Meet the designer behind one of the most exciting brands in Korean fashion
For Donju Shin, the designer behind the breathtaking Seoul based fashion brand XIDOZU, the person who wears the clothes has always been more interesting to him than the clothes themselves. For him, fashion is a medium through which the character is communicated. It is an abstract expression of a person’s inner life, a means through which their story can be conveyed without uttering a word. We caught up with him recently to delve a little deeper into his own perspective on fashion, the genesis of the brand, and how storytelling influences his work.
YUGEN: Could you tell us a bit more about the creation of your brand, how it came about, and what the core inspirations and motivations behind it were?
DongJu: I studied fashion for four years in college and it was more interesting to see people in fashion than to be excited about fashion itself. I was excited by and interested in people's inner thoughts and stories. The stories of people who were a little strange were always a pleasure in my life. With this interest in people’s stories, I fell in love with the characters in books, the jokes of the boys on the street, and the unique language of the actors in movies. The expressions of the men in the cartoons and old photos I saw were always so interesting to me. So I began to reinterpret them and created surreal stories about them. At some point, I began to want to share my imagination with others and this naturally led to the beginning of the brand. There was no dramatic motive. The stories of people and the reinterpretation of human inner thoughts are the core inspiration behind XIDOZU
YUGEN: Could you speak more about the inspiration for the brand name?
DongJu: XIDOZU is my imperfect name. I simply erased a few letters from my real name. Brand names are usually the name of the designer, but strangely enough, I felt an instinctive refusal to put my real name in the brand name. I didn't think there was a specific reason for this, I think it was just my personal inclination. Now that I look back at it, I think I erased a part of my name in order to make a hole to escape. To save my face in the worst case of brand failure...
YUGEN: Who do you design for? Who do you see as the XIDOZU customer?
DongJu: To answer that I think I would need to define XIDOZU first. XIDOZU is a surreal and lyrical brand. The story that is being told unfolds in a bold design, but never loses its elegance. We are making clothes with the hope that our customers can feel our story and attitude. Therefore, we are a brand that anyone with a bit of strangeness in them can access. So I think our customers are those who sympathize with such weird and lyrical stories.
YUGEN: What is your vision for the future of XIDOZU?
DongJu: I don’t think I have one. Sometimes I feel like a naive optimist who doesn't belong in the fashion industry. And maybe that's why I don't live with a big vision for XIDOZU. I have only one goal which is to maintain our current attitude without being swayed by situations and trends. I think enjoying the process of trying not to blur our image can be a vision in itself. Like the old story that if you make your own rhythm and play, the person who likes it will come and dance.
YUGEN: What role does sustainability play in your brand and your design process?
DonJu: First of all, XIDOZU does not use animal products (real leather, real fur). Of course, this is because of my personal sense of ethics, and because we are in line with the trend in the fashion world where animal products are not used. In addition, for our dyeing and printing we mainly use digital printing to minimize environmental pollution caused by dyes. I'm planning a small project collection for next year. I've collected all the fabrics that came out from 2-3 collections so far, and I'm going to use these remaining fabrics to make products.
YUGEN: Could you explain more about the genesis of the slogan 'Menswear for Minority' and what it means for your brand?
DongJu: I always think that mainstream and non-mainstream seem to be not very different ultimately. By this I mean that the mainstream and non-mainstream are not noticeably separated. Everyone is just in their own lives, sometimes within the mainstream or majority, but sometimes within the minority. Everyone has ambiguous sculptures mixed in with everything else, and I always like those unfamiliar things. I'm always curious about the things that exist in our blind spots and things that can't be illuminated. I'm always interested in strange things like that. Designers are integrated into brands, and brands are designers after all. So what I'm most interested in eventually explains my brand. That’s why I thought this slogan was suitable to lead the brand for a long time.
YUGEN: Could you explain more about the process of designing for a fantasy character and how creating details about this character and exploring the character informs the design process.
DongJu: I consider myself a screenwriter when I prepare a collection. First, I create an attractive man in my mind and start thinking about every aspect of him. Sometimes it starts with a real person, sometimes with a unique character in a book or movie. I then write short novels, collect short articles, write scripts, and plan characters. I will start designing with a specific atmosphere such as what he likes, what he ate yesterday, what time he went to bed, how much he pays for rent, and how fast his nails grow. An example of this is the "Garden on the Sofa" collection. The collection’s story started when I imagined a boy planting seeds in the sofa and growing plants. For the collection titled, "Take a shower in the Fish Tank" I started with my favorite independent movie actor. I fell asleep while watching the movie he starred in, and I had a strange dream. It was a dream of him running away in a hurry and suddenly entering a big fishtank and taking a shower with the fish. It was such an interesting story that I immediately wrote it in my diary and that's how the collection started. Every season begins like this. Creating a strange man that I love is my favorite step in the building of a collection. It's also the most important moment that strengthens the identity of XIDOZU because it's the part that I put the most energy into, thinking about how to make the collection more weird and more beautiful.
YUGEN: Could you tell us about the inspiration for your latest collection? You have spoken about the creation of a character and a story in your previous collections; what is the story in this collection?.
DongJu: This collection was inspired by a conversation between me and my friend. Of course, the theme of the conversation was love, jealousy and ideals. No matter how much we talked about these three subjects, the conversation always ended like, "I don't know..." and "This is really difficult." So one day, I went to my parents house and found a lot of fairy tale books that I read when I was seven to eight years old. I took out a few books for fun and read them. I found that they were all stories about love, jealousy, and ideals. However, there was no element of "I don't know" or "difficulty" which I had experienced with my friend. The fairy tales contained only clear, honest feelings and characters. Isn't it kind of ironic? We've been talking about the same topic for 20 years, but it's getting harder and harder. What I learned from childhood fairy tales and conversations with my friends is that love, jealousy, and ideals are essentially the same small points. Thus, when I combined the previous fairy tale with the present conversation, I saw a person with a vague silhouette. A person who can only see a very vague silhouette. I wrote a short story with this person at the beginning, and then developed the design.
YUGEN: What was the most fulfilling part of creating this collection for you as a designer?
DongJu: I really want to give you a cool answer, but I'm just satisfied with 'the completion' of this season. And I think my answer will always be the same. It's physically and mentally difficult for me because I lead the brand by myself. Nevertheless, I couldn't be happier because I've completed the collection. So I'm more curious about how other people feel about this collection and whether they're satisfied with what they see.
YUGEN: You followed the collection name with the words "Love, Jealousy, Ideal", what do these words mean for you within the context of the collection?
DongJu: As I said earlier, love, jealousy, and ideals have a small and fragile beauty. Those three words look to me like one lump, naturally grouped together. Maybe that's why there is no interpretation such as "Look 1 is powerful because it is connected to jealousy, and Look 2 is romantic because it is related to love..." Rather, there are many pieces of clothing that are ambiguous and subtle. As you can see in the campaign images, there are many pictures of blurry silhouettes. The same goes for the original print on the clothes. It consists of blurry silhouettes and artwork. In addition, I often used tone-on-tone color matching to give a dreamy impression by reducing the strong contrast and placement at each item.