A portal into the AMBUSH® creative director’s journey traversing fashion, emergent technology and realities, both digital and physical.
Creative director, designer, streetwear visionary… and now Web3 pioneer, Yoon Ahn has paved the way for nonconforming, multi-hyphen creatives with a vision for untapped terrains. The Tokyo-based designer’s rise to fame kicked off in 2008 with the debut of her brand AMBUSH®, which blended inspirations from underground music and fashion scenes informed by a graphic design background. The label quickly garnered the attention of eager brand collaborators from the likes of A Bathing Ape and Louis Vuitton and permeated creative communities with unmatched authenticity. Followed by a finalist spot for the 2017 LVMH Prize and her appointment as the Dior Homme jewelry designer in 2018, Yoon established herself as a force past reckoning in the industry.
You’ve seen AMBUSH®’s many successful partnerships from sacai to Gentle Monster, its Fall/Winter 2022 Milan Fashion Week debut and multiple collaborative Nike kicks. But now, Yoon has her eyes set on a new reality – one that exists both digitally and physically. AMBUSH®’s entry into Web3 is a pursuit that merges the ingredients that make Yoon Ahn, between fashion and music, community and identity, emergent realities and worlds unknown.
That brings us to today. As we enter the studio in Milan for our interview, it’s evident she is the core that connects everything, moving fluidly through the space, busied by finalizing the looks for her Spring/Summer 2023 photoshoot. Yoon looks calm amidst the chaos as we sit down to talk about how it all started.
Born in South Korea but existing across countries, U.S. states, cultures and customs, Yoon has had a transient concept of home dictated by moving where her father’s work took her. “I’m Asian but if I go to America I’m not the same as Asians that grew up in the states but then if I go to Korea I’m not Korean, Korean.”
Her burgeoning pursuit to find identity and belonging attracted her to those that society had cast as misfits. “That’s why I developed an obsession with underground music and fashion subcultures because they were never the norm. I felt like I belonged there, they were the weirdos, the nerds, the outcasts so, that’s where everything started.”
Yoon doesn’t quite realize how many people — myself included — that she inspires when she speaks of existing outside the lines. She details this period of her life, not confined to any one school of thought as the key factor that has led to her life of exploration. “These choices over the years taught me to think outside of the box and helped me to project the things that I’m doing now. I still feel like an outsider. In retrospect, I really appreciate that I had those quiet moments to marinate and soak in everything, it became a part of me.”
Rather than being classically trained in fashion, Yoon instead became a student of life fuelled by the curation of her own curriculum. What stands Yoon apart from other creators in this space, is that she is not led by working with big brands. She’s led by a stronger force – curiosity – leading her work to extend beyond tangible garments and instead reflect a “collective of ideas and case studies.” She welcomes the opportunity to partner with brands outside of the fashion scope “because it’s a chance to learn about another subject that otherwise [she] would never pay attention to.”
Above all, this is what makes AMBUSH® unique and constantly on the pulse of like-minded collaborations. “I can read people and I know what they want. We always meet in a perfect area where we both are having fun together.” She reflects on her unconventional upbringing and creative fluidity as a result: “Maybe I’m born for this?”
Yoon’s inquisitive spirit, simultaneously confident and humble, intuitive and alien, teacher and student, would lead her to greater ambitions, particularly in emergent technology.
Yoon’s fascination with IoT and tech started in the early aughts when online communities, glitchy music videos, Myspace and mp3s were dominating pop culture. From creating a music wearable collaboration with Louis Vuittion in 2014, to now developing NFTs and 3D printed shoes with Zellerfeld, Yoon’s vision for merging next-gen technology, music and fashion has guided her practice. And she’s just getting started: “What I’m interested in now is, how they can co-exist together. Imagine all of the craftsmanship that could transpire when the human brain and tech come together, it can explode!”
Dubbed the SILVER FCTRY, the Web3 platform was inspired by Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory which brought pop artists together in the ‘60s when the art world was looking down on the influences of pop art. Yoon draws the parallel with how “fashion people are looking down on Web3” and envisions a space where creatives can freely co-create together. “We’re doing something that’s going to impact the pop world and mass culture and I feel like the metaverse that we built is going to be like Andy Warhol’s factory where we experiment with different things and bring something new that will one day all make sense.”
Enter the AMBUSH® metaverse which exploded into reality in 2021.
“We weren’t even trying to do a brand, it just naturally caught on and we ran with it because otherwise someone would come along and squash us.” So, just like the origins of AMBUSH® and being someone who innately tries things on instinct rather than traditional ideals, Yoon thought, “Why not start our Web3 space with the POW!® ring and bring something that other people aren’t doing? I’d rather do it early and learn from it then wait until everyone is doing it.”
But as of today, there is still resistance across the industry and I couldn’t help but notice the frustration in Yoon’s voice when she described how some fashion players fail to recognize the value in digital things. “Especially when it comes to technology, people are becoming more protective and to me, they are just scared. No matter how much technology develops, we are humans, we’re not going to be out of our body right? So, as long as we are in a human body form, fashion is not going to go away.”
The glint in Yoon’s eye soon returns and she laughs, “When people keep talking about ‘this is better than that’, it’s almost like saying that ‘horse carriers are better than cars.”
Yoon’s innate student-like curiosity comes to the fore once again when her suggestion to skeptics is, of course: “Why not learn? Test it out? It doesn’t hurt you. Just like how you test out different fabrics. Why does it always have to be so black and white?”
Yoon’s ambitions with SILVER FCTRY began similarly to that of her label, deciding to launch an NFT version of the brand’s first physical product from 2008: the POW!® ring.
Are we living in the matrix? Yoon’s formative years are central in her perspective. “In my childhood, in a way, I was in my own matrix, jumping into different spaces and being exposed to different cultures all the time to the point where I was like who am I? I think the digital age is doing that now to the younger generation.”
Diving into digital further, we discuss existing in digital realities and what that means for humanity today prompting the biggest question on the topic:
With this search for belonging both digitally and physically, that Yoon and so many others can relate to, she finds community at the heart of this pursuit. “The younger generation wants somewhere to belong and through Web3 they are connecting and forming new scenes together. It used to be tastemakers that were dictating trends. Now, through digital mediums it’s more horizontal and community focused.”
Yoon’s optimistic case for digital culture would inspire even the most unconvinced. “That's the beautiful thing about humanity. We’re such complex beings, that’s why it’s so much fun that we’re able to think about these things and make something out of it. Not just exist and fade away, into the universe.”
As a transient being and natural explorer living outside of defined lines, Yoon’s gravitational pull to space as an inspiration feels apt. Discussing that humans are both meaningless and powerfully meaningful all at once, making up our own universes every day, Yoon reflects, “The world really is a beautiful place. If you look at it, the whole earth is made of human passion projects.” And as she scans the Milan skyline down to her studio which houses her own passion projects she says, “Somehow, I have a small crowd of people who enjoy what I’m doing and I can bring them joy. This is my time on earth and I’m glad I found my purpose.”
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