INTERVIEW WITH STYLIST AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR HANGNA SOHN KOH
Fashion stylist and creative director extraordinaire, Hangna Sohn Koh fuses the best in creativity and style.
Many creatives discover their creativity unexpectedly. Despite creativity running through Hangna’s veins (both her mother and father are creative souls), it took a while for Hangna to settle on it as a career. Immersing oneself within a supportive environment allows creativity to flow. Hangna’s talent, determination and vision, together with her parents encouragement, led her to follow her dreams. And in following those dreams, Hangna has succeeded. She is a professional Creative Director and Stylist. She is alive with a passion.
“I first studied fashion design in an Australian high school, where I won my first award for third place. I was then accepted to study psychology in Australia but realised I wanted to stay in the fashion industry and moved back to Japan to start again.
“My father was a geographical photographer and my mum was a product designer, so I have always been surrounded by an artistic background.
“Father travelled the world taking photographs of scenery, the people, and captured everything he found beautiful. I do some photography myself, but when I tried and sought advice from my father, he would simply observe what I did; with his small reactions that I could manage to see, I would be left to guess if he liked it or not. I remember when I first told my father that I was leaving Japan for London only a few days before hand, he said to me, “Just make sure you are happy. Try styling, try photography, just try and see the options and figure out what you love doing most. If all else fails, just come back home. The fact that he never forced me once to do something regarding my future, the freedom he gives me and the subtle way he tries to teach me, all play a part in how I see and look at art.
“My mother designed chairs, tables, drawers, cups and saucers at Studio Kita Designs. At the moment she teaches pottery at an international school I used to go to in Japan. She is also in her second year as a post graduate student at Kyoto University of Art and Design, studying two courses of Pottery BA and also Museum Curator for a certificate. She is forever doing something with her life and seeing her do this motivates me so much. My mother (fondly referred to the nickname Ka-ka, in Japanese) always told me I work too hard and need to learn how to take more breaks! I think I am a bit of a workaholic. I remember one time she told me, “You are making my dreams come true, pursuing your dreams and working so hard like this abroad.” She was studying in Italy and London when she was my age, but returned to Japan for family reasons. She also regularly sends me links or books that made her impressed or something she found beautiful. Recently, she sent me a book on historical Japanese art called ‘Lineage of Eccentrics – Matabei to Kuniyoshi’ by Nobuo Tsuj i. It is one of my favourite books I have on my bookshelf at the moment.
“My whole family is back in Japan, where my sisters are studying in Tokyo and my parents are at home in Kobe. I go back to Japan once a year to see everyone. I always go to all the museums and art galleries that I can manage, in the week I am there! Last year, I visited the Zaha Hadid exhibition and also Tim Burton’s. They influenced me so much – extremely beautiful. It was so inspiring to see the process of their work and their final productions. I took lots of pictures of the streets as there are huge contrasts on modern and traditional places in Japan. I also sat in my room, now full of my parents’ old books and flicked through them all. There are books from geographical photography, to Japanese architecture, to beautiful presentations of food. I love to read the books that they purchased knowing that they approved these, as they must have influenced them. My parents never boast about their work so I always have to find things myself like this! I think the freedom my parents have always given me, letting me go beyond the boundaries and work harder. I love my job, but I also do this to make my family proud and say thank you for never giving-up on me! ”
“In Japan, I attended Kobe Design University. In New York, I attended a summer intensive course at Parsons The New School for Design.”
Hangna also enrolled in Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Fashion Styling with the Istituto Marangoni in London, a private Italian school of professional fashion and design.
“While studying fashion design, I was surrounded by new clothes in the work room. That was when I realised the collections looked amazing. I discovered styling was something I could start in London. I started styling in London, and have just reached over a year since I started! My first paid professional role was for Illuminee and their lookbook. They found me through a mutual friend and it was a very lovely team to work with.”
London is home to a thriving fashion community and like so many creatives before her, Hangna was attracted by the big city and its open arms. “I am South Korean Japanese born in Japan and brought up in Australia, so I have constantly been a foreigner in where I have lived so far. However, London has welcomed me like no other place before, so I feel like I can finally call somewhere home. I live and work in England for now and do not want to leave! I love how everyone is so enthusiastic in collaborating for new projects and it’s full of talented, inspirational people. I have so many people to thank! ”
Preparation usually proves wise in any endeavor, yes even creative ones.
“When I prepare for a shoot, I always think about the whole picture. Looking out for hair, makeup, composition, lighting, as well as styling, is where you then have the perfect image. There is no point just focusing on your own field – communication is extremely important. I also need to feel comfortable with the team, so I can really interpret our theme through my styling. I do not have a specific team, that I work with all the time, as I like to meet new people. However, I do have a list of people I keep in-mind, choosing them depending on what I am shooting. Each time I shoot with them, we always create something new and beautiful, so I am always happy to work with them.
