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Hanchul Lee

MA Fashion Menswear, 2011–13

There is a part of me that believes making a living from doing something you are passionate about means bringing pressure and stress to it. If you lose your passion, it means there is nothing left for fun in life. 

Although I went to study fashion design at the Samsung Art & Design Institute after graduating (I studied art history, aesthetic and philosophy in South Korea), I didn’t actually want to be a fashion designer. Somehow, I ended up working as a womenswear designer for three years, before realising that I really wanted to do menswear.

My philosophy for menswear is about the quality. The balance is really important. It’s a professionalism. Some students have great ideas but they can’t translate their design from a costume. You can see that the RCA has this professionalism and balance, and does this brilliantly.

One of my fashion dreams was to participate in the International Talent Support competition in Italy. So many, like Aitor Throup, have come from RCA Menswear. I really wanted to experience the programme that they went through.

It was the first time abroad studying for me, and my first MA. My most ‘impressed’ moment was in a tutorial with practicing fashion designers like Matthew Miller. I was able to talk about my work with a practicing fashion designer. The really interesting thing for me, though, was that I didn’t need to follow their advice. This was a real culture shock. They actually respected my opinion.

It’s so different in South Korea. If a tutor tells you to change something, you have to change it, or at least you have to pretend to respect the tutor’s opinion. Matthew gave me great advice in my first tutorial, but I had a specific direction in mind for my project. I felt his advice could be kept for another project. But I didn’t need to be worried about this. My other tutor told me, ‘you don’t need to follow his advice – it’s just advice’. That was so good for me. It gave me an impression that the RCA really respects the aesthetic of its students. Tutors just want to help develop it, they don’t try to control it. Because of this you see that every year, each student’s work is so different but the quality is really high.

My first work was about tailoring, and the second was about tailoring techniques. After that, it was about experimenting with these techniques, rather than just designing a tailored garment. The RCA has really helped me go beyond my design, and go further to achieve a vision.

These days, after winning ITS and graduating, I feel it might be possible to do fashion as a career and earn a living from it; but I still want to be careful about it. I don’t want to get tired of designing and lose my passion. The fashion industry needs to slow down – fashion has become so disposable. Almost everyone has enough clothes – buying new clothes is more about making a new image for themselves. These days the fashion industry is just focused on a product, it’s not focused enough on image.

Hanchul Lee
Hanchul Lee