How I Wear It: The K-Pop Stylist

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How I Wear It: The K-Pop Stylist

Words by Ms Elaine YJ Lee | Photography by Mr Lee Jun Kyoung | Styling by Mr Youngjin Kim

19 October 2020

“I always knew exactly what I wanted to wear,” says celebrity stylist Mr Youngjin Kim. “I remember asking my mother to buy me a red tie when I was a kid, just because I wanted one.” The 32-year-old is based in Seoul and now works with some of South Korea’s biggest names in entertainment, including SM, JYP and YG Entertainment, among the region’s most dominant K-pop agencies. Over the past five years, Mr Kim’s star has risen and he’s styled for K-pop acts including SuperM, NCT, Mr Kang Daniel, Mino and Stray Kids, as well as for a clutch of famous Korean film stars.

“I used to think that if I styled celebrities like how I dress myself, they would look good,” he says. “But I realised that different people have their own strengths and flaws, and I started to dress each person with their position and character in mind.” By “position”, Mr Kim is referring to a K-pop band member’s role within his group. “In the same group, you have the main singer, dancer and rapper. I might dress the singer to be a bit more formal than, say, the rapper, who I can experiment and play around with more,” he explains.

While most K-Pop bands are made up of five to six members, some can feature a dozen or even 20 people. NCT, for example, currently has 23 members. “There are pros and cons to styling a large group,” Mr Kim says. “People might think it would be much harder to dress such a big band, but I can actually combine a variety of styles and incorporate every element I want when there are a lot of members. When it’s a solo artist or an actor, I’m challenged with getting a clear message across with just one look.”

Another exciting yet challenging aspect of K-pop styling is producing stage clothes. “K-pop musicians have to be able to dance in their outfits, so their clothes need to be comfortable and functional,” he says. “After I listen to a song, I conceptualise a visual theme for it, and provide design references to a K-pop clothing manufacturer to create new outfits for my clients.”

Mr Kim, who describes his personal style as “contemporary, but always rooted in classic”, says he finds inspiration in old books. “To be a successful stylist, I think it’s important to do a lot of research through books and movies, and then mix the high and low, the old and new, to create your own style.”

01. Mix formal and casual for work

“As a stylist, I sometimes have to dress a bit more formally, but I still need to be comfortable to do my job. The Dries Van Noten turtleneck is quite formal, but I can match it with something casual like these JW Anderson cargo pants and orange Nike sneakers. I also like to layer big, bold jewellery with my vintage Patek Philippe wristwatch – another opportunity to mix formal and casual.” 

02. A black blazer holds everything together

“This is more like my usual style. When I was younger, I used to wear much louder, more eccentric pieces that really stood out. After years of experimentation, I’ve come to understand my true strengths and flaws, and I like to wear all black now. Black gives me confidence. This Bottega Veneta blazer has a loose fit, so even though it’s a suit, it’s not too traditionally formal. People tend to think of the blazer as being uncomfortable or difficult to wear on a daily basis, but with a silhouette and fabric like this, which has some elasticity, it’s super comfortable. Autumn is a very short season, so I think everyone should take advantage of it and wear a light suit jacket while they still can. I recommend a black blazer with sweatpants or other mismatching styles, because the blazer can hold everything together. In this way, a black suit can become more of an easy, everyday look.” 

03. Another way to layer black

“This is my favourite look. Like the Bottega Veneta suit, it’s all black, but it’s also completely different. When worn in various textures and layers, black can create an entirely different feel. A vest like this padded one by Rick Owens is a useful styling tool, because it adds interest and variety while also keeping you warm. Wearing a blazer underneath a vest might seem a bit off, but I think it’s good to experiment with new layering ideas. The pants are by Rick Owens, too – his designs already have such interesting pocket details and hardware so there’s no need to add any accessories. Like Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens is one of those designers who never seems to change. His identity, colours and silhouettes have a sense of certainty.”

04. Juxtapose Japanese design with sports brands

“I love Japanese designers. They have this sense of mastery and craftsmanship that’s stronger than those of European house brands. Prices tend to be more reasonable, yet the quality can be better. I like Y-3 because Yohji Yamamoto has remained the same all these years. His silhouettes and materials never change. He maintains a clear identity with his own brand as well as with Y-3, his collaborative line with adidas. I’ve paired the Y-3 pants with my Comme des Garçons x Nike Air Max 180s, another collaboration between a Japanese designer and a big sports brand. The juxtaposition is fun.” 

05. Think bright and colourful when the sky turns grey

“I don’t usually wear too many bright colours, but I like that you can still be bright and colourful in the autumn and winter seasons. The patterns on this Dries Van Noten knit and these KAPITAL pants may seem too flamboyant, strong or difficult to wear together, but combined as a look, the orange and beige palette makes everything casual and easy on the eye. The knit and cotton textures are also really comfortable. Dries Van Noten and KAPITAL are two of my favourite brands. I use them a lot when styling clients and I own a number of pieces by both. KAPITAL’s designs, especially, are always so unexpected.” 

06. Embrace the 1990s retro vibe

“I’m 32, so I was in elementary and middle school in the 1990s, which was when I started getting into fashion. Since I was really young, like 10 years old, I used to go downtown to buy clothes by myself. In elementary school, I wore baggy sweatshirts and jeans like this Balenciaga ensemble. I liked hip-hop and K-pop even back then and would dress up like this and dance at school festivals. Retro fashion is back in style, so it doesn’t at all look out of place or time to dress like this again.”