Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shooting Sixes: John Yang

1 year old, coddling his brother Ro in SeoulKorea - 1971

 Stand up and be counted.  
Bailey’s Elementary, Falls ChurchVA - The third grade.

Tweeded. Second row, second from the right.
J.E.B. Stuart High School, Falls ChurchVA - 1986

Dinosaur BBQ with Frankie & the Rugby knit team - 2009

My mentor with his muses Frankie & Jasper, Brooklyn - 2012

John remained quiet and uncharacteristically uninquisitive on the chilly winter afternoon as we crossed Park Avenue and headed east on 60th Street.  In the two years I had known him, we had done this walk to his favorite Chinese lunch spot countless times, often debating the merits of what we had eaten the previous visit.  These discussions usually consisted of John asking me a litany of questions about my meal:  "What did you get?  Did they pan fry the noodles?  In vegetable or sesame oil?  Was it spicy?  What kind of seasoning do you think they used?"  This went on and on until John could write a dissertation about my lunch.  

John's penchant for the socratic method didn't end with food.  If he took an interest in something, be it paddle boarding or historically accurate pocket details for WWII field jackets, his inquiries would not relent until he knew everything there was to know about it.  I've often heard that the brightest people ask the most questions.  I don't know if that statement holds true but I do know that John's curiosity has not only made him very good at his job as a clothing designer but also the best mentor a neophyte in the field could hope for.  John taught me what garments should look like and then showed me how they could look.  The open dialogue he invited and encouraged about the clothing we designed allowed me to give and form my own opinions as well as make plenty mistakes.  This dialogue not only yielded better garments but also better friends.  

The bitter December wind pushed me backwards as we made our way towards the restaurant.  This time we weren't talking food.  I had been approached by my favorite designer with a dream job offer to become his #2. I would get to work on all product categories and frequently travel to Italy and Sweden for design trips.   I then told John that I didn't know what to do.  I was happy where I was.  I loved working with him and our team and I couldn't begin to thank him enough for what he had taught me.  I would love to work with this designer but I wasn't sure I was ready to leave.  What should I do?

He looked at me, pausing for a moment to put up his hood, and said, "I don't think you have a choice.  You don't get to choose when opportunity finds you."

Q: What's your trade?

A: I am Design Director of Men's Knits for Rugby Ralph Lauren. I oversee all aspects of product development for every cut-and-sewn knitwear from the vintage inspired tee, to the iconic namesake product. My career spans over 20 years focused on all other categories within this field (It's easier to list what I haven't done: underwear and lingerie). I have worked for Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, and Nautica. I also had my own line at one time, but that's a discussion for another time.

Q: How would you describe your personal style and how has it evolved over the years?

A: When you've decided to get into this business, you wind up going through it all! Shifting from being Punk to going New Wave, High conceptual designers to Retro thrift shoppe. It's a real contradiction in terms of styles and ideas, but you also get bored and need to break from ideas of conformity, at least to me. At this point in my life, it's all about my family life, with my wife Renee, my son Jasper (9) and Francesca (6). They influence me to look like the timeless man, like those of vintage photos that of your grandparents. You know them, real turn-of-the-century, photos of just men, all in a group shot, huddled together, but then there's that one guy who stands out more than the rest. It's not that he's better looking. He's just got more style and flair, not flamboyance, just the right accents, the posture, the purposeful grooming, the tilt of a hat. I want to be that guy! I don't want to look younger or hipper than my kids, I've already got enough embaressing photos of that.

Q: The song/album that changed everything?

A: Well, this is a tough one...I would say there have been a couple of life changing moments through my tastes in music. Much like my changes in personal style, the music was it's nucleus. One that does stand out, goes back to my early years in High school, it was the introduction to Head on the Door by The Cure. I was living in lollipop culture until I discovered the other side of the rainbow. Not that I listen to alot of angst and mellowdrama now, but it really was fitting for a youth, badly in need of revolt.

Q: Deathbed meal?

A: I have such an affinity to the culture of food that I couldn’t possibly single out a menu. I can appreciate the quote from a food writer, who once described himself, not as a foodie, but a greedie.
Moreover, I think having the pleasure of good company, is equally as important to the food itself.
I’ll never forget a scene in the movie ‘Sideways’, in which Paul Giamatti’s character is drinking a prized 61’ Chateau Cheval Blanc from a coffee cup, alone in a diner.
My best eating experiences to date have always had great people, good conversation, and nice bottles of wine to match, which is why I love to entertain.
Q: What brought you to New York? 
A: When the time came for me to make a decision for college, it was to either 1) go to the Corcoron School of Art in Washington D.C. and live at home or 2) go to Fashion Institute of Technology in the Big Apple and take on the Frank Sinatra's inspired challenge. 
Q: What inspires you to stay/what pulls you away?

A: Living in NYC for over 25 years, it always amazes me to how polarizing it is, but it's to which these extremes inspire such emotion, diversity, and  creativity. I love it...I hate it. It's what makes it so unique.. never a grey area. Never a dull moment.

1 comment:


What a legend. Thanks for sharing.