Today, little by little, it becomes more of a dialogue. “