Irene Kim: How I Shop

Estée Lauder's global beauty contributor discusses shopping for vintage in Paris, her favorite stores in Seoul and how she shares clothes with her mom.
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Estée Lauder's global beauty contributor discusses shopping for vintage in Paris, her favorite stores in Seoul and how she shares clothes with her mom.
Irene Kim at Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Timur Emek/Getty Images

Irene Kim at Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Timur Emek/Getty Images

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in the fashion industry with our column, "How I Shop."

Estée Lauder's global beauty contributor Irene Kim is arguably one of the most recognizable faces during Fashion Month. While much of the attention is centered around her rainbow-colored locks, another frequent topic of conversation is Kim's sense of style — which, by the way, has landed her on Fashionista's best street style list multiple times. Her tastes in fashion are as broad and varied as you might expect from someone who frequently travels the world for her job, and her favorite things range from T-shirts by teen retailer Brandy Melville to treasures she found while shopping for vintage in Paris. We chatted with the Korean-American street style star and model about free designer goodies, raiding her grandmother's closet, the importance of comfort in dressing and much more.

"I think I figured [my personal style] out a little bit. There are things that I like more and wear more than others. I love black jeans. There is a pair of high-waisted Acne jeans that I wear everyday. I love ribbed sweaters. And just keeping things basic and adding a touch like really cool boots or a fun jacket. I like mixing and matching, I love sneakers. I think [the way I dress] just depends on my mood and what city I'm in. If I'm in Paris, I'll dress a little more French. If I'm in New York, I'll be a little more 'downtown.'

I still shop in stores; I like the experience. Sometimes online gets a little overwhelming for me. When I wasn't as busy I would sit down and go through all the online shops and compare prices and things like that. But now I'm traveling so much — whatever city I'm in, I like to go to the stores.

In Seoul, I love all the road shops in Garosu-gil. There are a lot of cool designer stores like SJYP. I love Low Classic, I love Gentle Monsters. In Cheongdam, there's a really, really cool store called Rare Market — it's a multi-brand boutique. And actually it's [Korean rapper] GD's sister and her best friend that own the store. She’s amazing. And she's probably one of the coolest people I know. They're just two girls that love clothes and you can tell when you go into the store.

I'm guilty of [being a] Brandy Melville fan. Actually it's funny because I had no idea what it was. [My brother's girlfriend] introduced me to it one day in L.A. I'm so obsessed with it. It's T-shirts and hoodies and they're so cheap! My favorite T-shirt is from Brandy Melville. It's just a great T-shirt that I can't find [from] any other brand. I went back, but they don't have it anymore! It's really upsetting.

I love vintage. The Chanel airline show I went to, I mixed and matched my Chanel jacket with vintage. The striped skirt and the belt were actually vintage, and it went perfectly. And I got [both] for, like, 15 euros. I think I got the skirt [from] Episode. I went back two more times to get more stuff. And I bought two stadium jackets [and] two really cool grandma sweaters that looked like the Chanel Salzburg collection. 

I raid my grandmother's closet once in awhile. She has the best things. I have her fur coats that I haven't given back; some really cool printed blouses. I have my mom's Gucci bag that she wore in college. She has this really cool [Max Mara] coat and it's timeless. I wore it during Fashion Week over a Rag & Bone dress.

[Designers] have been a lot more generous [with gifts] recently because I've become a little bit more well-known. I don't know what it is. They like my style? It's so sweet of them. Suno sent me a scarf while I was here. I think I have more purchases [in my closet] though. And I think I end up wearing more of my purchases. And whatever's gifted, my mom takes. It's so funny because when I flew back from Paris, I went straight into Seoul Fashion Week and I didn't have time to unpack my bags. I came home one night exhausted and she was like, 'I organized some things for you. Oh, and I just pulled some things.' 

When I wear something, I want to look like I feel comfortable in it and I look good. If you look at my style, you can see that I'm very bright and colorful, but I look comfortable. Or I think I do at least. For H&M x Balmain, I wore this hot pink embellished dress. I couldn't walk. I could barely sit down. It looked good, but I couldn't really sit. My mom just told me this the other day. She was like, 'Shoes and people have to be comfortable.' I was like, 'Are you comparing shoes [to] people?' She's like, 'Yeah.' And I was like, 'Ok...' But it's true! Shoes and people have to be comfortable — otherwise you avoid them."

This interview has been edited and condensed.