Self-taught designer Hyden Yoo learned the fashion industry through menswear, but recently has unleashed a womenswear line onto the world. We sat down with him for to talk fashion, Fear Factor, and why Chicago’s never going to be New York.
Fashionista: You’ve said that your menswear collection draws from two main audiences-- the Wall Street professional and the trendy Brooklynite. Do they wear the same things? Can they repurpose any item in your collection for either style? Hyden Yoo: Basically I’m just trying to hit that bell curve so that the people who are way off in the top 20% could take a step down and wear some of those pieces, and then the guys at the very bottom who are very square and don’t know that much about clothing could take a half-step up. So that’s kind of where I positioned the line so it could reach a broader customer base. [Somewhere that] the hipsters don’t think it’s too lame, and at the same time those guys who are in business won’t think, like, “Oh my god, what is this sleeve hanging off of the shirt? Why are there three sleeves?” You’ve recently started doing womenswear. How do you think those two archetypes that you’ve designed for in menswear translate into womenswear? Are they as cut-and-dry? It’s two completely different monsters. Men’s is just straight-up--they’ll like it if it looks nice, fits nice, if the color is their favorite color or whatever color they’re used to. That’s kind of the male customer. It’s not like I’m reinventing the wheel with men’s, but with women’s, you have to think of something new and fresh and try to reinvent proportions and go a little bit crazier. That’s been a challenge, but at the same time, I think we’re doing well so far. But in terms of the aesthetic matching with the men’s… sometimes a lot of the fabrics are shared, or a lot of the details are shared, but it looks completely different. It’s just really hard to have the men’s and women’s be matchy-matchy--in a sense either your men’s is going to be too feminine or your women’s is going to be too masculine.
So is the menswear market easier to please? Or just different? It’s just totally different. With the men’s I can pretty much look at the whole collection and be like, “Alright, I know these pieces will sell, these will be good for press, we’ve got to use these colors.” But some things with women’s, it’s just like, “I can’t believe people bought this!” I made [certain pieces] just to throw them out there, to see what happens. I wasn’t expecting any retailers to pick it up, let alone the customers to like it, but people responded. With women’s, it’s just a surprise every time.
Is there a trend in fashion right now that you absolutely hate? I don’t know if it’s a trend or not, but recently I’ve noticed that with a lot of these high-end designer shoes, the heels are massive. They’re super high stiletto heels and the front sole is also like three inches high. Somewhat like stripper shoes in a way. But, y’know, it works for some people, some people it doesn’t work for. I like women who wear flats. I mean, it’s just obviously personal preference.
You were on Fear Factor. Was it originally your intention, if you got money from that, to immediately go into fashion? No. Basically how I started in this business was…I was in between jobs at the time, because my start-date for the job I had at the time got pushed back so in-between I was like “Okay, well, I’ll just have fun and mess around and try to do different things, or travel, or try to work these odd jobs before I have to try to make a career.” So me and a bunch of friends of mine were watching Fear Factor, and I was like, “I could totally win this show.” I’m atheletic—not to toot my own horn but, I believed I was athletic, and I was like, “I could eat all that weird stuff, so I’m totally game.” So I interviewed, got on, and they picked--it was a less than 1% acceptance to get on the show. So I got on and I won an episode, and I always saved [the money] for a rainy day just in case the time came where I hated my job and was like, “Oh shit, I’ve got to figure something else out to do.” So when that time came, I had some money--when you graduate college, you think having ten or fifteen thousand saved up is a lot of money. Little did I know that to start a business, especially a garment business, it was nothing. I burned through that so fast, so I interned and freelanced at all these places when I first moved out here to New York and just tried to figure out the industry. So no, I had no intention of starting this business or even being in the fashion industry when I went on Fear Factor, or even after. It was only two years after that I realized, “Y’know what? I really like clothing and I really want to pursue a career in this.”
You’ve lived in Chicago and Houston. Is there a different aesthetic in designing for New York as opposed to those cities, or is everything homogenized by this point? It’s definitely different. I’m not trying to offend anybody from any of those cities, because I love those cities, because I lived there for a while and I grew up there and so on, but there’s no way I would take fashion tips or inspiration from the way people dress or how people style themselves in Chicago or Houston. Whenever I go home or visit, people are like, “Man, your jeans are so tight!” or, “Really, is your v-neck that low?” They’re not used to it. There are a few stores in those areas now that are trying to get more New York/east-coast style, but we’ll see how long that takes. It’ll probably still be a couple of years behind. If you could go back in time and steal credit for the designs of any designer, whose would you pick? Honestly, I can’t put a finger on an exact collection, because as bad as this sounds, I’m not a student of any particular designer’s work. But I know one designer I could say--I think Ralph Lauren is hands-down my favorite designer. Any collection that he’s ever done, I would be blessed—more than blessed—to say “This stuff’s my stuff.” Year after year, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s comfortable, it looks fabulous. I don’t think he’s setting the curve for any of this stuff--maybe for a few pieces here and there, but not his whole collection. It’s not like he’s trying to be the leader of the pack, but in a way, he is a leader of the pack. In the way he conducts his business, in the way he has branded his company, and how he’s just started from where he’s started… It’s such an amazing brand, and even when I look at his collections from the previous seasons, they’re just so consistent and solid all the way around. I rarely go shopping, but when I do buy something, I’ll always look for Ralph Lauren.