Designers Koon Lim and Catrine Thé, the design duo behind koonhor, met as students of the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2003 and began working together to launch their Milan-based brand, which focuses on a modern and sleek, yet feminine, aesthetic. Since then, Lim and Thé have been honored by Vogue Italia as the winners of its 2012 WHO IS ON NEXT?, a competition for young design brands along the lines of the US' CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. They subsequently made their New York Fashion Week in September 2013, with a collection that Style.com called "polished and very contemporary" and "equal parts innocence, lust, and androgyny." They have been featured by The Last Magazine, Elle, various Vogues, WWD, and Grazia, among an array of other publications, and stock on Koonhor.com, Luisaviaroma, OAK in New York, and Off the Wall in Hong Kong - just to name a few retailers. We caught up with Lim and Thé to talk about their brand, reaching clients on a personal level, what they are obsessed with right now and more …
The Fashion Law - How old are you now and where are you from?
Koon Lim - I’m really an international citizen. But I do hail from a small island-nation of Singapore. As the youngest of 8 siblings, I’ll always feel young . . . at heart. [laughs]
CatrineThé - A lady never reveals her age! [smiles] My home is Singapore, but my roots are from Indonesia.
The Fashion Law -Tell me a bit about your brand and how you think it is different from others that may be similarly situated.
KL - While there are underlying themes that we consistently refer back to, including androgynous looks and a balance of hard and soft elements, as well as our very technical approach to design, we try not to get locked into a cut and dry definition of the brand. We feel each collection adds another nuanced layer to our story, and every season we have a new fairytale to tell.
CT - Exactly, and I think the koonhor woman is really a work in progress. This sense of irreverence is what sets us apart from other similar brands. Our chapters are still being written and everything is open for interpretation. It’s an exciting outlook to have at the beginning of each season, and quite often I surprise myself!
The Fashion Law - You are based in Milan but show in New York. Why NYC?
CT - After showing several seasons abroad in Paris and Milan, we finally feel like we found the right chemistry with New York. Of course New York has a special meaning for us, as we met there, but we also do appreciate the commercial opportunity that this city offers.
KL - Right . . . the fashion industry in New York is much more open and accepting of new faces. Like the great American dream, it gives us with a challenge that we must rise up to and prove ourselves. So, far it’s going well for us, so no complaints . . . yet. We are really looking forward to many more seasons in NYC.
The Fashion Law - You met when you were attending FIT in NYC. What are some things you think that designers need to know that aren't necessarily taught in school?
KL -Yes, we did . . . didn’t we? . . . The right representation is everything, and it’s all about trusting your business partners. Isn’t that right Catrine?
CT - [smiles]
The Fashion Law - Do you ever worry about your designs being copied? Is this something you've encountered?
KL -Much like art, designs, which we create, are an evolutionary concept where it is constantly evolving and inspired by what we see and what we do. So, I don’t think being copied is necessarily an issue we should be worried about, it’s all about how one puts the design concept into context of their season or overall theme. And when we see something familiar, it’s always interesting to see how else it could be done or simply a different perspective of a similar design. After all we are humans, and sometimes creativity is how innovative we are with what we already have.
The Fashion Law - What have you learned about the business of fashion so far?
KL -Building a company is a simple, but a tough job, from all the micro-macro management; it requires a lot of patience, learning, and most importantly, passion for it. We found that every successful business model we examined always had an organic process that always started from the bottom-up, and it is necessary to have a solid foundation for the business in order to have potential future growth.
CT -Exactly, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the whole brand grow from a small in-house label to an international brand with all our combined efforts, as well as the efforts of our dedicated staff. Like every other business, be it in the creative field or others, there is a whole step and process required that builds both the business model and the branding.
From the very beginning we began with ready-to-wear items, and once we felt we had established a good position we slowly branched out into accessories. This diversification of our business was an important step to positioning our brand through a holistic design concept from clothing articles to supporting accessories, which ultimately served to fulfill our core vision of the modern woman.
KL -Looking into the near future, we would like to see koonhor develop into a lifestyle brand, where the emphasis is not so much about the articles of clothing, but rather, how the designs and innovations can impact the lives of the wearer. And part of that business strategy is to relate and reach to our clientele, on a personal level, through our extended e-commerce and special content. By understanding our customer’s needs it allows us to better focus on innovative designs with a breath of creative spark, yet, with a hint of risqué!
The Fashion Law - What are you obsessed with right now?
CT - Finding free time for a holiday!
KL - My work!