Taemin & Ilyeon are the antithesis of flower boys. Their alternative looks led them to AM Model Mgmt, an emerging Seoul based agency gathering unconventional characters with an ethos much like Germany's Tomorrow is Another Day. We met the pair in Itaewon where they candidly told us about what they'd be doing if they hadn't been discovered, their style woes, runway failures, and much more.
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle & Hailey Hyein Kang, Interpretation Chaereen Pak, Photography Haqi Cahya
Hello! Please introduce yourselves!
Taemin: Hello, my name is Taemin Kim and I am an AM model. I am 25-years-old. I was born in Cheongju but now I live in Daejeon. I am living in Daejeon because of school, so coming up to Seoul every time I have a shoot is difficult. I can’t wait to graduate and move up to Seoul.
Ilyeon: Hello, my name is Il Yeon and I am 27-years-old. I was born in Cheongju and lived there until I moved up to Seoul two years ago. I started out with a part-time job, then out of luck I found the opportunity to participate in a magazine photoshoot. Since then, I have been working professionally as a model.
When did you sign with AM Models?
Taemin: I signed with AM along with Il Yeon. I originally worked as a freelancer, and then photographer Ted Like (@imtedlike) introduced me to the CEO of AM Models and that’s how I’m here today.
Ilyeon: I was in talks with AM about two to three months ago, and I officially signed with them last month. When I was younger, I played soccer. I quit soccer going into middle school, and spent the subsequent years of school normally. I went to physical education college, and after finishing my first year I took a break from school, worked, and found interest in becoming a model. Coming to Seoul I had intentions of wanting to become a model, so I purposely worked part-time jobs in Garosu-gil. That’s how I got here. I think the modeling industry is booming. It’s true that it’s going to be hard to survive this industry, so I’m going to try my best. Those who what to become actors will pursue the path of acting, but that’s not me. Later on, I would like to go into business, but as of right now what I want to do the most is modeling.
Is there a defining characteristic that all AM models have?
Taemin: First of all, I think each model has very specific, clear cut characteristics of his or her own. If anyone looks at us, they will think, “Oh, it’s an AM model." And I’m one of those models (laughs). Also, everyone’s relationship with the CEO is very comfortable. She’s like a noona to all of us.
Ilyeon: AM models are far from the typical “flower boy” trend.
If you weren’t in this industry what do you think you would you be doing instead?
Taemin: I’m good at riding the motorcycle so I did a lot of fried chicken delivery (laughs), and at one point I thought of starting a fried chicken business. Yes, I like fried chicken.
Ilyeon: I would’ve continued school. I would’ve been graduating college right now and finding a ordinary job at an ordinary company… living a really ordinary life.
Do you get nervous during a gig? How do you overcome it?
Taemin: Since I was little, I really liked it when people took pictures of me. I would ask friends to take pictures of me even if they got annoyed. So, when I’m in front of the camera during photoshoots, I see nothing else but me. I think, “Wow, I look so f**king cool” (laughs). But, if there’s a lot of people looking at me, that’s when I get a bit nervous. To overcome it, I need to hear someone say something good about me. If someone tells me, “You look great!”, I feel better instantly.
Ilyeon: Not anymore, but when I first started out I got so nervous during Seoul Fashion Week runways that my lips would start quivering instantly. People probably saw it. But the more runways I walked, the easier it got. We don’t get that much camera time—maybe like, five seconds? But during that short span of time, everyone’s looking at me, and I feel like the best person ever. I really enjoy it.
Has something unexpected happened?
Taemin: Last season, I had a friend who was a makeup artist. She asked me to try out walking even though I had no interest. I ended up meeting a designer and he wanted me to walk. I told him that I really couldn’t and had no experience, and he simply told me to walk the way that I always walk. So I walked the way I usually walked with no practice or anything. It was an epic failure. I got so nervous right as I was going up onto the runway—my friends told me that I looked as if my head was floating in the air.
