The future of fashion is fluid and New York based designer Subin Hahn is contributing to this style shift through his brand ‘Subin Hahn, Fluid Wear’.
Hahn, who has created four eloquent, unique collections since founding his brand in 2018, describes his work as “Fluidity, ambiguity and freedom”. With each collection, he plans to stay true to his core belief, which is, “representing the fluidity of clothing that can be worn by everyone.”
The inspiration behind the creation of his own brand came from Hahn’s disbelief in gendered clothing, in which he said, “everyone has a right to choose the way they want to express themselves individually. Feminine beauty, empathy, love and acceptance inspire me to express through my own creations.”
The accomplished fashion designer’s beliefs stemmed from his own cultured journey thus far in fashion and life as well as the places and people he has interacted with.
Born and raised in Suwon, South Korea, Hahn recalled that it was during 6th grade that he decided to pursue fashion design as a future career after his art teacher noticed his undeniable talent, “I’ve always liked art classes and drawing Disney princesses, focusing on the outfits and gestures, and this led my interest in fashion design. I’ve also studied fine art after school so my whole childhood activities evolved around art and design.”
However, Hahn said that there was little to no room for him to fully express his personality in the “conservative and hierarchical” society that South Korea was, in which he described, “most people weren’t able to understand my dreams and made fun of my so-called feminine appearance: introverted, soft spoken voice, interest in fashion and art was too ‘feminine’ for a boy to have and suggested me to change to fit into what was considered to be ‘normal’.”
Hahn expressed that this experience made him more determined to become a designer as he wanted to, “show myself through my work and have a positive impact on the current society for the better future, especially for younger people who might be experiencing similar situations that I went through.”
As Hahn began to seek for more acceptance and freedom, he made the decision to leave South Korea and was welcomed to New York to pursue his dreams.
Hahn enrolled in Parsons School of Design where he was considered for and won several nominations like the Hugo Boss x Parsons 2017-2018 award. As a graduate of the class of 2018, he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree for Fashion Design at the prestigious fashion school. Looking back on his education at Parsons, Hahn said that the most important thing that he learned was that he should have his own voice and the way of thinking to approach his creative process, “finding my own point of view isn’t always easy. In fact, it takes a great amount of time to research, meditate and experiment in many possible ways to have my strong point of view and Parsons helped me to find it very successfully through various courses and activities.”
These activities included working for top fashion brands like Zac Posen, Marchesa, Calvin Klein and Vaquera which provided Hahn with experience and insight into commercial and high end fashion. With each work experience Hahn has had, and now as an Assistant Designer for Marc Jacobs, he said, “each of them are different from one another and that’s what makes the fashion industry richer and dynamic. Appreciation of difference and freedom to stand up for what you believe in are great virtues in living the life that’s given to me as a creative professional.” The industry’s diversity along with the diversity of the city are both aspects that Hahn admires and has used as inspiration for his own work.
“This influenced me to approach my work with both artistic and commercial aspects. Rich sources and inspiration in the City are a good influence to my artistic vision. I especially love stage performance and design, and Broadway is such a good way to escape to those dreams and fantasy created by tremendous amounts of hard work by amazing creatives behind the scene.”-SH
The attributes that Hahn had learned throughout his life experiences hold true in his thesis collection, “Impressions of Tomorrow”, which was “a stepping stone” for his clothing brand. “I explored not just clothing, but also accessories, paintings, textiles and music accompanied by extensive research on identity and context, and at the end, the final collection became a huge body of work and caught a lot of press attention and also led me to a full-time opportunity in the industry. Throughout the whole development process, I tried to be true to myself that whoever sees my work can understand my honesty and sincerity towards the better progress of the fashion industry and it proved itself to be the successful work of art that I’m proud of still to this day.”
Hahn recalled that he spent over a year for the research and development process and said through this he was able to, “explore and strengthen my design ethos and ideas into a capsule collection that represents the possibilities that show how my work of art can evolve in many different ways, without losing the essence of my belief.”
After traveling back to Suwon, South Korea, to visit home, Hahn says that he explored and revisited places where he spent most of his time as a teenager, “I reflected on how the emotions and experiences relate to each of the few environments in the small town help me shape my personality.”
This recent trip and the memories that he retrieved inspired Hahn’s FW20 collection.
- Prints, colors and silhouettes are a mixture of imagery in each place I chose as inspiration.
- Memories of female counterparts and the empathy and love I experienced is part of the inspiration I expressed throughout the collection.
- I shot the lookbook only with pitch black background with a figure standing in the middle as a way to express the solitude growing up as the only child of my family, not as a bad way, but to tell a story of my experience that even in the solitude I was loved and comforted by my female friends and especially my mom. Feminine beauty, therefore, is such important value in my designs.
Due to the love, empathy and kindness Hahn has experienced from his female counterparts, Femininity is a major theme within his brand, he added that, “It is also a way of resistance to the toxic masculinity and stereotypes that I had to deal with in the past.” The designer’s love for Disney princesses when he grew up has also influenced his pieces with romanticism, literally and metaphorically, “The gestures, distinct personalities and beautiful designs are still a big part of my inspiration.”
“Femininity is a soft yet strong way to say to the world that I will not compromise my personality on the miseducated, unkind and incapable of understanding other people’s value regarding male femininity.”-SH
Overall, Hahn decided to have his brand focus on gender-fluid wear because he felt that the fashion industry needs to be the platform to promote inclusion and equality. “Women have been fighting for their equality by appropriating mens fashion for years with the help of designers such as Gabriel Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, however attempts to feminize menswear for people who don’t want to fit into the preconceived masculinity hasn’t been always successful and rather considered as something unacceptable or nothing more than just a gimmick.”
