Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When my skin is clear, my hair manageable and I have the right complete outfit for the occasion.
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
Poise, carriage, manner of speaking, true style—not one based on status symbols and simply manners.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
Try not to make mistakes. Think it over. Better to get a few great pieces of quality that you will wear for a long time rather than a lot of random, poorly made ones that you might never wear or will fall apart.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
For me, the most important dressing rule is to think in entire outfits—dress, belt, stockings, shoes, jewelry, coat, scarf, gloves, bag… Once I have the outfit down, I don’t have to worry about it. It’s a bit of a luxury but then again, it isn’t because if you don’t have the right top for the skirt, you will never wear the skirt. Malcolm taught me to do this. He said he didn’t understand why, but girls never thought in outfits but in separates. However, when I first met him, I was just a student and didn’t have the means to buy many pieces at once.
I tend to stick to one designer or another. (This is probably also due to Malcolm who felt that a designer has a vision and you shouldn’t tamper with it. The designer, as artist, would have conceived the various elements of the collection to marry together.) At the end of the 90s until she stopped her brand, I wore Martine Sitbon head to toe. After a few wandering years mixing it up with Margiela, Marni, Lanvin, Dries, I settled on Nicolas Ghesquière and Balenciaga. There is something about his aesthetic and cut that suits me like no other designer. It can be a crazy rock ‘n ‘roll show piece or a severe Edition suit or simply a Tshirt, but for me, it’s just magic. Since he’s left Balenciaga, everyone has been asking me what I will wear.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
I can’t imagine having a more transformative conversation about style or fashion with anyone other than Malcolm. We used to talk about clothes all the time. Malcolm knew so much about fashion—from the historical to the practical. He knew everything about the great couturiers and the fashion movements in pop culture. But he could get his hands dirty too. He knew how things should be made, all the different techniques of fabrication, cloth, cut, etc. Looking at a pair of trousers flat, he could tell if it would suit you. Once, in Zurich, he took the bottle opener in the hotel and wedged it into a new pair of shoes (mine) to stretch it out. He knew exactly what he was doing.
We both loved clothes and were obsessed by them. We loved shopping and looking… at everything, not just clothes. I often joked that shopping was our favourite exercise—shopping for cheese, shopping for wine, shopping for nails, shopping for linens, shopping for books, shopping for objects and furniture, shopping for clothes… We always went shopping together. The only problem is, I would get bored more easily shopping for men’s clothes than he for women’s clothes. Men’s clothes are just not as interesting! He would insist always that I come into the dressing room with him while he tried things on and reproach me when I started to get bored.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
I don’t buy things in multiples but in the past 15 years, I have had two special pairs of boots that I have replaced when they became completely worn out. I am on the second generation of both. (I hope they will continue to be manufactured so I can keep replacing them.) One is a pair of black patent leather Courrèges gogo boots which I wear in the rain. They are not intended necessarily for inclement weather but they are durable enough for a rainy walk in the city. I love them because first of all, no one wears them. Furthermore, I think the design is chic and timeless. I like the fact that they are unchanged from the 60’s and still beautifully made in France. The spacey style is always cheery on a rainy day and the surprising lightness allows one to trot around dodging raindrops.
The other is a pair of traditional sealskin boots from Norway with soles like tire treads, lined in shearling with bright red laces. They are the best footwear for snow. Malcolm originally bought them for me at the Swedish shop in Paris next to the Brasserie Lipp. (He had worn sealskin boots himself in the 70s.) When I tried to replace them recently, I discovered they were now banned in Europe so I had to get a Norwegian friend to bring them back for me. I happen to have a matching white rabbit coat banded in horizontal strips of red felt by Balenciaga which I often wear with it. One time I was wearing this coat during a France-England football game in Paris and realized I looked like an England supporter.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
Is this questionnaire directed only at women? Why do you think only a mother’s style and body can be passed onto a woman (or man)? What about your father?
My mother was a great beauty and has good style. She is right in thinking I look better in more formal and structured clothes than casual clothes though she chose to buy me my first pair of stretch jeans in bubble gum pink and a graffiti print shirt when I was 13. However, in terms of body, I am exactly like my father. We have the same slight bone structure and we even have the same beauty mark on our lower left eyelid. People always think we are identical though I don’t personally see it. As in the Korean saying my mother uses, “you can’t deceive the seed!” My father also has a great eye and taste.
