Wed, Jun 10, 2009 - Page 14 News List

A man with a knack for knit

Fashion designer Johan Ku breaks the boundaries between sculpture and fashion with Emotional Sculpture

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Johan Ku (古又文) sits across from me at a coffee shop dressed in a plain black T-shirt and jeans — a remarkable contrast from the wildly inventive rough wool designs that are a hallmark of his fashion aesthetic.

Ku has earned plaudits and awards over the past five years for creating a series of knitwear collections that bridge the gap between fashion design and sculpture.

But Ku’s fashion tastes don’t end with haute couture; he has worked with local companies to design ready-to-wear swimsuits and was costume producer for the Taiwanese television drama Hot Shot (籃球火), also known as Basketball Fire. He says, however, that his first love is designing runway fashion.

Next month, Ku will travel to New York as a finalist in Gen Art Styles International Design Competition, an annual fashion design competition judged by a who’s who list of magazine editors (Vogue, GQ, Details and Marie Claire) and buyers (Saks Fifth Avenue and La Garconne) from the fashion industry. Ku is a finalist in the competition’s avant-garde category. Winners will be announced on July 15.

A month after returning from New York, Ku will be off to London where he has been accepted into the master’s degree program at the prestigious Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design.

A few weeks ago, Ku sat down with me to discuss his creations, Taiwan’s nascent fashion industry and his aspirations to make a mark on the Taiwanese fashion scene.

Taipei Times: The last time we spoke, you mentioned that Taiwan’s fashion and textile industry has changed considerably over the past few decades.

Johan Ku: That’s true. Local companies have closed their factories in Taiwan and moved them to China and Vietnam because our labor costs are too high. This has caused serious changes in our [textile] industry. And until now [we] don’t know how to deal with it appropriately because [our] knowledge base is all about manufacturing.

TT: Could you please elaborate a little?

JK: Twenty or 30 years ago, Taiwan was the factory of the world. Today it is China. You can see some older Hollywood movies talking about Taiwan’s products: “Oh, this umbrella is broken. It must be from Taiwan.” As a designer, I am a little embarrassed by this because I don’t want to do that kind of design. But our industry [model] forces us to do that kind of thing.

Also, 20 years ago, Taiwanese couldn’t afford to buy high-end clothing. But teenagers nowadays don’t have a tough time like their parents — they don’t have to work in the factories. So as they are growing up their parents might buy a Chanel bag and this changes their attitude to clothing. They might even have a dream to be a designer and not just run a factory, like their parents.

TT: What do you mean by the industry “forces us to do that kind of thing?”

JK: Because the [textile] industry in Taiwan is still pretty much focused on manufacturing and production. They just ask you to come up with a design that can produce 100,000 items. This results in low quality and not a real design. If you want to be an independent designer it is really tough because our fashion industry is not really well developed.

Japan, for example, already has a well developed fashion week and their buyers appreciate their designers and they will buy their designs a half year before the season begins. So they can have great planning to produce their products without stock.

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