01 Jun Interview: Rokh / i-D summer 2019 issue
An unassuming corner of Finsbury Park, tucked away behind the budget bridal and tailoring stores of Fonthill Road, isn’t the first place you might expect to find the HQ of one of London’s most dynamic and exciting new brands. But ring the buzzer and head up a flight of stairs and you’ll find a different world: a cavernous studio flooded with natural light. “We are a very open studio,” Rok Hwang says. “We can talk about things we like and don’t like in a way that’s really frank.”
It shows: the clothes produced from within these four whitewashed walls have earned his (almost) eponymous label, Rokh, a rabid cult following, partly thanks to the studio’s understanding of how today’s woman wants to dress. There are the forward-thinking, endlessly adaptable, deconstructed trench coats; the dresses designed with an unparalleled eye for both the ergonomic and the perfectionist; or the file box bags crafted from buttery leather, marrying unadulterated luxury with rigorous design. More important than all of that, arguably, is Rok’s knack for keeping things in the realm of good taste: these are clothes that remain definitively chic.
Since launching Rokh in 2017, the brand’s rise has been stratospheric. The first collection secured 30 international stockists (today it sits at over 100), while last year, Rok was awarded the LVMH Special Prize of €150,000. “I didn’t expect things to move as quickly as they have,” Rok says, “but from our first collection there has been a constant request for us to do a show, and after the LVMH Prize, we couldn’t be too quiet about it anymore.”
The breakneck speed with which Rokh has become a major player in London’s fashion scene belies the fact that Rok is — as far as upstart designers go — something of a seasoned player. Graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2010 under the tutelage of the late, legendary Louise Wilson, he went on to spend six years working under some of the most esteemed names in the business — including stints at Chloé and Louis Vuitton and, perhaps most notably, under Phoebe Philo at Céline — before striking out on his own. When asked about how this contributed to the runaway success of his own label, he’s self-effacing. “My experience helps a bit more with the business structure, or how I want to build my team, but in terms of creativity, I think maybe this experience doesn’t count so much.”
Modesty aside, it’s Phoebe’s instinct for balancing practicality with the avant-garde that runs through Rokh’s designs. “I think Phoebe is a genius, she has a complete vision,” Rok says. “What I really learned at Céline was how to make the fit perfect. How to make the garment really perfect by paying attention to details or choosing the fabrics.” It’s this refinement that marks Rokh out from other young labels: these are impeccably-made clothes that are — in the spirit of Philo, who is rumoured to try on every garment she designs — thoroughly road-tested on his team before they’re even made into samples, with his colossal studio space helpfully doubling up as a makeshift runway.