“During a shoot, my mind is everywhere! Questions are flying towards me like bullets about everything. I am keeping in mind the rules for each designer and PR I have pulled from, making sure clothes and accessories are safe and clean, if the team is happy, if the styling is working with the whole mood and concept… The list goes on! To keep creativity flowing, I like to make sure first, that my whole team is comfortable and having fun on the shoot. I try and sense everyone’s image for the shoot and take little bits of it and apply it to my opinions. This is when I know I’m on to something, when I can see everyone is happy, as that is what a collaboration is all about. There are many shoots that I like that I have shot. I think my favourite shoot outcome is from one of my recent shoots with Tetsuya Maehara, for Atlas Magazine. I directed this shoot with an amazing team, and the styling I did for this one was inspired by the movements of Butoh dance, adding my own aesthetics into it. I got to be creative and forget about the rules! ”
There is no point just focusing on your own field – communication is extremely important.
Hangna recently assisted with a photoshoot starring Jeremy Piven – an American actor, producer and celebrity. Jeremy is perhaps best known for his role as Ari Gold in ‘Entourage’, the popular TV comedy, for which he received several consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. Jeremy has appeared in many successful films, including Grosse Pointe Blank, The Family Man, Black Hawk Down, The Kingdom, Heat, Old School, RocknRolla, Serendipity, Scary Movie 3, Smokin’ Aces, and Runaway Jury.
“To improve my skills, I find that assisting stylists really helps and motivates me to style in creative ways. Just being in the environment, getting to know more people in the industry, keeps me on my toes. I was assisting amazing stylist Holly Macnaghten for The Gentleman’s Journal. I was so nervous because, before being asked to assist, I had just watched Mr. Selfridge (a TV drama series in which Jeremy plays the lead character, the iconic Mr. Selfridge – the visionary founder of Selfridges, London’s celebrated department store.) Jeremy was so fun and easy to work with. It was such a great atmosphere to be in! Although I was only assisting, styling a celebrity was very different for me than styling a model. With the celebrity, I noticed there was a bigger team, more tension in the room and less time available. You also have to consider time delays, be super organised and understand that there are always certain rules you have to remember. It was also extremely exciting! I loved every second of it! ”
Hangna’s talent for style and creativity has been recognised by HUF Magazine, other magazines and clients. Her work was featured in issues 27 and 35 of the print edition. Issue 35 was an editorial with Kwangbok Jack Lee, titled ‘Conscious.’
“I first met Jack on a test shoot with Elite Model competition-winner Bertie. I really liked how professional he was and his images are beautiful. My work was first featured in HUF Magazine in the 27th issue, titled ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ shot by Eugene Shishkin. We first met at this shoot and since then we have collaborated on many editorials. Every single time he captures beautiful images, and I think he is one of the many I know who really understands and is passionate about expressing beauty in women. My clients have included brands from Rabeanco to up-andcoming designers like Clara Damaschke. [Clara Damaschke is a womenswear label that focuses on contemporary conceptual design with distinctly avant-garde silhouettes] I think they may have chosen me because they can see I am organised and pay a lot of attention to detail. I think the most important thing in becoming a successful stylist is to be extremely organised, remind yourself why you are passionate about your work and constantly think about how far you can push yourself. Success to me is reaching your own goals you set yourself and not competing against others. Looking 10 years, 20 years into the future is what I am trying to do now. Biology and science is something I think about now for future works – combining this with fashion, I think I can create something new. My goals are forever ending as I am always wanting to learn and push myself further. Even if I do reach my aspired goals, I will come up with a new one and keep going! At the moment I just style, however I am very interested in working in photography as well as advertising and visual merchandising. I photograph with my Canon 600D DSLR and a Polaroid camera when I go and travel. Sometimes I need a break from fashion and like to take photographs of ceilings and roofs, of architecture and small interesting details of the streets. I like to find different angles and take close-ups to see things from a different way. My ultimate dream would be to keep travelling as I work, however I would love to base my work in New York, London or Tokyo.”
While every season revolves another turn on the fashion cycle, Hangna isn’t phased.
“I do not really like to follow trends, however I can say I have never liked the socks and sandals look – only a few people can really pull this off! My most recent shoot I styled was with Anna adchenko, where the theme was contrasting modern and classical arts. This shoot was so different to how I first ever styled, as I did not know how I could style and what my style was. I have to thank the amazing stylist Tomas C. Toth I assisted for several magazines – he inspired me so much! ”
Creatives who push boundaries and buck trends often, perhaps always, inevitably face criticism. Fashion is always changing and what constitutes style is open to debate. Hangna faces criticism head-on and addresses it, giving it the consideration it deserves. Hangna shared her thoughts on criticism and tips for those hoping to become tomorrow’s new stylists.
“I am open, and listen to, any opinions whether good or bad. I thank people who take their time to look at my work. I filter which opinions I take in and which go through one ear and out the other. My advice to all young stylists out there – styling is not a glamorous job, especially in the beginning! It’s all about constant meetings, a million emails and phone calls, running around with your suitcases and juggling all this with your social life. However, trust me when I say, it will all be worth it in the end. When you see your final images, publications, the smiling faces of people seeing your work, and your personal satisfaction – it is all priceless. That is why I still love and enjoy styling! ”