LONDON — When he founded Rokh in 2016, London-based designer Rok Hwang wanted to experiment with the construction of garments and propose new silhouettes.
While his fashion might be cool and of-the-moment — think oversize shirts with extra-large cuffs, deconstructed trench coats and fluid dresses — Hwang has chosen to take the more traditional, and at times more challenging, route to brand-building. He offers ready-to-wear and handbags, he is committed to a wholesale strategy and to building long-term relationships with luxury European manufacturers.
He favors traditional show formats, too, which is why he’s making his runway debut at Paris Fashion Week, having amassed a growing network of 120 retail partners, including Net-a-porter. (See review this page.)
“It’s been a personal dream to show in Paris. I also wanted to give the option to the brand to have international exposure and to pass on the message that we are now more established,” Hwang said in an interview.
In an interview last week, he was unequivocal about his ambition to build a full-fledged design house. He’s set the bar high, having cut his teeth at the likes of Celine, Louis Vuitton and Chloé. He credits his time at Celine under Phoebe Philo as a particular influence. “Phoebe really helped me to define how to cut or fit a garment and taught me to perfect everything I make. That has been a real, life-changing experience for me,” Hwang said.
While many are quick to draw parallels between Philo’s Celine and Rokh, given their embrace of fluid silhouettes, neutral color palettes and oversize tailoring, Hwang remains focused on building a language of his own.
“I’m pursuing my own journey. Also, on a personal level, I really do respect Phoebe and I think that best way to honor her work is by not following her,” he said. “That was her achievement and her aesthetic, and I don’t want to be shadowing her legacy or trying to replicate her work. We would otherwise be giving the same product to the customers and I think that’s disrespectful from a personal point of view.”
The young designer is more keen to embrace some of the values Philo passed on to him, including the importance of “understanding women” and making them feel comfortable in their own skin — a message that has also been homed in by his all-female design team, as well as by the late Central Saint Martins Professor Louise Wilson. Wilson is another woman who has defined Hwang’s career, having encouraged him to explore the women’s wear arena for his Master’s degree, after he completed a bachelor’s degree in men’s wear.
“It’s not just about the concept for me, it’s also the reality of the garment that really counts,” added the designer, who takes garments apart and puts them back together to create constructions of his own.
Shirts with split sleeves; blazers featuring sharp layers; a mannish check coat with a spliced body held together by toggle fastenings, or a trench featuring an open back and buttoned panels that can be pulled apart, have been some of the brand’s most loved pieces.
“I wanted to shape new silhouettes, and present a whole new study on garments. Everything is original, from the stitching to the cutting — and we take fitting and construction very seriously in our studio,” added the designer, pointing to raw-edge cuttings and layering as some of his signatures. “Our aim is to have this kind of perfectly finished imperfection or a work-in-progress mood, which I find really artistic. Then I mix in a bit of youth culture references, from my teenage years.”
Hwang had a peripatetic childhood, growing up in a caravan in Austin, Tex., before moving to the U.K. He tries to bring a taste of the “cinematic” quality that defines his memories of growing up in American suburbia, both in his collections and in the raw, personable imagery he creates for the brand.
Although he no longer had access to the same resources after leaving LVMH, Hwang remained focused on working with some of the same premium manufacturers and developing a broad product range.
In the future, Hwang wants to stay focused on women’s wear and look at developing his own retail channels.