Cover Designer Yoon Ahn (Photo: Ambush)

Following her Milan Fashion Week debut, the designer exclusively talks about the global and metaverse expansion of her cutting-edge fashion label

It could have been the set of the movie Dune—a giant, glowing orange sphere and a rolling robot camera bolting around the white sand landscape formed the backdrop to Ambush’s first runway show at Milan Fashion Week. A similarly show-stopping sphere can be found in Ambush’s new flagship store in Shanghai, the first permanent boutique outside of Japan. The label, which began offering unisex ready-to-wear collections in 2015 (Ambush started as an experimental line of jewellery brand back in 2008) and is backed by New Guards Group (the Italian luxury conglomerate whose portfolio includes Off-White, Heron Preston and Palm Angels) has proven its all-round design sensibilities go beyond streetwear, and it’s now ready to take over the universe.

At the autumn-winter 2022 show, Yoon Ahn, Ambush co-founder and creative director, and director of jewellery at Dior Men, continued to blend her lived experiences and otherworldly reference points with the brand’s retro-futuristic DNA. While she has been in the industry for years, Ahn still describes the experience of putting together a first large-scale show for her own brand as akin to “entering the unknown”. “I’m not just doing one part of the show; I try to make sure that all [elements], including the clothes, location, music, presentation and invitations, communicate the message we want to share,” says Ahn.

An anime and sci-fi fan, Ahn drew inspiration from the retro aesthetic of her favourite era of Italian design from the 1960s and 1970s to present the idea of leaving our familiar places and venturing into the future. Models walked down the cosmic runway in elongated silhouettes, statement tailoring and cartoonish, buckled platform shoes.

Highlights included dresses with beaded fringes, cropped leather and shearling flight jackets, and Ahn’s personal favourites, her “A” chain and heart-shaped accessories. The co-ed collection is a continuation of the genderless spirit that has been adopted by the brand in its jewellery design since the beginning. With more handmade, artisanal qualities added to Ambush’s clothing each season, the brand aesthetic has grown beyond the military and functional-focused approach of its beginnings.

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Her reach within the industry has grown, too. Since the last time Tatler caught up with Ahn in October 2020, her list of collaborations has gone beyond fashion. Projects include special-edition glow-in- the-dark headphones with Beats; a limited-edition Moët & Chandon champagne bottle (it’s the first time in 152 years that the bottle for the house’s signature Moët Impérial has been redesigned by a collaborating creative); new Astro Boy figures with streetwear store Bait; a Bulgari Serpenti handbag capsule collection; and buzzy, ongoing collaborations with Converse and Nike, one of which marked the first Nike and NBA collection to be designed by a woman. “Though I work in the fashion industry, as a designer, one goal I have is to bring together fashion with other industries outside of fashion,” Ahn says.

“It excites me to think how I can become the bridge to connect these two dots.” This sense of community is imperative for Ahn; if you are one of Ambush’s 800,000 Instagram followers, you might have seen posts referring to Ambush Universe, a new visually led platform that introduces emerging creatives, starts conversations with beloved artists, and documents design inspirations and archives under five themes: Art & Design Theory, Field Study, Living World, Ambush Artifact and In Focus.

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I feel like there are so many things I want to achieve. I want to keep climbing to go as high as the Moon and Mars.
Yoon Ahn

Designers with similarly diverse backgrounds have famously taken over the creative reins at historical fashion houses in recent years, such as Japanese street legend Nigo at Kenzo and her late visionary friend Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, and Ahn says she might consider a similar move one day. “If there is the right opportunity at the right time, I think that would be interesting,” she says.

For now, there’s plenty to keep the Tokyo-based Korean American designer busy, particularly with the increasing relevance of the metaverse. It can help to think of Ambush’s short yet unconventional 14-year history as a three-act story: first shaking up the fashion world with killer accessories and jewellery; then expanding the range of products to ready-to-wear, shoes and bags; and now ready to take off in Web3. When Ahn started to build a space where all things virtual take the centre stage, her focus was in fact on real people who wear her clothes and their physical needs: “A digital universe needs to be rooted in reality to feel believable,” she says.

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Which is where Ambush Silver Fctry, a spaceship-shaped metaverse space which opened its gates shortly after the autumn-winter fashion show in March, comes in. It takes inspiration from Andy Warhol’s forward-thinking creative studio Silver Factory that birthed the 1960s pop-art movement and aims to explore new artistic galaxies. “What is happening in the NFT space reminds me of pop-art in the Sixties, when the art world did not take genre seriously. At the time, pop-art was about creating something more accessible that could speak to the masses. It changed how we consume art today,” she explains. “As a brand, we would like to merge the digital NFT space with real-life products to create a new value system for people.” Unlike other brands which are building on top of existing metaverses such as Decentraland and The Sandbox, Ambush Silver Fctry is built independently and from scratch.

The space consists of four rooms offering different experiences: a Web3 store providing unique merchandise and exclusive NFTs; a library displaying archives of past collections and collaborations; a screening room streaming Ambush’s latest fashion shows and events; and a fantastical park where visitors can explore a surreal environment filled with larger-than-life sculptures of jewellery pieces. 

Naturally, the first Ambush entry into the NFT space is jewellery. The trademarked in-your-face Pow! design used on Ambush rings first released in 2008, and has been transformed into a collection of 2,022 Pow “Reboot” NFTs, plus 99 Pow! Glow in the Dark NFTs, which symbolise the spaceship’s central power source—available exclusively inside the Silver Fctry’s park area.

With so much in the works, it would be easy for Ahn to sit back and relax, but don’t expect her to rein in her creativity any time soon; not even the sky is the limit. “I feel like there are so many things I want to achieve,” she says. “I want to keep climbing to go as high as the Moon and Mars.”

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