“Last year in March, she was sitting over there at her desk working with her sewing machine when she got a call from someone and just started crying. I thought she’d pricked her finger!”
Lee Gun-ho, 44-year-old CEO of fashion brand BlueTamburin, never imagined that in less than a year of launching his brand that it would get invited to all of the “Big 4” fashion weeks — New York, London, Milan and Paris.
BlueTamburin’s Chief Creative Officer (CCO) Bomin Kim, 48, the designer for the brand, is the first and only Korean designer to have been simultaneously invited to the Big 4.
So when Kim received the call from Global Fashion Collective, an organization that specializes in discovering and promoting rising fashion designers for major Fashion Weeks, she couldn’t help but break down in tears.
Since launching in February 2021, BlueTamburin has already showcased its works at Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter (F/W) 2022 and New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer (S/S) 2022. Other fashion weeks the brand was featured in were 2021 Qingdao Fashion Week and Vancouver Fashion Week F/W 2021.
Currently, it is preparing for the remaining two of the Big 4: Milan Fashion Week F/W 2023 and London Fashion Week S/S 2023.
It may come as a surprise to many in the fashion industry that Kim is the first Korean designer to get invited to all of the Big 4 at the same time, as it’s only been a bit over a year since BlueTamburin launched.
However, Kim has over 25 years of experience in the industry, having even worked for a Chinese fashion company years ago. She was also a recurring designer in other fashion weeks, like Seoul Fashion Week F/W 2014, Vancouver Fashion Week F/W 2018 and New York Fashion Week F/W 2019.
Last week, for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at Kim’s studio in Gangseo District, western Seoul, Lee and Kim were overflowing with stories, from how they launched the brand to behind-the-scenes insights of fashion weeks. They were so eager to finally be able to tell the legendary tale of how BlueTamburin made a significant mark in Korean fashion history.
BlueTamburin is a celebration of fashion, which is exactly what CEO Lee said he wanted to express when naming the brand. Combining the color, which they said is typically ambivalently associated with both happy and sad feelings, and the percussion instrument, BlueTamburin was inspired by Belarusian-French artist Marc Chagall’s (1887-1985) painting “Miriam dances” (1931).
“The painting shows the Israelites having a festival after Moses helped them safely cross the Red Sea, from the story in the Bible,” Lee explained. “In the middle of the painting is Moses’ sister, Miriam, shown shaking a tambourine while dancing cheerfully. A tambourine is typically used when people are all together for a joyous event, and so we want to be like a tambourine to everyone, in any situation, whether it be good or bad.”
At the core of the brand lies Kim’s own philosophy on fashion — “Beautiful People, Beautiful Lives” is BlueTamburin’s slogan, Kim said, which is why it dubs itself a “social impact fashion brand.”
“I think fashion is something that has the impact to convey something beautiful, brilliant and bright,” Kim said. “When I started working in fashion, I wanted to use this power to promote a positive message. So I wondered, what is beauty? I think beauty is good. Then what is good beauty? Everyone’s own persona can be likened to a flower. If you give everyone the chance to fully blossom and accept each other for who they are, the world will be richly diverse, like a colorful flower bed. And I want to be able to contribute to that with the clothes that I design.”
To truly achieve that goal, BlueTamburin had to take on challenges, like recruiting its own models to walk the runway during fashion weeks. It was a risk, because while most fashion brands use models provided by each fashion week, BlueTamburin wanted to bring their own models that would thoroughly reflect each of its themes, and also open the door to other aspirants in the fashion industry, which is why the brand continues to hold auditions to recruit models before the show.
“Sometimes, in the industry, models are seen as merely clothes racks for the brand’s clothes, and the models who are extremely tall and slim tend to be preferred. There are also times when the designer meets the model for the first time only shortly before they jump on the catwalk,” Kim said.
“But there are far more people in the world who don’t have the body type of a model. For us — we refer to our models as “muses” instead — and this is because we want to select models who can do the best job in manifesting our themes. We make sure the designer and model work together to establish a relationship in which they can be inspirational partners.”
During Paris Fashion Week F/W 2022, the brand brought six Korean models to the runway. But when you combine every single Korean model who has ever been up on that stage in the event’s history until that point, it’s most likely less than six, according to Kim. Kim and Lee both agreed that bringing not one, not two, but six Korean models was indeed unprecedented and a challenge.
