The fact that it's past dinner time and Yoon Ahn is still in the studio isn't surprising. Over the past few years, the AMBUSH co-founder has emerged as a bonafide fashion sensation, her awesome career trajectory owed not only to natural talent, but an exhaustive work ethic. Along with peers Kim Jones (whom she operates under at Dior Men's as Director of Jewelry) and Virgil Abloh (a long-term friend whose relationship can be traced back to when they were interned at Fendi) Ahn has become a poster girl for the new wave of multi-disciplinarian creatives.
It seems a lifetime ago since Ahn emerged on the scene with onomatopoeic knuckle dusters. Having successfully bridged the design gap between jewelry and ready-to-wear, the former LVMH Prize finalist is white-hot property, with blue-chip brands including Nike and Rimowa queuing up to work with AMBUSH. When the call to collaborate comes, the project has to be special. Her latest partners, Uniqlo UT and Disney, meet that criterion.
Breaking down gender stereotypes has long been a mission of Ahn's; visit AMBUSH's gorgeous Tokyo flagship and you'll find unisex apparel hanging on racks arranged by color. That's part of the reason why, for her capsule, she chose to work with Minnie Mouse — perennially overlooked as the mere love interest of Mickey — who has been abstracted and recontextualized across a selection of comfy neutral staples.
Calling into Tokyo, we caught up with Ahn to find out more about the new range.
Why did you want to collaborate with Uniqlo?
I've been a longtime customer, but you know, as someone who works in the fashion industry out of Japan, Uniqlo's always been a very inspirational company to me, because they stick to their core DNA, and then they went international, bringing something to the market that no one else could. I always had a huge amount of respect for the president [Tadashi Yanai] as well as the company. It's a huge honor to be able to work with the biggest apparel company to come out of Japan.
It's as if Uniqlo almost approaches getting dressed from a problem-solving perspective.
We often think fashion equals something that has to live in the realm of fantasy. But a lot of us live in the real world, and I think what Uniqlo's providing for the people is something that [...] helps them to go on to their daily life without being stressed over something as basic as T-shirts or socks. And I think that's something that's often taken for granted, but it's still important because if something simple is really well-made and really well-designed, it just feels good to wear, and it enhances your life. And I think that's what they are trying to achieve and I'm more on the fantasy side of the fashion, but functionality and something that can help enhance people's lives really interests me, too. Because it's hard to design and come up with something that can reach an even wider audience, or that could work on a wider audience, is more challenging to me.
How long has this been in the works for?
We started working last year, right before the end of springtime.
How does Disney tie in with AMBUSH?
I love working with the best in the industry. The collaborators I work with are the people that I hugely respect, in their own terms, in their own industry. For me, Disney is the best. I mean, it created the dream for a lot of us.
It was really fun for me to work with the character of Minnie, who is just as important as Mickey to me — just because she's female doesn't mean she's just the sidekick! Minnie is actually a counterpart of who Mickey is, she just hasn't been featured as much.
[Minnie is often] portrayed in a very cute and very girly way, but I wanted to keep it a little bit more neutral and little bit more abstract. So I had fun working with it.
Guys can wear it, too?
Yeah, for sure. At the end of the day, clothing's just clothing. It's a unisex line. T-shirts are T-shirts, you know? So both men and women can definitely wear it.
Did you have access to more characters, or were you set on Minnie?
Yeah. When Uniqlo approached us, they wanted to work with female Disney characters. So I did have options. I just clicked with Minnie.
Can you tell me about the motif with the hands? How did the design come about?
I was looking through archives of Minnie Mouse from the ’80s and ’90s, because for me, each decade captures a certain style. [I wanted to] capture the philosophy of Disney, what they're preaching, and also who this character is. So I took certain bits and then put everything together. The "Love," I took it from Mickey and Minnie's hands and I filled it out. It's about embodying and reinterpreting what Disney is through my own thing.
It's much more subtle and adult. The silhouette is very AMBUSH, kind of oversized. And even the ankle, it's a relaxed fit.
I was interested in what [Uniqlo's] customers were looking for, so I was asking a lot of questions, like, "What cut works for boys and women?"
How was the Uniqlo design team to work with?
They're really amazing. They actually wanted to push me into making something crazy, but I wanted to bring something that's purer. Like, it doesn't have to be too wild — I think for me what matters is just, how I can simplify everything to the simplest thing, yet when it's worn, it [feels] different. I think that is what Uniqlo is to me.
Does your design philosophy change when you're designing for someone like Uniqlo?
I do, because I have to respect certain guidelines that they have as a company. I don't look at that as a restriction. For me, it's more like, "Okay, that's the space that's given to me, how much can I play within that space?"
Is it more difficult?
I don't think so. Once there's a guideline, if there are restrictions that you're aware of from the beginning, it's actually more liberating. That's better than, "Do whatever you want," and then, towards the end of the process, hearing, "Actually, we can't do that." That's more difficult to do.
You obviously have so many irons in the fire. Does your work with AMBUSH, Dior Men's, and then these kinds of projects inform one another, or do you manage to keep them separate?
Yes and no. When you do collaborations, they go into the stores at the same time as AMBUSH. But AMBUSH's collection is the AMBUSH collection, and it should reflect what we are feeling at that moment and what we want to do. But collaboration is also about solving problems. So for me, it's about, "Okay, if I'm working with people like Uniqlo, then what are some basic things that I can bring that I've never done with AMBUSH?" Creating that world with them is more important, and more interesting to me, so I tie it, but I don't at the same time.
Shop the Minni Ambush collection over at Uniqlo.