Where the corners meet at Alexander Wu-Kim’s brand, AISON ANDÉR, the lines between past and present, family and clothing blend. It’s a poignant and emotionally-charged meeting place that’s conceptually dense yet presented tangibly in a collection of staple streetwear garments. Though simple in its restraint, Wu-Kim births a busy hub for the retelling of his personal intergenerational stories, ones that revolve around the immigration of his family from Korea but also double as a foothold for the exploration of his own identity on the shores of Australia.
Love is the seed of tears, his debut line, pays homage to a pivotal character in this story, his Grandfather, and is named after his most famous film released in 1969. Throughout the collection we learn of the sacrifice, the upheavals and the successes of Wu-Kim’s kin, and what we’re left with is an imaginative retelling through a modern lens.
In an illuminating and eloquently worded interview with the young designer, we gain insight into the Asian-Australian experience while discovering the stories that drive the upcoming brand’s ethos.
When was your interest in the fashion world conceived, and what prompted you to start AISON ANDÉR?
My interest in the industry was conceived at a very early age actually. In fact, I think it was as early as primary school. I can’t explain it, but even at that time, I had a fascination with how garments were constructed, the materials that were used, the colour combinations, and how these pieces can help express your own sense of self. I thought it was just a phase, but as time progressed, that gravitation actually got stronger and stronger.
The idea of having my own label was always a goal of mine, but it was important that it served a larger purpose than just the product itself. I’d flirted with building brands in the past, but it didn’t have a clear meaning outside of the garments. So in time, they fell by the wayside. Eventually though, I realised that I wanted to build something closely connected to the Asian experience, and to do so in a way that will make people feel and connect with something. That’s how AISON was born.
The term AISON is a significant title within East Asia culture. Why did you feel that this title helped signify the brand?
So AISON is actually a term that defines those directly in the noble line that, for one reason or another, had been reduced to commonality. It’s a saying that I think holds a lot of truth and parallels to the story behind the brand. This story of course is one that is deeply rooted in my personal family history, but also one that I think rings true to immigrant families across the world. My grandfather was a famous and successful film producer in Korea in the 1960s-70s, but moved to Australia to become a kitchen hand and a cleaner. He, in many ways, was the “modern” day representation of AISON and it was something that I was keen to explore and flesh out. Often we talk about the rag to riches story, but it’s not always so simple. So how does this journey shape someone? Does it change their outlook on life?
‘Love is the seed of tears’ is your latest campaign. What significance does this title have for you?
Love is the Seed of Tears was actually the title of my Grandfather’s most famous film, released in 1969. He not only produced the film, but also helped launch the career of the now famous Korean singer – Na Hoon-A. My first campaign was always intended to be a tribute to my family, and with my Grandfather being the central figure in this story, it became a title that became more and more fitting. With his passing during the post-production of the film, this ultimately cemented the title in my mind – serving as a homage to him and his memory.
Your brand is described as one with deep personal importance. How do you overcome the fear of releasing work with such great personal magnitude?
The fear is always there. As soon as the button is pressed and something is published, there is definitely that crippling anxiety that takes over – what are people thinking? Do they like it? Maybe I should have done it like this instead? Should I just delete it? And so the story goes.
In fact, after the release of my first campaign, I sat down for dinner with my partner and just burst out crying as I started to see the response. For me, the moment was so emotional for so many reasons, but I think it was the personal connection with the story that tipped me over the edge. Obviously, reacting like that after each release isn’t exactly sustainable. I think it’s important to remind myself that as much as I want people to receive everything I do well, it’s still very much a personal project at the end of the day. So if I like it and it helps me express myself and what I’m feeling, then that should be enough.
You describe the collection as a ‘nod to the Korean ways of doing things, old and new’. How did you initially decide to interpret that into your designs and brand?
