We caught up with the woman behind one of Tokyo’s favourite fashion institutions to talk about stylishly taking over the world.
From their beginnings as a jewellery brand for the hip hop set, right up to their announcement as a finalist for the LVMH prize in 2017, Ambush has served as a brand that “reps for the kids”. Built up and based in Tokyo, by life and business partners Yoon Ahn and Young-Kee Yu, the label was born during Young-Kee’s previous life as a rapper called Verbal. He was dissatisfied with the direction his label was taking in styling him, so the pair decided to absorb responsibility for his look. They began creating bold chains and rings that quickly became coveted by rap superstars after Pharrell fell for the brand. Yoon introduced him to their pieces while working on the PR team for his Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream labels.
The last decade has also seen Yoon emerge as a full-fledged street style and Insta-star. As Ambush splash into the beauty world this year with the launch of their Shu Uemera collaboration, i-D headed to their Shibuya HQ to spend some time with Yoon and discuss the practicalities of world domination.
We’re sitting above the Ambush store right now and it’s so beautiful, when did you decide you wanted to open a store, and contextualise the brand yourself?
We took our time with the store because we really needed to build our identity first and create a whole world. We have the Ambush universe now, it’s been 10 years and along with the jewellery we have ready-to-wear, glasses and exclusive items that are only available here.
Image via @yoon_ambush
What was the impetus to branch out from jewellery into clothing
We started making clothing because when we were shooting the jewellery look book I didn’t want to use other people’s clothing, it started to annoy me that I couldn’t find items that complimented the accessories. So it started with a few shirts and pieces of denim and grew, now we design the jewellery and clothing in tandem so if I design a particular choker then I’m like, ‘What shirt should this be worn with?’ Then I create that so we end up with this very cohesive range.
How steep has the learning curve been on entering the world of apparel?
I’m still learning so much about the garment world and I want to know what I’m making. It’s important to me to go to the factories, choose the fabrics, oversee the pattern cutting. Jewellery is like making a car, you have a cast that you always come back to but clothes are so different, it’s a mathematical calculation of bringing all the elements together to create one thing. Cut has been a big challenge, we are a unisex brand, I wear a lot of men’s clothing so I know how it should fit on a woman. When you’re selling clothing that’s only available in size 1, 2 and 3 you have to nail the cut of those three sizes so that everyone can wear it. I didn’t go to school for fashion, I’m in class now.
Do your collections start with a single inspiration or is it a pastiche of influence and mood?
My brain is a Tumblr, you’ve got to dig through your own archives and I’ve been training myself as a designer to not think too much. I used to feel I had a lot to prove which can make you self-conscious, now my process is to let things flow and whatever I come back to again and again I run with.
I’m looking at your t-shirt that says ‘YOUTH’, if I had to sum up Ambush in a word, youth would be it.
There’s this 13-year-old kid Yoshi who comes into the store all the time, he’s a very special kid, very certain of his taste and world, I love talking to him about his life and inspirations but it’s just as important for me to engage with the insights and sophistication of someone who is 80.
The thing about getting old is that there truly is nothing new under the sun, it’s a cyclical existence. Youth is a spirit and a state of mind, you need to be a little naive to things. Not over calculating things is youth to me and it’s important to play a lot, do things as you grow older just for the hell of it. You don’t stop playing because you become old, you become old because you stop playing. I’m not saying I literally act like I’m 21, although I still do a lot of clubbing!
For the store opening you made a ‘Raise boys and girls the same’ slogan t-shirt. Do you think fashion has a political duty?
Everything we do is unisex, and that Jenny Holzer quote was perfect for our brand, but I honestly wasn’t even thinking politically it was just in-line with our ethos. I’m more of the mind that however your politics are aligned it will naturally come through in your work rather than a strategic plan.
Image via @yoon_ambush
Obviously now you’re moving into beauty, tell me about the process of collaborating with Shu Uemera.
I’m so excited for people to see what we’ve done, the packaging is very sleek, silver and gold like our jewellery, and then the colour palettes are super bold red and oranges. I said no patterns, I wanted it just be this flash of gold or silver in your bag or on your vanity table. I originally sent the Pantone red and oranges we use for clothing but of course human skin isn’t white and every woman has a different natural lip colour so it was a process of trying the different lab samples and sending notes back.
I have admiration for couples who work together, do you and Verbal have rules about not talking business at home?
We talk about it constantly, it was originally a hobby and naturally evolved into this thing, we didn’t get into fashion with the motivation of “let’s start a brand and takeover.” Verbal is very clever with the dry side of business, that isn’t my strength, he’s a pragmatist and so we balance each other out. If we ever get too caught up in the drama or disappointments of business we take a step back and realise that this is our dream and a part of that dream is the fact that business ain’t easy.