Model Mondays: An Interview With Sang Woo Kim

Korean face of Burberry and exclusive for Kenzo, Sang Woo Kim, has bright prospects this season and beyond. STYLEFAN caught up with Sang after his casting at Central Saint Martins for their upcoming MA show. Let's hear what the man now on Stone Island billboards has to say.

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'What is best thing about being a model? Meeting people and travelling. The opportunity to be able to meet people that other people would die to meet and travelling the world.'

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'I feel real style is one that is true to you. I don't follow trends, personally, I literally wear what I like to wear and I don't think my style is going to change that much.'

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Tuck Muntarbhorn Sang, what are you wearing today?
Sang Woo Kim: Today I'm wearing...my Daks coat as I wore last time when I met you at Burberry - I'm also carrying the same bag by Juun J. x Beanpole, my sweater from COS, Givenchy trousers and limited edition Nike Air Force Ones.

TM: Could you tell us briefly about your background?
SWK: I was born in Seoul and came to London when I was four months old so I do just tell everyone that I was born here, a slight lie, but what do I know at that age, it’s basically the same as being born here [Sang laughs]. My dad worked in London for a very long time until he moved back to Korea. I was brought up in Hampton in Southwest London and I went to Hampton school. I was a minority to say the least (being Asian) and seeing as I look so Asian people are always surprised by my British attitude - mainly my accent!

TM: And now you are at Goldsmiths doing Fine Art?
SWK: Yes - I did my foundation course at Central Saint Martins last year and I joined Goldsmiths in September 2013 to study Fine Art.

TM: So tell us a how you got into modeling.
SWK:  At Saint Martins, a lot of fashion students asked me to model for their work and I thought - why not? If they are picking me for their projects for them and then why shouldn’t I try out for an agency? Encouragement of friends and what not I eventually plucked up the courage to walk into M+P and I was with them for a month or so before their men's division shut down – Literally the next day I walked into Select, down the road, and they wanted to represent me. Obviously I couldn’t believe it. I walked in on both occasions – so it’s not all about getting scouted!

TM: What made you choose modeling as a profession?
SWK: I knew a few friends in the industry and they say you get to meet incredible people and get to travel the world – which is a vision that I am very fond of. It seemed for what you do, you got a lot of privileges.

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TM: What were your highlights this season? Why?
SWK: There are just too many highlights – I can’t say… Burberry was a complete shock so I guess that might edge it….? I don’t know [Sang laughs].

TM: Tell us about Burberry.
SWK: I wasn't even requested for the casting! My friend Mac at AMCK was requested to cast for Burberry and I was upset about not being requested for it because it’s every British models dream, and being Asian, It was an impossible thought due to the lack of versatility, in terms of race, on the runway. So I rocked up with Mac and Jamie Mensah from Models 1 in my Burberry bucket hat and my Burberry scarf [Sang laughs]. I got into the casting, somehow, then the next day I got called for a re-call which was a more refined group so we had to go back to Burberry HQ to do a fitting for a standard look where everyone wore the same thing: tailored trousers, blazers and fishnet vests.  We met Christopher that day and I did my walk again. The next day I was called in for a fit-to-confirm at Burberry HQ. I put my two looks on, which I was ecstatic about, and then did my walk again, got two photos taken in their studio and they called my booker and booked me! It was a dream because it was an impossibility in my mind.

TM: So that's Burberry, how was Kenzo?
SWK: Kenzo was an incredible show. I met the casting director, Angus Munro, after the Erdem Spring/Summer 2014 show at Central Saint Martins and he gave me his card and asked whether I wanted to walk for Kenzo next season - which was the one I just walked in. I kept in contact and a few months after I was directly booked through Select due the fact I am not yet signed in Paris! Incredible.

TM: Tell me about your Stone Island Spring/Summer 2014 campaign.
SWK: Yeah, it was my first proper job with Select! It was the week after I signed with them and then I went to the casting and got the campaign! It’s crazy when your Dad sends you photos of you on Milan billboards! 

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TM: What's the biggest difference between Asian and British/European culture?
SWK: There are so many, naturally. Well, they look so different for a start [Sang laughs]. On a social aspect British/European people are more open-minded, liberal and just more chilled.

TM: Is it harder to be Asian in the modeling industry then?
SWK: I'm in such a niche market (being an Asian male model in the modeling industry) which means that there is less competition for me compared to other boys. I'm a completely different market – they have much more competition within their markets because it is much more developed and accepting. The fact that I'm so British is a plus because I’m competition to other Asian models that aren’t used to English as I am – which I think helps in the social aspects which is very important in the industry.

TM: Do you think that being an Asian Brit gives you the edge to be on top?
SWK: Maybe. I'm quite an outgoing person and I do like to meet new people in general. My understanding of British culture inevitably gives me an edge in terms of social scenarios and this, I feel, is important because it is a lot to do with character. Especially in the male modeling industry but recently more so for the female industry too. I think my very British accent coming from a very Asian looking face is quite unique to casting directors [Sang laughs]. 

