When Karl Lagerfeld was looking for someone to help him reinvent Chanel for a modern-day audience, he sent a handwritten invitation to Kim Young-Seong. Seventeen years later, his hunch has proved right. By hiring this modern-day master of fabric technology, he placed an importance on fabrication that has come to define the brand. "It's like a big family — it can be stressful, but very funny too!"
Young-Seong told Suzy Menkes on stage at the second annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference today, referring to how she and Lagerfeld found their professional synergy. "Normally Karl has a wonderful dream and he says, 'Kim what do you think?' And then asks, 'Do you want to make it a dream come true?' He's very open minded and we discuss everything, but he makes the final word."
Young-Seong had the opportunity of bringing Chanel to her hometown of Seoul last year as the brand chose Zaha Hadid's Dongdaemun Plaza (DDP) to present its Cruise collection. "When Karl said, 'Let's go to Korea' I was so honoured, but so stressed, as I had to make everyone understand Korean culture," she explained. "No one really understands what the image is - so I created that. It was intense — I was sick making it, my team were sick making it, and after that everyone hated the Korea collection!!"
Naturally self-deprecating, Young-Seong has a few more mantles than her official title. Advisor, confidante, and — we expect — responsible for keeping the Chanel atelier smiling with her good humour and constant smile, she is responsible for injecting a dose of reality to Lagerfeld's dreamt-up collections.
"When Karl said, 'Let's make a supermarket collection', it was so funny because normally Karl never goes to the supermarket," she laughed. "He doesn't know how much a baguette costs! It was so funny. So I bought camembert and made a tweed, pasta and made a tweed, salad and made a tweed, and I made a frozen carrot and green-bean tweed — it was so funny."
By Scarlett Conlon, reporting live from the second Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Seoul