For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.
You’ve made a name for yourself by creating eye-catching, one-of-a-kind cakes that have been featured in Skims and Billie advertisements, and even at the Super Bowl, where The Weeknd was photographed with one of your signature pastel-colored jellies. Before making cakes, you worked in fashion—at Opening Ceremony—and created the brand Phlemuns Nonbasics with James Flemons. How does your fashion background come into play when you’re making cakes?
My parents are actually in the industry too, so I grew up in it. After I finished Phlemuns Nonbasics, I had this idea for experiential dinners with my friends. I had friends in the food industry, and some in fashion, and I wanted to bring them together over a meal, to have a conversation about nunchi, which is a Korean word that doesn’t have a direct translation—it means being aware of your surroundings and picking up on things that aren’t said. Then I just started playing with cakes, and obviously, that took off. Making cakes has a very similar process to fashion design, in the sense of putting colors together.
How does the concept of nunchi play out in everyday life?
It’s really big in Korean culture: always having to look out and sense the environment, and be really sensitive, polite, and respectful, knowing when to say things, knowing when to take action. All of that translates under the umbrella of nunchi. It’s a hyperawareness or consideration, being able to read the room.
Did you grow up with those values?
I did. I grew up in L.A., and even though my parents are pretty Americanized for my generation, those values are so deeply rooted in our culture. A lot of my really Korean friends who grew up mostly in Korea are like, “You’re so Korean,” and I always felt that.
How has the work taught you about your origins?
Originally, I wanted to pickle in jelly, because Korean food is all about fermentation, and I had this idea that it would be really cool to suspend cabbage in a brine of jelly, and see how it would turn over time. A lot of it was more conceptual—it wasn’t actually going to be edible. Now I’m going to Korea for six weeks, and I’ll be relearning my culture, learning how to make food properly, and then testing things out. My long-term dream is to have my own farm—and, actually, I’ll be opening up a space in LA soon, where I can redirect Eat Nunchi to do what I originally planned on doing, which is hosting dinners and growing my own vegetables and fruits. We’ll also have some retail, marketplace element to it, and I’m launching clothing, as well as products with other brands.
I feel like kind of a late bloomer. It took working out of the house and pumping out cakes to really think about, Where do I want to take this? Before, I was always thinking, How can I make my parents happy? How can I make my friends happy? And I never asked myself, What will make me happy? I’m just beginning that journey.
Whom do you consider original?
I don’t really have celebrity crushes, and I don’t idolize anyone in fashion. The only person I’ve always looked up to since I was a little kid is Oprah. I’ve watched every episode of her shows, and I want to be in one of them. There is no other Oprah. Even she and Stedman are an inspiration. Everyone says to me, “Oh, when are you getting married?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. Oprah and Stedman are not married.”
Source: W Magazine