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TM: You say that for guys it's character that stands out - do you think that it's because girls can change drastically with make up and be given a persona, in contrast to men?
SWK: Yes, I guess - in five different shoots, girls can look completely polar - opposite. With guys it's literally like you have your mask but the character is something you can show within a shoot. With guys, I think, you give your own unique persona and act the way you want to be portrayed. I believe Cara Delevingne has broken this boundary - she's not just beautiful a girl, she's so good with using social media to portray her character.

TM: So, models like Cara who market themselves as a brand seem to do well?
SWK: Yes, all based on character I believe.

TM: Asian male models are few and far between. Do you believe this will change?
SWK: Definitely - it's changing right now - I mean the fact that an Asian male model has been casted for six London shows in itself...

TM: Like you?
SWK: [Sang laughs] Like me [continues to laugh]. Come on it's not down to me…it's all down to casting directors. It's been a blessing and a massive privilege and I really can’t believe it – it’s crazy. What happened to me this season is just incredible.

TM: Even Asian designers sometimes put an all-white cast on the runway. What are your thoughts on this?
SWK: I don't think the designer’s race would dictate who they cast - they can do what ever they want - it's their vision for their brand. Fair enough, there may be some kind of patriotism with some designers. Kenzo casted a lot of Asian models this season for their menswear show. As a model though, I am sort of like an ambassador of Asia [Sang laughs].

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TM: Tell us something we don’t know about you.
SWK: I've only had one girlfriend.

TM: Are you not a man of commitment?
SWK: Erm [Sang laughs]. I would like to say that I am a man of commitment [continues to laugh]. Currently I am way too busy and I would feel bad and it would make me upset due to the fact I wouldn’t have enough time to invest – eventually in time the right person will walk in I guess [Sang smiles].

TM: Best thing about being a model?
SWK: What is best thing about being a model? Meeting people and travelling. The opportunity to be able to meet people that other people would die to meet and travelling the world.  It’s been incredible for example I didn't know I was going to actually work with Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana and it was about 3 months since I joined Select – so unexpected!

TM: Do people think you're vain?
SWK: It's a difficult one. In a job such a modeling I guess it’s difficult not to be a bit vain seeing as you’re whole career depends on the way you look. I would say I'm confident but I think the confidence has grown especially over the last year. There was always casual racism when I was younger and naturally that causes boundaries and I didn't believe in myself really, especially about my looks. Then I went to Saint Martins after school for my foundation and everything changed. I opened my eyes to a new world where people understood me and I felt more accepted. These people noticed me as a person, Sang, as opposed to 'an Asian' [Sang laughs].

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TM: Your nose ring is rather distinctive. How did the idea come about?
SWK: I was bored [Sang laughs]. I got my rook done and then a week later I got my septum pierce done and I knew that I could just tuck it up if I didn't want to show it. ‘A very model friendly piercing’ as they say in the industry.

TM: Has people around you changed since you became a model?
SWK: I live with three boys - two of them go to Goldsmiths and one goes to Chelsea college of Arts - all that I met during the foundation course at Central Saint Martins. They are my boys, they are my brothers. They're the most incredible people. Although, some other people are a bit upset (because of the change) in the sense that due to the modeling I am more busy than I ever was, on top of university. I struggle to find time for even myself!

TM: As a straight male model in somewhat a feminine fashion industry, how does this feel?
SWK: Great [Sang laughs]. There are so many beautiful girls in the industry its overwhelming and also quite intimidating.

TM: What are your favourite designers? Designers you dream to walk in their shows?
SWK: Miuccia Prada is at the top of the list. To walk the Prada menswear show would be the biggest dream. I admire how Prada incorporates smart, clean and minimal cuts with a funky twist. Beautiful.

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TM: You were a visitor to the shows prior to becoming a model and walking the shows, whereas, for many male models they would just walk into the industry fresh. What was the transition like for you?
SWK: To be honest, for many models, it is simply a job. For me, coming into the industry, there was a novelty, because I was already interested in the industry and I have many friends at Saint Martins who were so involved, so naturally I was within this environment. Around six months ago, I saw the Burberry Spring/Summer 2014 show with the Editor of Vogue Korea. I remember seeing Malaika Firth walking for them and six months after, I walked the show and shot with Malaika a few weeks after which was a massive surprise! Mad times.

TM: Do you have advice for other Asian men, or anyone else who wants to get into modeling?
SWK: Go for it! Don't be scared, it's not all about getting scouted! As sad as it is, I think its difficult for Asians to get scouted around London but this is right time to do it - this is the time to do it more than any time due to the fluctuation of the use of Asian male models recently.

TM: As a fine art student at Goldsmiths, do you see fashion as an art form?
SWK: Of course. I see ‘beauty’ as some form of art and fashion strives for beauty.

TM: Finally, are you a STYLEFAN? What is the meaning of style to you?
I feel real style is one that is true to you. I don't follow trends, personally, I literally wear what I like to wear and I don't think my style is going to change that much.  I mean, I wear a lot of my Dads clothes. The trousers and the coat and my bag were all passed down from my Dad – my prized items.

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Model: Sang Woo Kim @ Select
Interview: Tuck Muntarbhorn
Photographer: Danny Lowe
Fashion Illustrator: Scott W Mason