16. Please describe your body.
I am, as Malcolm called me, “a stick insect”. I have relatively long limbs and digits, and a long neck, which Malcolm attributed to my chronic neck and shoulder problems. “Maybe you should ask Uma Thurman if she has neck aches too?” he suggested. As for my bow legs, he surmised that my ancestors must have ridden horses through the steppes with Genghis Khan.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
It’s not important to everyone and there is nothing wrong in it not being important to someone. But it is important to some of us.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
I think I have good taste and style. Taste can be about a specific thing. Style is about more than one element—it is more of a painted canvas, an environment, or perhaps simply a feeling. It takes more creativity to have style. I believe there is such a thing as good taste and bad taste. Good style and bad style. There are many kinds of good taste and good style but there is definitely a demarcation on what is good and bad. Then, of course, there is no style and no taste…
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
Yes. I have specific ideas about food, design, and behaviour, which accorded with Malcolm’s and ran into our work. A friend described our life as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” which is probably accurate. Neither of us were materialistic and we chose things from the heart. Quality of life was important to us as was integrity. We never amassed much beyond a few clothes and books. We made it a point to acquire things of good quality, made mainly in Europe, that would last. (I hate disposables.) There was an inherent pragmatism and simplicity but also a certain romantic and whimsical quality to our life together. I think our home in Paris, which was originally the studio of my favourite painter, Kees Van Dongen, reflected our overall aesthetic philosophy. I had it photographed just after Malcolm died, to have a record of it.
27. Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?
Clothes are my greatest material pleasure. Nothing makes me as happy as a beautiful new dress. When people have suggested I see a therapist for my grief, I have answered (quite truthfully) I prefer to spend the money on clothes. They give me great pleasure, serve a purpose and help me with my work. (I often say I have clothes instead of assistants!) Once, when I was in high school, I received an unfair grade on my report card. I went psychosomatically blind. My mother picked me up, calmed me down and took me clothes shopping and I recovered.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
I do not get dressed until I am going out. Since I work at home, this can mean the afternoon. I will wear a slip until then. However, when I am getting dressed, because of global warming, the first thing I do is check the weather on weather Underground which charts the weather hour by hour. If I am going to an important appointment, I will have already thought through what I will wear—or the different options according to weather if it is unpredictable. In the film, “Shame”, the character Marianne, tells her date, Branden, that she spent an entire hour deciding what to wear. When I brought up this scene with the director of the film, Steve McQueen, he explained it was to show how much effort she had put into the evening. He looked a bit shocked when I told him that I would never have waited until an hour before dressing for an important date to decide what to wear; I would have started working this out as soon as the date was set—and enjoyed every minute of mulling over it.
If I am not going anywhere special, then I probably am in a groove with one set of looks or another. I go in phases.
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
I am what is called a 1.5 generation Korean immigrant. Because of this, I was brought up with a certain formality which includes emphasis on presentation and the idea that how you look communicates respect (or lack thereof) towards others. It is more close to European culture than American culture, in which, as far as I am concerned, anything goes and comfort is over-rated! I was raised to wash things properly (for example, hand wash, air-dry), mend and to iron. My roommates were bemused when I arrived at Yale with an iron, an ironing board, a drying rack, a soaking bucket and a sewing kit.
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
I am not photogenic and I am relieved when others agree! I think I am terrible at posing, though maybe I am not as bad as I think because I have posed a number of times for photographers, including a topless picture and a nude series which have both been published. (But you can’t see my face in these!) I am about to pose for a series of portraits wearing the graphic LouisVuitton clothes this season (Spring/Summer 2013) for Alessandro Raho, a British painter. His portrait of Judi Dench is in the National Gallery of London so the bar is set high. I hope I won’t disappoint him! Personally, my favourite pictures of myself tend to be candid shots.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
Ughhh (the usual)… or Ummm! (what a nice surprise)
54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
Aside from Malcolm, I imagine my list is the same as most people’s—Hitchcock movies from the 60s, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Faye Dunaway in “The Thomas Crowne Affair”… I think the woman with the best style today is Kate Moss. She gets it right every time and it’s not just because she’s Kate Moss that she looks great. She really has amazing inherent style.