“It is a sincere wish for me to reinforce male femininity and be part of the progress in the fashion industry moving towards true equality, just like women used the fashion of their counterparts as a movement towards equality in society years ago. I represent the individuals who are brave enough to fight for the right belief and freedom.”-SH
Hahn continued on to discuss how most of unisex and gender neutral fashion stays in the traditional menswear or athleisure aesthetic which might provide more diverse options of self-expression for females, but it is not the same for males, “Menswear needs to have more diverse styles and choices just like womenswear evolved throughout the fashion history. Eventually I wish this division of category solely based on sex to disappear and people to be free from all conceptions and stereotypes.”
In this way, Hahn hopes to use his creations as a way to focus on diversity and inclusion and to therefore bring a positive change to the world and any controversies that may arise. He also feels that it is important that the idea of gender disassociates itself with the fashion industry because, “every individual has freedom to express their true personality. Indication of gender is a perception constructed in society overtime and I believe it is part of the reasons why the industry is being held back from moving towards equality. Femininity has been often considered as something inferior and weak, and masculinity has been the standard and predominant value not just in menswear but womenswear and gender-neutral clothing as well.”
“Disassociating gender creates more freedom for everyone, and as a first step, I think reinforcing feminine value will progress fashion for equity, and eventually I hope clothing disassociates itself from the traditional idea of what’s ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.”-SH
In regards to people that may be afraid to express themselves through fashion by not dressing according to their identified gender, Hahn says, “I think it’s mostly because they care too much about what other people would say when they go against the “norm.” I used to be like this too when I was younger. I wore more dull colors and followed what other people wore normally, but as I grew up it was just a fear that I made up inside of my mind that held me back from expressing what I really like. It is true that there are still people who are caught up in the stereotypical mindset and don’t understand the individuality, but who cares about them? They are the one who need to change, not us.”
“It is perfectly normal to be different and we are not all the same. Once you overcome the fear and embrace your own personality, it is much easier for anyone to freely express themselves. Clothing has no indication of gender whatsoever. It was made up by society overtime and now we need to break down the preconceived idea for more progress.”-SH
How would you describe your own personal style? Is it similar to that of your brand?
SH: I love wearing bright colors. I never wear head to toe black. I love the styles from the 70’s flared pants and personally enjoy mixing womenswear items such as silk bow blouse and sometimes heeled boots to have more fun everyday. Generally I like mixing mens and womenswear pieces, which is similar to that of my brand aesthetic.
Is there a quote that you live by? If so, how does it relate to your brand?
SH: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” This is my favorite quote from the Bible. I have faith that there is a world in the afterlife that is much better than the world that we live in now. My designs are created to express this vision, a paradise of love and faith that was created and will be inherited to me by a higher being. I wish to provide hope through my work for those who struggle in this world that there is a place out there for us where we can all be royals abiding in grace and love.
How has fashion shaped you? What are your thoughts on where the fashion industry is heading?
SH: Studying and working in the fashion industry changed my perception that fashion is not just making cute clothes, but much more than that. Fashion is more of a life style that depicts our lives of a certain time. Not just clothing and accessories, but also the music that we listened to, food that we eat, places we visit for leisure and museums and artwork we see… fashion is a much broader term that what people normally think. Fashion can also be very political since designers put their belief when they create their work.
The fashion industry is heading towards for the better, to be more equitable, inclusive and sustainable. Especially for the time being, more fashion brands are taking their ownership and show their works regardless of the seasons and taking time to really consider more sustainable way of producing. Recent announcement of the London Fashion week that they are going completely digital and gender neutral is very exciting news I heard from the industry. These little attempts and efforts for change in the industry gives hope that the industry is moving for the better.
Has there been anything in this industry that you have had to overcome? How did you do so?
SH: Fear of having a clear voice is something that I had to overcome as an introverted self. It was not easy to put my personal stories out there through my work so everyone sees it, but it was worth to see many people who had similar experiences to myself growing up struggling with stereotypes reacting to my story and encouraging me. One time around my graduation, I had a chance to present and speak about my work in front of people from different art schools in New York, and the response was so heartwarming and few people were very touched about the message that I spoke about. I’ve learnt that it is important to have my strong voice about what I believe in, and this gave me courage to speak about myself and share my honest experiences.
Why do you think fashion is an important outlet for people around the world?
SH: Fashion is universal. It has such impact to reach to all over the world and influences people in their everyday life. Positive change and progress of fashion industry will have good impact on many lives. Gender, sustainability, equity and many other issues are being covered through fashion and I love seeing many conversations influencing people all over the world for the move towards better future.
What advice do you have for other people that dream of working in fashion and creating their own brand?
SH: Working in fashion industry is hard. There are more stressful times than the excitement that is usually portrayed in media. But it’s worth going through if you have the right mind-set and determined to work hard because your hard work pays off some day. You have to enjoy every process and live with it, and most importantly, have a clear purpose and point of view why you should be working in the industry and this will lead you to success.
You have already accomplished so much and have created a beautiful brand, what’s next for you and your brand? What else do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years?
SH: I approach my fashion works as more of artistic projects, rather than business aspect. It frees my mind to create more dynamic and rich designs. I hope this way my work reaches more audiences through editorials and other media. I will continue to create not just clothing but more of artworks: illustration and painting to tell my stories for the people who needs such voice. I wish I had more opportunities to exhibit my designs through various platforms: physical exhibitions, film or stage costumes as well as in real life on the street.