SHAPE AND FORM
And herein lies the root of her success: comfortable and contemporary styles with a sculptural undertone to create an artistic point of difference. Because not everyone wants to be so fashion, so zeitgeist, so casual. And while her nomination at the end of last year for British Emerging Talent, Womenswear at the prestigious British Fashion Awards – the Oscars of UK fashion – might have come as a surprise to the somewhat shy and modest designer, it’s likely that the recognition itself didn’t to industry onlookers, many of whom can regularly be spotted at London Fashion Week wearing Pyo’s pieces. “It was something I really didn’t expect. It was very rewarding in the sense that I was just sticking to what I do and like and people realised it and noticed it,” she says of the moment she found out, her status as a fully-fledged brand cemented.
“When I was really, really young, I didn’t know this [being a fashion designer] could be a job. But then my mum did fashion when she was young – she did interiors, now she paints – so I always had lots of fabric around me. When I grew up a bit, I found Mum’s sketchbook that explained, for example, a Peter Pan collar, and I made an effort to copy and draw in the same way – really trying to learn from it. She didn’t want me to do fashion and used to hide that book from me, but I’d find it somehow and then I’d do it again,” laughs Pyo at the memory, her own tenacity clear from the outset.
She moved to London at the age of 25, having studied at an art university in Korea before working at a “massive fashion company” that didn’t exactly fill her with joy. “Whenever I saw a fashion magazine, I’d see Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney; all these people came from Central Saint Martins and I was like: ‘What is this place?’ I always longed for a bigger world. I didn’t speak English and I didn’t know how the UK education system worked,” she reflects on what would become a life-changing move, beginning with a graduate diploma at Central Saint Martins to enable her to get to grips with everything from the language to preparing a portfolio for that esteemed MA course. Simultaneously, Pyo made up for her mother’s own regret at never having been able to study abroad.
The MA, one of the most renowned fashion courses in the world, and at the time directed by the late, great Louise Wilson, made quite an impact on Pyo. “In Korea, everyone is very reserved and no one really screams. She [Louise] was so different, so emotionally invested, she really cared about you. I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting – I’d heard of her name – but she was a one-off and I was so lucky to experience that,” she remembers fondly.
EXTRAORDINARY DESIGNS FOR WOMEN
With her graduation complete, her first job out of university was as first assistant designer at Roksanda Ilincic a perfect fit looking back at her graduate collection, which was full of those modern art and architectural sensibilities shared by Ilincic: sweeping draped dresses were fitted with totem constructions held before them. Though Pyo is keen to point out that she is no artist, she’s in the business of making real clothes for real women and hence an open casting for her spring/summer 2018 show – inspired by Nicholas Nixon’s photographic series of the Brown sisters in which he took photos of them every year for 40 years. The changing face of beauty struck a chord with Pyo. “Personally, I was going through pregnancy at the time [she’s now the mother of a baby boy] and it made me think about how women have many roles,” she explains. All around her, friends were becoming mothers and growing strong in their careers. “I thought that it made sense to have these women present the clothes, as opposed to a girl I had never met before,” Pyo explains – by which she means models. “It was a personal and natural progression to have those real people in it. I had had my baby and I was very proud to be a woman.”
But just a year before, it had been a different story. Being a new designer name in London isn’t easy, after all, and everyone likes to have a say. “I’m sure everyone has a moment in their lives when they want to quit their job and thinks: ‘What am I doing?’ You’re putting in so much effort and work and not getting anything out of it.” The answer is perfectly Rejina. Stop listening to everyone else; listen instead to yourself, do what you want to do. As a result, the spring/summer 2017 collection, an ode to dirndl shapes and pretty-bow straps, was a personal turning point for her, she notes:
“I think it was the honest thing; honesty was what brought people’s response.”
Which means there’s one thing you can always expect from Rejina Pyo. “I don’t change the brand suddenly,” she responds when asked about her forthcoming autumn/winter 2018 collection. “That’s the point. It’s a shame when brands change radically every season and become known for something and then it’s gone and people never see it again.” It’s a valid point. In the face of fast fashion and even faster, immediate seasons – a busy marketplace, too – her reliable propositions seem far more alluring and all the more trustworthy for women who want good modern clothes that work hard for them. Because when doesn’t a woman want a wardrobe full of great pieces?