AFTER a bout of illness and a life changing move, RMIT student Jung Yeon Hong proves perseverance can get you all the way to the Melbourne Spring Fashion Week student runway.
A slim, attractive Korean girl greets me with a warm smile as I arrive at the RMIT fashion building. It’s clear she knows her fashion, donning a trendy black lapeled cardigan and chic ankle length boots just for the occasion.
“Hi, I’m Jung Yeon, sorry my skin is a little dry at the moment,” she says as she extends her hand. While the remark doesn’t seem significant at first, I soon find out it’s more than just a case of dry weather chapping.
As we make our way to a quiet corner of the classroom to chat, she stops to point out one of her designs. It’s black outerwear for men, but has heavily pleated cape-like material protruding from its back.
The piece, along with several other similar designs, were featured in the Melbourne Spring Fashion Week RMIT student runway show in September. It was a rare honour and one Jung Yeon is very proud of.
“There was a competition where final year students had to enter and the ones with the better designs got to participate in the runway show. Not everyone got through,” she says.
“All of four international students in their final year got to go through. I think it’s because we work so hard.”
Jung Yeon’s collection was inspired by humanism and geometrical influences in the architecture and art of the Renaissance era.
“It is based on the belief that everything from buildings to the human body has mathematical and proportional elements to it,” she explains.
“In art like Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Vitruvian Man’ for example, there is an emphasis on human body’s proportions as well as the masculinity of men. I wanted to bring that concept into my designs.”
In her collection, Jung Yeon pays homage to Da Vinci’s style, adding three dimensional pleated structures to her garments to accentuate the male silhouette.
There is a weariness in her eyes as she talks about her collection-making experience.
“I decided to use silk as the principal fabric as it is more wearable, but extremely hard to fuse and pleat,” she explains.
“Because of the weight and fragility of the fabric I couldn’t use a machine to do the work, so I had do all the fusing and pleating by hand.”
But that was not the end of her problems. If anything, it was only the beginning.
“I had to have a different pleating for each of my designs. I thought I could get a professional tailor to help me but even he said it was too complicated, so I had to do everything myself,” she says.
“I hardly slept during the whole process and cried almost every night.”
But with the encouragement of her lecturers and fellow students, she pulled through and sent her finished designs down the runway for the world to see.
Jung Yeon is currently putting the final touches to her last collection before crossing the finishing line of her fashion studies.
“I will be working in the workshops till 1am every morning until I am good friends with the security guards now,” she says.
“I’m much better now.”
More than anything, Jung Yeon hopes to stay in Melbourne after her studies.
Aside from her love of Melbourne fashion – which she says is better than anywhere else in the world – Jung Yeon wants to stay for the sake of her health.
“Growing up, I’ve always had sensitive skin. Korea has bad air pollution problems and because of that I was sick with a skin condition for almost four years,” she says.
“I heard the air in Australia was very clean and that’s why I decided to come here to try my luck. I was right, my skin improved significantly and I’m much better now.”
For the moment, Jung Yeon is concentrating on the present and getting her graduation certificate. She says she hopes to try her luck in Melbourne as well as in other fashion forward cities like Paris and New York – but with a focus on menswear.
“I’ve been doing menswear designs for two years now and I find it very interesting, especially jacket tailoring,” she says.
After experiencing the highs and lows of a fashion degree, Jung Yeon has one piece of advice for aspiring fashion designers – know exactly what you signed up for.
Just because you love fashion doesn’t mean you will like creating it.”
“I’ve seen a lot of students, both international and local, drop out after a semester or two because they didn’t think the whole process of creating the garments through. For fashion design, and for any other course, you need to have the passion to carry on.”
As I prepare to thank her for her time, she exclaims she has one more important piece of advice.
“Fashion designing is a very expensive course and I’m not talking about the fees!” she says.
“I spent $9,000 on fabrics alone this year. So you better start saving up if you want to study fashion.”
After the interview, Jung Yeon says she has to stay back to continue working on her garments well into the night.
“Again!” she adds with a laugh.
Somewhere in her eyes, I see a sparkle and figure it’s exactly what she was talking about earlier. Pure passion.