56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?
I look terrible in anything hippie-ish or trashy. For instance, caftans or Cavalli.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I don’t wear much makeup. I’m not very good with it. A bit of eyeliner and mascara. Sometimes lipstick or gloss, sometimes foundation and powder. However, I do love costume parties and enjoy going all the way on such occasions, including the makeup.
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
My most precious piece is probably a tiny antique pearl necklace—most likely a child’s-- from Hancocks in Burlington Arcade in London. It was a gift from Malcolm who loved the idea that it was so tiny he felt only I could wear it. Also, because I am from Long Island, Malcolm associated me with Oyster Bay and oysters and hence, pearls… In regard to my favourite piece of clothing, it is difficult to say, but perhaps it is my black waxed cotton trench coat from Lanvin. It is a raincoat that actually is not only pretty, but is waterproof, light and breathes, unlike vinyl. The British, in particular, seem to like it-- maybe because macs are such an inherent part of British culture; maybe because they are so perverse.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
I hate the term “investment” item. This is a modern term that strips fashion of its romance and artistry and makes it cold and corporate. Fashion should be bought because one loves it and looks wonderful in it, not because it is an “investment”. I have never thought of fashion, or anything else in this way. I find it cynical and depressing.
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
There are a few shops I like in a city and I visit them regularly. The best city to shop for fashion is Paris, without a doubt. In Paris, it takes days to cover all the shops—hosiery shops, lingerie shops, glove shops, dress shops, shoe shops, bag shops, jewelry shops, antique shops… many of the original couture houses and flagship stores… In New York or in London you can cover them all in an afternoon. I don’t shop with the mission to find something. I shop to see what’s going on. Like everyone, whenever I actually need something urgently, I can never find it… but in terms of fashion, you have a better chance in Paris than anywhere else. Many women complain they can’t find anything they want; my problem is, I can always find something I want. I think you have to constantly look to find good things. Different shops stock different things and they come out at different times. Unless you’re looking, you’ll miss the right—or the best-- things. So maybe I never stop shopping.
79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
Clothes have always been very important to me. Since I was a small child, I was aware of clothes and had very strong feelings about them. My mother and father both have excellent taste and care about clothes too. Though we didn’t indulge in any other non-essentials, my parents would buy clothes—especially for us, the children. People often think fashion is frivolous but it isn’t—at least for some of us. Clothes give you confidence and power to do things you might not be able to do otherwise. It puts you into a role. This even applies to uniforms in war. (Malcolm told me the head of a uniform factory in Poland explained that the Nazis understood fashion and designed great uniforms—which this factory had produced. When the Stalinists took over, they were smart enough to simply change the color. This man said that if Mao had had better uniforms, he would have been more successful.) People perceive you differently and treat you differently. How I dress has literally changed my life. At the same time, I dress for myself, not others.
81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
I always carry a Smythson page per day diary in my bag.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
July 21, 1971
Seoul, Korea. I live between NY and Paris.
What kind of work do you do?
I work in the creative world—art, fashion, film, music, literature…
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
I am single since Malcolm passed away. He is in fact the only relationship I have ever had. I do not have children. I have never cared about them. Perhaps this is why I could give everything to Malcolm and be his best friend. He called me his “buddy with breasts”.
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
The bulk of my formative adult years— 12 years from the age of 26-- were spent with my boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren until his death in 2010. We were extremely close and during a certain point in our relationship, I believe we somehow became the same. This is why I think our relationship worked. As an artist—as Malcolm quintessentially was—he was naturally a narcissist. (Perhaps I am one too.) But as we somehow became one (“we have to be the same”, Malcolm would often insist) it enabled our relationship to constantly strengthen. In the last few years of his life, we never disagreed on anything—people, food, fashion, art, design, politics, film, books, ideas… we might have different personal preferences (for example, I don’t like heavy political war films) but we would agree on the assessment thereof. (Liking something is different from recognizing that it is good.) Ultimately I believe we influenced each other equally. I was influenced by him and he was influenced by me. So my answers often refer to Malcolm as he was an inextricable part of my life in all ways.