SEOUL — When Verbal, a celebrated rapper in Japan and former member of M-flo, the Nineties hip-hop group, was looking for new clothing for his upcoming solo shows, he and his wife and stylist Yoon Ahn asked his record label to supply him with a few new looks. Upon seeing the racks of clothes they were presented, the pair was disappointed.
The assortment of bright oversize jerseys, baggy pants, exaggerated gold chains and other “rap and hip-hop-influenced” apparel the record label representatives had wheeled in was embarrassingly caricature-ish and laughable at best.
This happened back in the early 2000s when the Korean-American Yoon Ahn moved to Japan shortly after she and Verbal married. “Rap was still very stereotyped,” said Ahn, who spoke to WWD while in Seoul as part of a tour sponsored by Louis Vuitton.
“When Verbal asked the record company to bring him the best stylists, clothes for the promotions and stage, they didn’t understand what the rapper’s role was. They would bring very stereotypical jerseys. We found it quite frustrating because we knew what we wanted,” she said.
“I think this happens with any imported culture — they don’t know and they never lived it, so the only rule and guidelines they can play around with is what they see,” Ahn explained. “You’re a rapper you have to dress this way [or] act this way.”
In Ahn and Verbal’s case, they took matters into their own hands and began sourcing and creating custom jewelry, which culminated in the launch of the pair’s fine-jewelry brand Ambush in 2012.
“We happened to know people who made fine jewelry so we started asking them to [make it]. That was the start of everything; we never [intended] to start a brand,” she said.
Ambush soon caught on with streetwear enthusiasts thanks to the couple’s celebrity friends. “Our friends, like Kanye, started to [wear our creations]. It spread like wildfire.”
Soon after, Ahn and Verbal began to create their own apparel to serve as “canvases” for their jewelry. “It didn’t feel right to use other brands’ clothes for our own jewelry, so we thought, why don’t we make a few tops as a canvas for the jewelry. So that everything in the image is ours,” she said.
The couple launched their own streetwear collection two seasons ago. “Our jewelry is the main character, and now we have all the supporting characters like apparel,” said Ahn. “We’re not going to forget the main character and the story of the brand, but in the bigger picture I look at Ambush as an idea collective.”
Ambush’s penchant for bold mesh tops, S&M-inspired trenchcoats that can be transformed into capes via removable sleeves, bright details and “snap-tie” silver chokers have brought them notice in the fashion world: The brand is among the finalists for this year’s LVMH Prize.
While Verbal’s hip-hop roots still inspire their jewelry collections, Ahn says their brand’s global vision is greater than the sum of their respective multicultural backgrounds.
“I don’t feel like Korean people would be interested in my brand just because I’m Korean.…I think we’re just making things that [a certain] bracket of people are seeking and that bracket of people exist in all parts of the world. We just didn’t know. The Internet just made it apparent,” she said.
“Now, if we do something in Tokyo, they can find out and they can order online directly. Same with China — most of our business comes from China. How would they know about us? Not so much our nationalities.…Something about what we’re doing is hitting home with these people.”
Ahn added that in today’s wired societies, consumers are savvier than ever. “[What they] want are good products.…You can’t fool people anymore. Customers are really smart — they know what’s going on and even if they don’t, it will just take 30 seconds to look this up and decide, ‘Do I want this?’”