Cover Models prepare in the backstage before the BONBOM show as a part of Seoul Fashion Week 2022 AW on March 18, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Justin Shin/Getty Images)

Following a successful in-person show at Seoul Fashion Week this month, Bonbom Jo tells us about his inspirations—and what it’s like to design for Blackpink and other superstars

South Korean designer Bonbom Jo recently made his runway debut at Seoul Fashion Week, where he presented his brand Bonbom’s fall/winter 2022 collection.

The event, which is held biannaully, took place from March 18-23 and offered a mix of live-streamed runways and in-person shows. It marked the first offline Seoul Fashion Week events since 2019.

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In Bonbom’s new collection, named “This Is the Way That We Love Like It’s Forever”, the brand’s biker-couture-inspired look took centre stage, accompanied by heavy doses of the Y2K aesthetic: think low-rise mini-skirts, crop tops and oversized cargo pants. The collection also took inspiration from the zoot suit, made popular in the 1930s and 1940s by jazz musicians in the US, as well as the influential sukeban subculture of Japan. The term, meaning “female delinquent youth”, refers to a female gang or the leader of a female gang, and the subculture is characterised by a distinct look that includes brightly dyed light-coloured hair and school uniform-inspired look adapted by its followers.

Jo, who launched Bonbom in 2020, was born in Seoul and spent some of his childhood in Texas before returning to South Korea to study fashion at Hanyang University. Before establishing his brand, he also studied at the London College of Fashion. The brand has been steadily gaining traction over the past couple of years—it’s particularly known for creating custom pieces for the country’s K-pop idols: the likes of girl groups Blackpink and Aespa, as well as Girls’ Generation leader Taeyeon, have all been spotted in Bonbom.

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Tell us about the inspiration behind the collection. 

There’s a sense of purity in the [minds] of middle and high school students—that they will always be in the moment, as if it were forever. That’s why they can be very anxious when they experience change. They start to rebel or waste time idly. However, that’s how we live. Exploring the world, discovering yourself, and most of all, loving yourself is the way we live our life.

What roles did the zoot suit and sukeban subcultures play in your collection?   

During the US economic crisis [of the 1930s and 1940s], the zoot suit was against the national policy of material-saving. People wore high-waisted, wide-legged pants, and long jackets and coats with thick shoulder pads, which used a large amount of fabric [in defiance of the policy].

Sukeban, a word that means “female delinquent youth” in Japan, is represented by sailor-collar school uniforms and long skirts with pleats. Based on the clothes that they wear, the way they dressed, and the attitude toward the clothes they were wearing, I wanted to reinterpret the rebellion and the freedom [of sukeban] into a futuristic yet sensual look.

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What are the highlights of the collection? 

Printed fabrics that have been upgraded with various patterns and colours, complete with the Bonbom vintage logo that was introduced in the spring/summer 2022 collection. 

Khaki and baby pink colours are used, and existing prints are shown in a different way [compared to previous collections]. 

This collection also includes denim vests and pants, fleece zip-ups, chandelier skirts, padded jackets and sleeveless dresses—which are adorned with the ß character in German.

Why do you think your pieces have so many fans in K-pop idols and celebrities? 

I pursued a hybrid sensibility that goes back and forth between tailoring and street-wear; couture and ready-to-wear; sporty and historical garments; past and present; present and future. I design many unisex items, but rather than combining men’s and women’s wear, both of them are versatile without losing their presence (masculinity and femininity as they are). I think that’s part of the reason why many Korean celebrities, regardless of gender, work with us.

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What were some of the most memorable pieces you’ve designed for celebrities?

Producing Blackpink’s stage outfits in 2021 was the most memorable moment. I’d always wanted to collaborate with Blackpink—my favourite K-pop girl group—so I was happy that this became a reality. 

I tried to design clothes within the frame of the brand, and as a result, new clothes were created to show both my design and Blackpink’s identity.

You have lived in South Korea, the US and Europe. Do these experiences influence your designs?

I was inspired not only by [my experience at] school but also by street fashion—the unique accessories, hairstyles, and styling. This helped add more diversity to my design. 

I met people from all walks of life while living in Texas, USA—through this, was able to create a unique style in my designs, by harmonising various cultures.

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How do you think Bonbom stands out from other South Korean fashion brands? 

In this era, when casual wear and streetwear are rampant, what I don’t want to forget is that I want to do “high fashion”—making clothes with craftsmanship.

Also, I don’t compromise in my designs. I want to be a meaningful designer that is really viable for South Korea and the future—and to think about the next generation and the enormous responsibility that I hold.

You’d studied the creation of menswear. What is behind your decision to shift your focus to womenswear? 

I’d been more interested in women’s clothing since I was a child. 

I initially wanted to study design for womenswear in London—but then I became worried that if I majored in women’s clothing, I wouldn’t be able to make men’s clothing in the future. 

That’s why I eventually majored in men’s clothing, to broaden my understanding of fashion. 

After graduating from the London College of Fashion, I founded Bonbom offering women’s clothing—which is what I originally wanted to do. Thanks to my major in men’s clothing, I was also able to make a unisex line.

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How do you keep up with changing trends? 

Previously, I had a negative opinion about keeping up with trends because I didn’t want to imitate anyone. I wanted to be at the forefront of fashion. 

While running the brand, I realised that trend is an indispensable element [in fashion]—because it reflects the consumer’s needs and thinking. I came to think that trends should be analysed—[but also ensure] the brand philosophy does not falter. 

I explore the way people dress and the attitude of how they dress, though my final goal is not to keep up with people—but to let others follow the style of my designs.

What do you think about the rise of K-fashion? 

I think that the word “K-fashion” means only one style, with no diversity. Parisian fashion is not grouped into a single genre. I hope that K-fashion is not limited to one style, but contains more diversity. 

Korean brands should not be limited to “K-fashion”, because they have their own styles and concepts.  Amidst all this, I’m trying to find a unique and definite aesthetic in my designs.

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