Husband-and-wife design team Gene Kang and Hanii Yoon met back when they were teenage classmates in Seoul, Korea. After decamping to San Francisco to study fashion at FIDM (Yoon) and the Academy of Art College (Kang), they returned to Korea and launched their first line, Obzee, in 1993. Known for its avant-yet-elegant aesthetic and handcrafted details (think: patchwork, lacing, braiding, ruching), Obzee was followed by a secondary line, O’2nd, in 1997, both of which are now sold in more than 80 stores around the world.
Then in 2001 came their quasi-eponymous line, Y & Kei/Water the Earth, with which the duo hoped to capture an East-meets-West style that blends Asian culture with New York avant-garde and a European edge. Y & Kei took home the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award for Best New Designer in 2003, and the line is a favorite of fashionable celebs such as Kate Hudson, Courtney Love, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and Nicole Richie.
Their goal, say the designers, is to make “fashion that personifies the essence of nature; fashion that is beautiful because it captures nature’s essence; fashion that epitomizes the blossoming of a beautiful flower in nature.”
The Fashion Informer recently tracked down Kang and Yoon to try and capture the essence of their nature. So, Y & Kei…
What is your favorite city?
Our favorite cities are New York and Tokyo - we cannot decide on just one! NYC is a cultural epicenter; we love walking around and discovering stores, restaurants and museums. However, the main reason we love New York is the people. Everywhere you look there is so much diversity and true personal style. We love Tokyo for the same reasons, but the main reason we love Tokyo is that it is so vivid and the imagery can be totally surreal.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Kei: I always have eggs in the morning. Y loves her chocolate donuts. Not really healthy, but you have to be able to live a little!
What's the last book you read?
Mostly we read a lot of Korean books. In terms of American novels, one book we loved was “The Other Side” by Istvan Banyai. Although this is an illustrated book, we really enjoyed it and felt it was thought provoking.
How do you usually celebrate your birthdays?
Because our birthdays are only two days apart and in the summer, we try to get away. With our spring fashion show around the corner it’s never easy, but we do our best to get away for at least a weekend. The beach is our favorite destination.
Tell me about your best friend.
Hmmm...we are each other’s best friend. We know that it sounds funny, but we can be as compassionate and critical of each other as a true friend would be. Being best friends, husband/wife and a design team is great but only when we can compromise on the right style.
What were your nicknames growing up and what are your nicknames now?
No nicknames. Well, no nicknames that translate well into English.
Who is the most underrated designer, living or dead?
Although Masaki Matsushima may not be underrated for his fragrances, we do think he is underrated for his clothing. As a designer, Masaki is avant-garde in a utilitarian way with beautifully tailored separates, particularly his jackets.
What's your favorite non-fashion magazine?
Time and Newsweek. It’s the only way we can catch up on current events.
What never fails to make you cry?
We hate to say it, but we get really emotional when we watch movies. Endearing and maybe overly dramatic movies are guaranteed tearjerkers. When we watched “The Notebook” we both cried a river.
When are you happiest?
Silly to say, but as true workaholics we are the happiest when we are designing.
Stay tuned next week for Random Questions For…Rachel Roy.