A FUSION OF THE TRADITIONAL AND MODERN

ariya sacca the label monster

For designer Donni Choi, Ariya Sacca is much more than designing a collection of women’s clothes, it’s about reflecting on his Korean background, finding a way to fuse traditional and modern design, and bringing traditional Korean wear into the modern day. We talk to Choi about how he broke into the fashion world, what Ariya Sacca truly means and who the Ariya Sacca woman is. 

How did you get your start in fashion?

My first major was textile engineering in college.  It was fun but I became more interested in how to use these textiles than how to make them.   It was just a silly idea me becoming fashion designer back then.  I forgot about it and took a year off for the trip to USA.  I was staying in San Diego and was trying to figure out what was the best way to spend time in California.  My English was poor but I decided to take a class at college.  Just for an experience.

For some reason, I chose a Fashion school and registered for a class.  Oh, boy.  I did love it. I moved to Los Angeles for the second year.  And then, naturally, I began working on the field of fashion.

How has working in other countries and for designers such as Richard Tyler helped your design process?

The first few years of living in US were endless moments of cultural shock and pleasant surprises.  As time passed, everything around me felt not so different anymore and became part of my daily routine.  Then, I started to see my own Korean culture with less-Asian perspective.  It was refreshing that I was able to see it from distance.   Once my perspective has changed, nothing looked same to me.

Now, I see there are many interesting aspects in Korean traditional clothes, I never thought there would be and I believe they can be applied to modern fashion while disturbing less people.

Does your graphic design know how come in handy? How?

Sometimes I feel I need more than words to describe what I want and how my design should look like as sample.  In that case, I illustrate on my computer.  I save all my design as computer files and organize them with my own system.  I can communicate with manufacturers with minimum effort via e-mails and file systems on my website.  It is a bit more efficient for both parties than face-to-face meetings or conference calls without visual descriptions.

What is your creative process like? Can you give us a peek into it?

Nothing really particular.  I go to fabric retail stores often like any other designers.  I visit museums when there are interesting exhibitions.  Of course, I love to take a class when they teach Korean traditional costume making or natural dyeing process.

Can you give us more insight into the meaning of Ariya Sacca? 

Ariya Sacca means ‘the truth of noble ones’ in Buddhism.  They say you can become “nirvana (not the band, the goal of Buddhism)” through understanding Ariya Sacca.

Korean culture is widely based on Buddhism, and I felt it was very important to study Buddhism if I wanted to use it for my design.  During the study, I found the concept of Ariya Sacca and it was intriguing that there are only four truths to understand to achieve the goal of Buddhism.

So what is your Ariya Sacca to achieve your own goal?  It’s a big question.

Somehow I find relevance between this concept and fashion.  Your look can be the goal, and your choice of fashion can be the Ariya Sacca to achieve that look.

What is it about the mix of traditional and modern that fascinates you?

Few Koreans wear Hanbok on a daily basis these days.  I used to wear Hanbok on national holidays but not anymore.  It’s because Hanbok is not a practical fashion and it looks so outdated.  I believe it’s because Hanbok design stopped evolving at certain point and Western fashion swept us off our feet after Korean War.  I think Hanbok did not have a fair chance to compete with other fashion styles.  Otherwise, people outside of Korea would call our traditional costume ‘Hanbok’, instead of ‘Korean Kimono’ (Japanese traditional costume which is totally different from Hanbok).

What if we didn’t stop wearing Hanbok?  What if the Korean War didn’t occur?  What if Western fashion was not the only option we had back then?

I imagine these things and then research what made Hanbok so desirable back then.  And, I dissect them into pieces and mix and match with modern style until they look acceptable to wear on a daily basis. I hope this experiment works out someday.

If you could describe the label in 5 words, what would they be?

Simple, minimal yet conceptual design.

Tell us about the Ariya Sacca woman. Who is she? What does she do?

She appreciates Asian culture and is not afraid of moving forward.  She wants to look sophisticated and well balanced in her life.

How would you describe South Korean fashion?

It is just like K-Pop.  A mix of everything.  Whatever is trendy, you can get here.

What do you do to get inspired?

Visiting museum exhibitions, art class, fabric market, and meeting people.

What inspired your current collection?

SS15 is called “SQUAREMORPHIC”.

One of the great concept of Hanbok that is you can wear it even if you go up or down a few sizes.  That’s because its flat pattern with raglan like sleeves and there are also, wrap skirts.  In order to achieve a fit like that, you had to look like a ‘fluffy doll’ since fabric has no room to stretch and the texture is very stiff.

I did not like the ‘fluffy’ part.  So, in order to make it ‘unfluffy’ I played with pattern and added interesting slits on very fluid fabric like cotton jersey, modal blends, and rayon or tencel.  And, voila, a square shaped dress morphing into your own body shape. You can wear it if you gained few pounds and still look great.

Who are your style heros?

My favourite designer is Issey Miyake.  I have always admired his work since I saw his collections when I was a college student.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My family.  Without them, I am nothing.

What do you enjoy doing most when you’re not creating?

Hanging out with my daughter doing nothing but imitating Godzilla. She is great at screaming victim.

What is your current state of mind?

This season is my official debut collection.  Am I nervous?  Yes.  At the same time, I’m very satisfied that I came up with “Squaremorphic”.   There are so many things to be done with this concept and I’m very much looking forward to creating for the following seasons.

What can we expect from Ariya Sacca in 2015?

You will see many variations from the Squaremorphic concept.

View the Ariya Sacca Collection here.
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