The first collection is interwoven with small nods to my family, which in turn extends further to more general Korean culture. For instance, the football Jersey you see in the first collection was a direct homage to my Grandfather. Interestingly enough, football was the one thing he grasped onto as a sense of familiarity as he came to Australia. It was also the one thing that language barriers aside, we could always bond over. We’d watch football together for hours. He was a Manchester United fan, so would pay me out endlessly for supporting Arsenal.
The gilet on the other hand, is inspired by stories of my Grandmother and her time in the worker’s canteen at the Hyatt hotel. The piece was given a wide and free flowing opening at the bottom to make it reminiscent of an apron – a subtle reference to her time there. It was these small design decisions that were made across each of these pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed. They can easily be overlooked, but if you unpack it and delve a little further, more often than not there’s a story to be told.
Family connection plays a pivotal role in your work. Could you further explain how your family ties into your ethos?
Family is deeply rooted in the spirit of the brand. For me, it’s beyond just what we speak about in our campaigns or how the garments are designed. It’s firmly part of the DNA of what AISON stands for. This brand wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the way my parents and grandparents hustled and ultimately sacrificed their own dreams and ambitions to make sure the family unit was stable. So with this comes a lot of gratitude and respect, which as you saw was a big part of my first campaign. This also serves as a constant reminder to remain humble and grounded in the way we operate. We’re all part of a journey that’s bigger than ourselves and it’s important to remember how we got to this point. This spirit is something that will stay true for everything moving forward.
There are some amazing stories within your family. Ones that involve incredible moments of overcoming and achievement. Could you tell us a story from your past that you think defines your mentality today?
It’s probably quite funny to say, but it’s not exactly my own experiences but that of my family that I credit for my mentality. There’s a story that I love of my grandfather, who upon coming to this country started working at the Hyatt as a kitchen hand. One evening, a group of around 50 people checked in late to the hotel due to a delayed flight. Arriving hungry and frustrated, they all went to the restaurant but all the chefs had gone home. At this point it was just my grandfather and the hotel manager on duty who were expected to cook for these guests. The manager said to him “you have to save me here, it’s just you and me”. So without any experience in the kitchen at all, my grandfather ended up cooking 50 steaks that night. That was the start of a beautiful story with that hotel manager, who would end up promoting him to be head chef and send my grandparents on work trips across the world with the VIP treatment. My grandparents would eventually start their own takeaway restaurant at Pier One and save up enough money to buy a three bedroom house in the suburbs. That moment was a real turning point in our fortunes. I love that story.
Do you feel there is a narrative that needs to be deconstructed in the Australian dialogue in regards to immigration, and in order to stimulate empathy? If so, how do you hope to add to that discussion with your brand?
Most definitely. There’s nothing that says it better for me than the reception towards “Love is the Seed of Tears”. I received so many beautiful responses from my friends, who coming from immigrant backgrounds themselves, had resonated with the story and shared those experiences with me. This was not only Korean or even Asian families but from countries across the globe like Greece, Chile, Italy, Nigeria and countless more. Immigrants make up the very fabric of this country, but for so long I feel like our value in the community has been downplayed. For me, the brand’s purpose is to bring this narrative to the forefront and to show how exceptional we all are. And really, to create a space where people feel comfortable to connect and share stories about our families or own experiences.
Being of Korean descent, although influenced by Australian culture, affects your inspiration for this collection. How do you hope audiences perceive the intended message of your work?
I love how everyone has interpreted the work so differently. I think in a way, it’s encouraged people to look inward and reflect on their own journey. It’s made for some really interesting conversations where I’ve found out intimate details about my friends I never knew. In such a way, I wanted to make sure my work wasn’t just focused on the Korean story, but more so was something that everyone can relate to and participate in. It’s a message that I hope everyone can connect with on some level.
What hopes do you hold for AISON ANDÉR in the future?
Right now, to be honest I just want to keep it going. Keep working with people that I love and admire. Tell more stories that incite thought, but also importantly – entertain. Build and nurture a group of people that feel comfortable sharing their stories. Hopefully sell some product along the way to keep the dream alive.