Yoon Ahn, the Co-Founder of Ambush, Talks About Her Unique Journey in Fashion
Yoon Ahn nibbles on a vanilla cracker in her Tokyo studio as we catch up over Zoom. Sporting a blue bomber jacket, gold hoops and a bleached-blonde high ponytail, she pinches the foil packaging with her signature long, pointed gel nails.
“I’m really sorry but I just need some sugar to perk me up in the afternoon,” she says.
Ahn has been running on adrenaline for the last several years. The co-founder of Ambush, a popular unisex streetwear brand beloved by the likes of Kanye West, she is also the director of jewellery for Kim Jones’ Dior Men. Last year alone saw the designer drop hyped collabs with Nike for the Air Max 180 sneaker and Gentle Monster for sunglasses, as well as her inaugural jewellery line for Dior Homme’s spring-summer 2019 collection.
She then made headlines in January when New Guards Group, the Milanese luxury conglomerate that backs Off-White, took a majority stake in Ambush, further solidifying its place among the world’s leading purveyors of all things cool. Ahn also happens to be one of the few women thriving in a traditionally male-dominated arena. “It’s always been very masculine because it’s about ‘living that code’,” Ahn says.
“But I believe culture is a living thing, and it can change and evolve.” While some designers might have found brief respite during the pandemic-induced lockdown, Ahn misses the jet-stream action. “I like rhythm; it’s very important to me,” she says. She bemoans the fact that her next call with Italy for sample review will still be via computer screen.
“I like to make decisions and see things in person,” she says. “I’m very tactile; I need to touch it and see it and communicate on the spot.”
She may not have degrees in fashion or business, but the Korean-American designer possesses street cred in spades, thanks in no small part to her association with a group of formidable friends—including ASAP Rocky, whose music video LSD Ahn appeared in—who have been dubbed by the media as “Antwerp Six of the Instagram age”.
Like her peers, her best credentials come from the most intangible place—her sharp intuition. “My education came from having an antenna on at all times,” she says. “You can’t be all up in your head thinking that what you’re creating is the greatest—ego is a cancer when it comes to designing and running a business.” September saw Ahn launch another collaboration, this time reimagining Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti Forever bag.
“I’ve actually turned down a lot [of collaboration opportunities],” she says. “There are certain things I just know if it’s going to work out or not. Sometimes, even if it’s a great offer, if I can’t connect with it, I know it’s not the right one.”
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The idea for Ambush sprung from an unexpected place—Ahn was designing jewellery that both she and now-husband Verbal (the renowned hip-hop artist and member of Teriyaki Boyz) could wear.
“I never saw gender in jewellery,” she says. “And we never had a business plan or decided to make ready-to-wear. We were just shooting our jewellery look book and felt that our jewellery didn’t look right on clothes by other brands, so we started by making a top, and it just grew from there.”
Ahn has become known for chunky gold and silver fashion jewellery inspired by found objects, like a giant safety pin-turned-earring or a barbed wire gold ring. “I was trying to bring value to something people didn’t find value in,” she says. “I just loved the punk attitude, the way people would pierce and decorate themselves. It wasn’t about class or look how much money they had.”
For Ambush’s fall-winter 2020 collection, Ahn took a romp through the Japanese countryside pre-pandemic, visiting the denim factories that produce her pieces. There, in the midst of rolling hills and shallow streams stood a bustling factory, like an ecosystem of its own—“It was like I walked into a time warp,” she says.
Around the same time, Ahn was re-watching Wong Kar-wai movies and took inspiration from his arthouse approach of stringing fragmented moments into a longer narrative. “I thought: instead of a cohesive collection with one specific theme, I wanted to put together different characters who are going to the countryside and see what kind of vibe they’d take on, how they’d put together their outfits. It’s how I would make this movie if I were a director.”
Results included bleached denim, hot-pink nylon trenches and a stunning kimono-wrap bomber jacket—perhaps a more eclectic offering compared to her last, but each piece maintains the Ambush polish and a healthy dose of bling.
The look book itself features a car crashed vertically into the ground. Was it to mimic the sense of displacement Dorothy felt in The Wizard of Oz? Ahn is amused by the idea, a sweet now in hand. “Could be!” she says. “I was thinking more about urging people to get out and look around. I kind of just went with a feeling.”
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