Johan Ku (古又文) breezes into the coffee shop in Gongguan (公館) on Sunday morning where we have arranged to meet. Outsized and transparent bags dangle from both shoulders, each one stuffed with his Emotional Sculpture, a series of knitted creations that earned him the top prize at this year’s Gen Art’s Styles International Design Competition in the avant-garde design category.
“I have a lot of interviews today,” he said setting down his load on an adjoining table.
It’s his first morning back from overseas and there is little in his rapid movements and energetic demeanor to indicate that the 30-year-old has spent the past 24 hours in transit from London, where he is studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
As we talk about his award (strange), school (humiliating) and future plans (exhibits) over coffee, Ku receives a barrage of phone calls from the local media congratulating him and requesting their 15 minutes of his time.
Taipei Times: How do you feel about winning?
Johan Ku: I feel a little bit weird because I did Emotional Sculpture many years ago and five years later people in Taiwan suddenly realize: “You are a great designer.” It’s a little strange.
TT: Why are you only gaining recognition in Taiwan now?
JK: I’m somewhat afraid to say this but I think Taiwanese lack confidence not only in themselves but also in judging work. So they need others to judge them and then they have the confidence to say that it is good.
TT: That’s interesting because an international designer like Jason Hu is from Taiwan. You would think that with this kind of talent Taiwan’s design industry would have more confidence in itself.
JK: This is one of the reasons why I went abroad because I know it’s difficult to find opportunities here. People might think that your work is good but because you are Taiwanese they are afraid to say you are good. But if you are from Switzerland or Britain your work is good.
TT: When you first heard your name announced what was your reaction?
JK: Thank god I won because there was some media there from Taiwan. If I had lost what could they write? “Taiwanese designer goes to America and loses”?
TT: Were you nervous when you went up to give your speech?
JK: Not really. I felt excited. I’ve participated in many awards in the past but it’s my first award abroad. It was my second day in New York and my first time to the US. After that day I became extremely busy. All the press was looking for me.
TT: During your speech you thanked your mother? Why?
JK: I lost my father when I was 3 years old. So I think my mother is very important because at that time she could have remarried or abandoned us. She chose the toughest way to bring us up and I really appreciate that.
TT: Did she encourage you to pursue fashion?
JK: No. She encouraged us to do something that we wanted to do but not only fashion. She opened all the windows and said that we could choose anything we wanted. Just don’t become a bad kid, please.
TT: You won in the avant-garde category. Did any designers at the Gen Art’s competition inspire you?
JK: Not really. I think part of the reason is that I am a mature designer already. So I don’t need to get the inspiration from the other fashion designers. As a fashion designer you should get inspiration from the fabric itself, not only the fashion.