Among them was 14-year-old Lee Jae-si, the daughter of 43-year-old former footballer Lee Dong-gook. Kim and Lee Jae-si initially met via the aspiring model’s own YouTube channel, in which Kim made a special appearance along with CEO Lee for a short interview.
“Our theme for Paris Fashion Week was called ‘The Fairtytale of BlueTamburin,’” Kim said. “We needed 16 models who would dress as characters from fairy tales, and we especially needed someone who had a cute, childlike image. We knew that Jae-si would be the perfect fit to portray Little Red Riding Hood — so when we learned that her dream is to become a professional model, we wanted to give her the chance to debut on our stage.”
Even though Lee Jae-si did not have prior experience in professional modeling, her walk and presence was beyond expectations, Kim and CEO Lee said. While there have been rumors thrown around in the media that Lee Jae-si was scouted “because of her dad,” Kim and Lee vehemently denied such claims, saying that she was chosen “solely because of her character and image.”
BlueTamburin’s selection of models is quite diverse, as they include 53-year-old model Jang Jae-heon and 34-year-old transgender model Choi Han-bit.
When asked how many people she works with to design all of BlueTamburin’s clothes, Kim shook her head, saying that it was just her.
“Usually, brands have multiple people dividing the design process — planning, sketching, patterning, needlework and market research — but for us, I do everything,” Kim said. “I spend around 16 to 20 hours in the studio from about two to three months before a show. People tend to think that fashion designers tour the world and shop all day and that that’s how they get inspiration, but that’s not the case for me.”
“I always tell people that she only has two days to be extravagant and fancy out of the entire year,” Lee joked. “Excluding the days that she’s attending fashion shows, Kim is always in the studio.”
Then how does Kim get inspired for new looks?
“People are my inspiration,” Kim said. “I always watch the news on television: It’s on all the time. BlueTamburin’s clothes are made for people, which is why we strive to have an impact on society. We want people to look good for who they are, and that’s the only thought I have when I design or go to fashion events. I inevitably constantly look out for stories about life. Recently, I have been trying to meet and converse with different kinds of people of different environments.”
BlueTamburin does not stop at simply designing new collections every two seasons and selling them. Although it does tend to stick to the “digital classic” style — a name coined by Lee to mean mixing traditional attire with recent trends, as shown in its recent fairy-tale concept — BlueTamburin does not create and distribute its clothes in mainstream, conventional ways. Rather, it “sells ideas.”
“We have sold some of our collections that were shown during fashion weeks in limited quantities,” Lee said. “But that’s not all there is to it. Our goal is to help our consumers become their best self. Disneyland doesn’t just sell tickets; they offer experiences that are out of this world. We do sell our designs to other brands, but we also want to create a festivity that represents Asia. We’re even in the process of making our own NFTs [non-fungible tokens].”
For their NFTs, Lee hopes it will aid in authenticating real BlueTamburin clothes in the form of a certificate, as there are still shortcomings in laws and patents regarding copyrights for designers.
“Statistics say that imitation brand clothing takes up two-thirds of the entire global fashion market,” Lee said. “That means that there are probably more people who purchase these garments already knowing they are fake. But if we have NFTs, they will protect designers’ creative work and prevent infringement.”
Currently, the brand is working hand in hand with KT and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to expand into the metaverse so that users will be able to dress their avatars also in digital BlueTamburin clothes and trade them.
For now, Kim is bustling to prepare for the upcoming Milan Fashion Week F/W 2023, set for September, and London Fashion Week S/S 2023, set for early next year. BlueTamburin has also been invited to Vancouver Fashion Week S/S 2023 and its Kids Fashion Week, and has its eyes on launching another fashion brand with a tennis-inspired look.
In the end, BlueTamburin celebrates fashion. Lee and Kim are passionate about planning “fashion’s biggest night out” in Korea with a fundraising benefit — like the prestigious Met Gala.
“We want to host a huge fashion event to bring everyone together and have as many brands as possible show off their looks,” Lee said. “And we certainly want to do it for a good cause — don’t you think it’s time Korea has its own iconic fashion event too?”
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [[email protected]]