paper magazine interviews benjamin cho
"I had completely forgotten that I was sort of like a darling at a certain period of time," says Benjamin Cho, reflecting on his mercurial career as a designer. Although he's only 29 years old, he's earned some mid-career introspection. In 1998, after dropping out from Parsons, he put on his first show at the tender age of 21. "I was very precocious when it came to making clothes," Cho recalls. In the pre-teen-fashion-bible era, the community was way more marginalized. "During that time, in the mid '90s, I felt really kindred to that part of the culture, much more than I do now. I remember after my show going over to Susan Cianciolo's place and sewing for her show, and the Bruce girls coming over to help. That could never exist now. That was very not competitive but also we were all very hardcore, not all tasteful. Everyone was going for the grit."
As a high-school student in San Jose, California, Cho was an alternative kid who had crazy hair and wore crazy outfits. A loner who knew everybody but who wasn't close to anybody, he was also the president of clubs like Action for Animals and the school's chapter of Amnesty International. And he was his school's first gay homecoming king. Talk about extracurricular activities! He was the Ferris Bueller of his high school, the kid who got away with murder and who everyone wanted to have sign their yearbooks. Growing up the youngest of two children of Korean parents -- a scientist father who worked for NASA and an opera-singer mother -- Cho defied the stereotypical expectations of a family of overachievers early on. As a kid, he was always drawing. A favorite subject was Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, whom he would give better outfits.
His start in fashion was modest. "The first season I was really like, 'I'm gonna make the **** good' was when I moved into a new apartment," says Cho. "I moved into this place with Milla Jovovich. She didn't really know what I did, and a lot of times I was there by myself, so I could really think clearly. That's when I made the fringe dresses, the crazy suits -- all this stuff was coming out. And this was when press was really starting to pay attention." After that, the wunderkind was seemingly everywhere -- DJing Morrissey Night at Sway on Sundays, hosting a show on East Village Radio called "Chotime," showing his drawings in galleries and filming for his own upcoming TV show. But then, suddenly, he was everywhere except the place he'd started. He all but disappeared from Fashion Week, and people began wondering if he was serious about making clothes.
"I just sort of lost interest. I felt like I was forced to have some shows and always to keep relevant. I was just so exhausted. It's different now. People are really interested in young designers. But it took me so long to get to that point. I just never had any money. I started in 1998. By the time of my breakthrough show, the fringe show, it was 2001 and that's already six shows. That's a lot of seasons to be slaving away," Cho explains. "The last show [his Fall '05 collection] was one of my favorite shows ever, but it had the least challenging clothes. I don't look at that show and go, 'I can't believe I made these outfits.' In the past season I can say I really accomplished something new. My thing was always starting something new."
At Cho's Spring '07 collection, sexy short dresses cascaded down the runway on the 80th floor of the Trump Tower, with zippers making louder-than-love statements -- on shoulders as majestic epaulets, over the breasts as delicate feathers and in the middle of the torso as an open heart. All of Cho's friends -- ChloŽ Sevigny, James Iha, Max Minghella, Nick Zinner, Dash Snow, the MisShapes kids and other long-standing supporters -- came and cheered, genuinely awed by the clothes. "I wanted to make really glamorous short dresses -- something that looks new to me. Then I came up with all this technique, the most decorative way to use a zipper. I'm not looking to make a glamorous, beautiful nice girl but a hardcore girl, a '90s girl. I'm totally into the '90s."
Cho finds his critics' perplexity regarding his dedication to design frustrating. "There's a real misconception because I spend so much time thinking about clothing, conceptualizing clothing," he says. "I think this may sound really arrogant, but I think it's because I'm good at doing those things. I'm absolutely not a dilettante. I only do things and offer things that I'm really good at." There is very little doubt that Cho is a very talented man and this attracts a lot of people to him. He may consider himself a loner, but we know better. Which direction he'll take next is yet to be determined, but in the fiercely competitive world of fashion, it's not just the designer who holds the key to the future. Whatever the case, you know you'll never be lonely with you-know-who.
Last edited by zamb; 20-11-2006 at 10:10 PM.
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