Gen Woo reflects on 90s fashion trends and creative influences.
Committing to a creative vision is never a linear experience; It’s a process heavily layered by personal moments and dedication to sparks of intrigue. It takes a certain type of individual to be able to lean into this creative tendency; to remain consistently open to the vibrancy of the world around them.
Our very own Gen Woo is one of these individuals, with an extraordinary design journey. An adventure which started as a teenage stamp of originality, that has spun into her very own business; Gen’s experiences are of note, they are the energy behind her design direction.
We caught up with Gen Woo to uncover some of the moments that have brought her up to this point; as designer, business owner and creative explorer.
What’s your earliest memory of fashion?
In the early 90's I was into two looks.The first was early rave fashion, which was a meeting of post club culture meets acid house.
The look consisted of patchwork pants or dungaree's, Dr Marten boots, early bucket hats and beaded necklaces.
I also loved grunge. Everyone wore oversized band t-shirts, ripped jeans and Dr Marten boots and bleached their hair.
The key piece to these looks were the Dr Martens; my friends and I plotted how we were going to raise the £40 to buy these shoes.
My best friend and I persuaded our parents to give us the school shoe budget and let us go shopping to buy our own school shoes. I came back with a black pair of Dr Marten Boots and my friend got the cherry red pair. We got in a ton of trouble but couldn’t wait to wear them to school the following week.
That year, so many children started school in these boots that letters were sent home requesting for them to be changed. DM’s were expensive for the time and most parents refused to do this. We all celebrated that win. There was even a girl who charged money to add custom designs to them, which I thought was brilliant.
How did this start your journey into the fashion world?
I didn’t know at the time; but I was fascinated with how people interpreted trends and how they expressed themselves through music and clothing.
I could tell instinctively if someone had pulled off the look well which really impressed me.
My mind would be taking their outfit apart and re-dressing them in a hypothetical way. For example this was way before the days of different grading options for different body types like long leg or petite, so all trousers were made for the height of an average person around 5ft 7 - tough luck if you were shorter or taller than this. My mind would be looking at the girl who was taller than the average 5ft 7 and thinking “you are too tall for the patchwork hippy pants, you’ve lost the baggy bit that made it look so cool! Should have gone for the patchwork smock dress and worn that with bare legs and DM boots.” My mind was always analysing like that.What led you to start creatively expressing yourself through clothes and design, over any other art form?
For my 16th birthday my dad asked me what I would like and I asked to go to Camden Market in London.
I left the sleepy Cotswolds, took the national express bus, worked out the tube map so as to get to Camden. There was no internet then, or mobile phones, and I’m not even sure how I even came to know that Camden was a destination for interesting fashion clothes. I found these rave shops that sold striped patchwork sleeve tops with neon green thread that glowed in the UV light. Again this innovation completely impressed me, it was the mid 1990’s and as teenagers we were catching the tail end of the rave scene. This outfit with its UV stitching summarised this rave look to me. London was an exciting place that I wanted to submerge myself in and discover. I had no idea how I was going to get there though, or that I would work in fashion, I just knew I didn’t fit in at home and wanted to see and do different things.
As a young girl I remember my next door neighbour’s mum had kept her dresses from the 70’s and they were in her daughter's dressing up box. I thought these dresses were far superior to my own dressing up box. I was always around her house dressing up in them or trying to trade for them.One as a teenager…
At the turn of the millennium I was at university. My style was somewhere between indie kid meets Y2K fashion; even with some Emo influences in there. I think I just wore whatever I liked and I thought I looked great. I had the biggest wide leg denims London had to offer, paired with a fitted rib shrunken tee that might have had an indie music reference. I lived in a tan faux leather fitted jacket, footwear was bottle green Adidas flats and a huge oversized knitted beanie; I had a chain on the denims and dyed my hair a variety of colours, pink being my favourite.
And one as a grown woman?
In my mid to late 20’s I had started designing at fashion brands in London so my wardrobe would be entirely based on work sample sales and secret sample sales done by brands like Allsaints. Somebody would get a text message and off we would go after work to find the latest sample sale. My best buy was a £500 Allsaints winter coat for £30. I found that in a hotel basement sale. It was a size too small but I lived in it, it was my prize possession.
Who was key in your fashion education, what idols did you have growing up?
After graduating I didn’t really know how to enter the workforce. I found myself on minimum wage in a sample room in Brighton. I will always be thankful to the owner of that sample room for giving me that job and for the support he showed me. I was sent to work in a very small finishing section; making button holes, adding buttons, steaming, trimming, packing. I also helped to lay patterns. Every time I had an interview in London he would give me time off to go.
The head seamstress taught me how to change my portfolio from a textile to a fashion portfolio, she even lent me her clothes to wear. If I was given a project to do by a brand I was interviewing for, we would discuss what direction I should take it in and how it should be presented. I’d work for him in the day and work on these projects and my portfolio at night and through the weekend. Within a year I had my first design job in London.What is your creative process, when it comes to creating your own designs?
My creative process is very research driven and analytical. I need to get out there and see what is happening. I love exhibitions and spent a lot of time at the V&A at the latest fashion exhibits. I’m inspired by pretty much everything, it could be a new lampshade designer at Liberty’s or even the stylist on the 3rd series of Sex Education. For me it's limitless and it all has a value and gives me a feeling.
When I come to process all of this information and build it into a new direction I go off into my own world. The music is on and I spend hours and hours in the design process. I really can’t stop until it's completely out of my head and a clear direction has been finalised. In terms of collection themes, shape, fabrics, graphics - this could be days or a couple of weeks.What’s your favourite way to stay up to date on the latest trends and influences?
Through a mixture of sourcing trips, meeting people, reading books and fashion business reports. I find I’m rejecting the internet more and more these days. Sourcing for me through the internet feels like a big junk yard, and a needle in a haystack affair. It’s taking longer and longer to sift through. I guess I’m of the last generation that grew up and studied without technology.If you could go to one designer's runway show, who would it be and why?
I wouldn’t go to a runway, however I would go to certain fashion moments with certain designers in history:
Then the early days of Vivienne Westwood, the London scene of musicians at that time and her activism work.
Alexander McQueen when he was at his height, I read he loved to go into the archives of the V&A, I would love to do this too.
Mary Quant when she would go on tour with a group of models and showcase her work in hotels. It sounded something like a rock band on tour. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when they brought her brand to America and made those huge deals with the department stores. Ready to wear was taking off and new exciting synthetic fabrics were coming on the market like PVC and this opened a whole new world of creative possibilities.
I’d like to have pottered around Chanel’s home, it sounded exotic with a lifetime of collecting interesting things. I would like to have been there after the war when she showcased her models down the now infamous staircase.What is one of your favourite designs you’ve created, and why?
My most significant design was for the Clements Ribeiro plus size collaboration with Evans and Adele wore my print at a concert in America.
...and most sentimental design/ piece of clothing?
I don’t have a particular piece of clothing, but I love it when I see people wearing my clothes, that’s really special.If you could define your design style using three words, what would they be?
Casual, Colourful, Trendy.