Ilyeon: Before Fashion Week and all that, I walked for fashion events in college. Seoul Fashion Week is most definitely a whole different level. Backstage, I get really anxious. Especially on standby, I start sweating and a feeling of excitement comes over me. As of right now, I’m honestly at a point where I’ve quit walking (laughs). I don’t know how to explain it—my body just doesn’t work with it. Once, my friends came to watch. I had a general idea of where they were sitting. I almost laughed knowing that they were there. If I laughed, I would not be sitting here doing an interview with you right now.
What are your current style preferences?
Taemin: I used to love training wear. I liked comfortable clothes. But now that I’m a model, people tell me to not dress like that. I don’t really know what to do to be honest. I’m working on fixing my style, working towards a cleaner style. I like summer fashion, because I can just walk out in a T-shirt and shorts. It’s comfortable. I really, really like comfortable clothing. I hate coats and such, because I like to move around a lot.
Ilyeon: Since high school, my crew and I really enjoyed clothes. We loved streetwear. Now that I’m a model and I have more formal things to go to—I even tried to dress up today for this interview—I think that my style has become a little bit more refined. For showing off, winter is better. But I like to dress lightly, so I prefer summer fashion. Also, hats are very important to me; I’m always wearing a hat.
Any comments about the rising popularity of Korean models overseas?
Taemin: I think it’s because there is a lot more acceptance these days about different kinds of people. Less racism. People are finally noticing the charisma of Asian faces. I think K-pop might have had a big influence as well (laughs).
Ilyeon: I like to see it in a positive light. I heard that a lot of foreign designers look for Asian models these days. I think that it’s becoming a trend as well, going overseas. Once a couple models here and there went out, a bunch followed. I’d like to go overseas too.
I eat everything, but I love fermented soybean stew with a bowl of rice. With one bite, I can feel that I’m a Korean person.
Soju. I’m not really into cocktails or vodka.
I love King Krule, and my favorite song is Baby Blue.
Meaning of Instagram handle:
I wanted to use my name but @taemin was already taken so I just spelled it differently.
Favorite hangout spots
I love PC rooms. I also like to go see the night sky in Daejeon; there’s nothing else like it. Lastly, I like to go back to my hometown to go see my parents. There’s absolutely nothing there except nature, so I like to go there to clear my mind once in a while.
Kim Won Joong is honestly the best. Isn’t he everyone’s role model? And my dad.
Something you would like to change about yourself:
When my mood is up, I get a bit too up. I need to learn to keep my cool and be more serious.
Greatest lesson learned:
Relationships with people are really precious. It doesn’t only have to pertain to lovers. People who were once best friends can stop talking to each other forever. It’s something that I’ve just realized, growing up. I really like meeting people, so I think there’s a lot of people that I lose as well.
I love all food. I’m into cooking these days, so I cook all my food at home. I’m really good at making bolognese and oil pasta! I’m also good at making kimchi jjigae and chicken roast.
I like alcohol, and I like to make drinks at home too.
I don’t have a favorite genre. It depends on the situation, the environment. Once I get into a song though, it’s on repeat. My favorite these days is Don’t Forget by Crush.
Meaning of Instagram handle:
I have a crew with some friends back in my hometown, and tyrannosaurus is the name of our crew.
Favorite hangout spots:
I like drinking in Itaewon, or drinking at home, and I like to call people over. Or, I like to go to my hometown to meet up with my friends there or visit my grandma. I’m really close with my grandma. I also really like to go to the movie theater. Garosugil and Itaewon. In Itaewon, there are really nice, quiet places to hang out at.
Before I began my modeling career, I thought Do Sang Woo was really cool. But now he’s an actor. Right now, my role model is Kim Chan. Although modeling isn’t his only focus and he’s been dabbling into business, studying abroad, etc., I think it’s so cool that he is continuously running towards his dreams while working as a model. And lastly, his fashion is so on point. I honestly think he dresses the best.
And G-Dragon. No explanations needed. He’s just perfect.
One place you want to go before you die:
Ilyeon: The Grand Canyon. I want to sit there and have a shot of soju.
Something you would like to change about yourself:
Ilyeon: (whispers) I kind of have a short temper. Actually scratch that, I didn’t just say that (laughs). I’d like to slim down a bit more.
Thanks to AM Model Mgmt for allowing us to meet, shoot, and interview Taemin and Ilyeon!