“Oh s–t, it’s Irene!” exclaims street-style photographer Adam Katz Sinding of the blog Le 21ème. He is grabbing a quick coffee at Blue Bottle when he glances out the window. And with a jolt of caffeine, the photog—along with a horde of others—zooms out toward the eye of the storm.
There she is, Hurricane Irene in all her glory, coyly smirking, playfully twirling this way and that for the swarms of cameras that furiously click and clack in unison. She walks past 30 of them, in her cropped blue-and-pink top with matching culottes, throwing caution to the wind. Her multicolored hair—an ombré of neon yellows, greens, pinks and purples—blows wildly as she seduces her admirers down 15th Street.
As nonchalant and sprightly as the effervescent 27-year-old seems, she is fully aware of what she is doing—in complete control, she would tell you. To the Korean-American Irene Kim—named last year’s top model in Seoul, and now a hot commodity there—her second appearance on the streets of New York Fashion Week is all business.
Each move is calculated, planned in advance every day, down to which accessories and three outfit changes she’ll have at every location.
Street style was once seen as a dissection into what trends were current with “real girls,” and has now become a means of free publicity, a social currency, as well as a route to personal branding.
“I understand just how important it is,” says Kim, inside the spacious flat she rented for the week, on Bowery. She is sharing the space with her manager and her photographer, who both came with her for the whirlwind visit. For Kim, a former Fashion Institute of Technology student, coming back to New York is a strategic way to parlay her success in Seoul to an international audience.
The strategy is proving fruitful. In her second season appearing at New York Fashion Week, she was photographed by every major street-style blog, publication and photographer. The attention has garnered her meetings with many talent agencies, some that represent the likes of the Jenner sisters.
Already an on-camera host for several shows in Seoul, she’s also the face of cosmetics brands and fashion labels—an “It” girl—a Seoulite in its chicest form.
“It’s great that I’ve had a good run there, but I want to bring it back home to the States,” she says. The ambitious model wants to achieve the same success in the U.S. by becoming a brand in and of herself. She plans to launch her YouTube series, is working on her own fashion brands and is looking into TV opportunities in the U.S.
“But,” she adds confidently, “I want do it the Irene way and just be me.”