Fashion designer Yeranji launched her womenswear label The Centaur in 2008. The brand is rooted in romance and fantasy which has attracted the likes of SM Entertainment's visual director. MUTZINE visited Yeranji at her studio to talk about her trajectory, current collection and future endeavors.
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle & Hailey Kang, Interpretation Chareen Pak, Photography Rose Ng
Hello! Please introduce yourself. Who are you, what do you do?
Yeranji: I’m Yeranji, a Korean fashion designer that debuted in 2008. I took a break for two years in the middle of my career, and it has now been two years since I’ve rejoined the industry. I’m currently preparing my 10th collection.
Let’s talk about your beginning as a fashion designer, you say in your profile that in the year 2000 you realized that “you were a centaur.” What does that mean?
Yeranji: I thought of this back in college. Back then I didn’t really go to class and just stayed in the library a lot. The essence of things, should I say? I was very into. I would read books and try to find reasons as to why I should become an artist. If I couldn’t find the reasoning, I would get very sad for the entire day. Rather than thinking about what kind of artist I should become or how to make money to survive and eat, I would think about why I needed to become an artist. I worked on creating that essence of myself. While doing that, I realized that I’m not a person on the ends of any spectrum, but rather a person just in the middle.
There’s a song called The Centaur by Joanne Glasscock and that song is about a centaur who falls in love with a human girl but because he is half horse, a horse who needs to run, he cannot not approach her. Then the horse part also falls in love, but because he can’t speak like a human, he cannot approach her as well. So he can’t live in the human world completely, nor the world of the horse. He is just in the middle. I thought that I could relate to this character, and thus it became a base for my work. Bringing it into fashion: whether it’s art or an industry, fashion is in the middle of it all. That’s how it became my brand name.
I heard that you held your debut runway show at a bar. It seems that you have always liked to do things your own way.
Yeranji: Honestly, back then I didn’t know anything and what was what. One day I was just passing by and I decided that I wanted a design studio so the next day I signed a contract and started immediately. After opening, people found me and they suggested that I try different things. After seeing their good reactions, I continued my work. Back then, I didn’t think I had to become the best designer in the world. I originally wanted to work with sculptures. But, I had graduated with a degree in fashion design and it made sense that I should do something with it. Fashion is an industry; an industry with an art base that I can incorporate storytelling into. Such a combination can make such cool products. I think that storytelling should always be incorporated in this industry.
There are elements of traditional Korean fashion, fantasy, and romanticism in all of your work. Can you tell us more about The Centaur’s brand identity?
Yeranji: People ask me that a lot, if I have a muse or if I design for someone, but I don’t have anything like that—no muse and I’m not just designing for myself. Rather than that, I think I just want to do my work. But making it something that people can wear, that process is really fun. In a season, I like to incorporate what I think during that time or ideas that I have and make it into a story, then work on the details from there.
To be honest, I’m not sure which person I would want to wear my clothes. I just want that whoever wears it matches the feeling that goes with it. I think to say that I want someone specific to wear The Centaur is a little arrogant.
In what ways has The Centaur developed through the years? Do you have a favorite collection?
Yeranji: The collection I liked the most conceptually was the second collection, My Logical Private Parts. Conceptually, I felt that I was a person working through the genitals. One cannot be logical through the genitals, and thus that is how I came up with the name. As this was the next one after my first show, I felt that the variation in my clothing was lacking. It felt a little countrified. In regards to the actual clothing, I liked my Taste of Kant collection the best. My second label, Baby Centaur, came out at the same time as well, and it did really well in terms of reactions and sales. I think I liked that collection the best. Because I’m so busy, I don’t have the time to think about how I wish I had done after a season. Overall, doesn't do things like other brands, I hear that a lot of people just find us on their own. So going with that mood, we are able to work quietly and with confidence.
Do you have a ritual for going into the creation mood?
Yeranji: For inspiration, I think it’s more of when I’m in the moment. There could be a cool scene at a specific moment or a cool gesture or someone's personality. When I see those moments, I don’t express it just the way it is, for example, just because Snow White is pretty doesn’t mean that I’m going to design a dress that looks just like hers, that’s not fashion. When I feel like something’s really cool, I try to make a story about it and I project the details of the story onto my designs. I think the story I want to tell is hidden in the clothing. When the customers see it, they get the sense that there’s a story within the brand. I wish for them to think that there’s a deeper feeling and meaning and they get curious about it and also tend to find that there’s a different story going on as well.
What are your favorite textiles to work with?
Yeranji: I don’t have anything specific. I get tired of things very quickly as I go. When I really like something, I don’t just continually use it. I like to look for new things. But the materials that I use... you know people like us don’t really have a large budget, so I have to figure it out within what I’ve got. That leads to a dilemma. Within that budget though, I try to look for the best.
You’ve worked with BoA for "Hurricane Venus" and your designs are often worn by other SM idol groups like SNSD, f(x), and Red Velvet. How did the relationship with SM Entertainment begin?
Yeranji: After I first opened my showroom, I got a phone call asking if I was a fashion designer. I said yes, and apparently they had seen my lookbook somewhere and really liked it. So the person who contacted me was SM’s Visual Director and she really liked my clothing. She became a regular and we maintained a good relationship as the years passed. When she became the Managing Director and was in charge of all visual making aspects, we would talk if she ever needed a stylist or someone who could take over visual things. BoA was returning to Korea after her 10 year debut with "Hurricane Venus" and the director didn’t want to have a stylist that would just dress her as an idol. She wanted quality work. It was difficult but I think it turned out alright. I think it was a good experience.
You are a college professor, what is the main idea you want all your students to learn from you?
Yeranji: For three years I went to Gyewon Art College. The school is unique and different from other schools. When I went to school, it wasn’t that I ignored my professors but rather I thought that they were human too, so we’re undoubtedly going to have different perspectives and opinions. I didn’t like the idea of them projecting their personal opinions onto me. When I attended school, I thought that the most important thing was to find one’s own essence, because that’s the only time you’re going to have to find yourself. For my students, they need time to think for themselves and take hold of their responsibilities. When I look at the students at Gyewon these days, they already consider themselves as artists—artists that have good ideas but they don’t have a resolution to them which makes me think that they’re amateur artists. I feel that I could help kids like that. Just being an artist is boring, so it’s great to integrate other subjects into art in a world like today. I can help these students figure it out. There actually isn’t a large age gap between my students and me. I was 28 years old when I led my first class, so they saw me as an older sister.
What is your personal style like?
Yeranji: I follow my feelings but my feelings change a lot throughout the day. Matching my mood to my clothes is hard, so I like it when whatever I wear is portraying my feelings at that moment. I think I’ve tried everything. I’ve bought a lot, wore a lot of different clothes. That’s why I can’t categorize myself. Let’s say I had a punk boyfriend; I would dress in punk fashion. While my friends stick to the one category they first fell into, I go back and forth a lot. I want to experience everything .
What is your favorite area to hang out in Seoul?
Yeranji: In Sambuk-dong, there’s a temple called Gilsangsa that I frequent. I’m not the type to go around a lot, unless it’s really near my house or I’m meeting up with my friends. This temple, it used to be a place for gisaengs. A woman by the name of Gil Sang Hwa, who managed all the gisaengs, donated it to a monk. That’s how it became a temple. If you haven’t been there you wouldn’t know, but it’s very beautiful. I don’t think being at home is very comfortable. When I wake up in the morning, I always think, where am I? But this temple feels like home.
Tell us about what to expect from you next!
Yeranji: I took a break and came back, so it was hard for me to figure out what I should do. When I was resting, I didn’t even look at clothes and I didn’t really try new things either. Everything felt tiresome. I lived like that for a while, but once I came back the industry was so different and things like Instagram were also so new to me. A lot of things have changed so much that I felt confused. After doing this season’s collection, I’ve realized what I wanted to make next. That’s why from now on, I want to be more clever with what I think up of or what I work on. It's not like I have a lot of money or a lot of materials. What I can do is use my brain and feelings. Through this, I believe that I will find good opportunities. I don’t want to receive too much stress and I want to have fun while working. I hope that The Centaur's previous customers can rediscover the brand again. This year is going to be a good one.