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The crazy rise of Ambush, the street label of Yoon Ahn



What do Nike, Bulgari, Beats and Moët & Chandon have in common? 

In recent months, all these brands have called upon Yoon Ahn, founder of the Ambush label, for collaboration. 

In 2020, the 40-year-old American-Korean designer imagined a sneaker with the Nike comma sticking out of the heel.

She has transformed the Bulgari snake into a cute animal on rhinestoned minaudières, designed phosphorescent headphones...

On February 15, she also dressed up the bottle of Moët Imperial, which no one had touched since its creation 152 years ago. 

The name "Ambush" has established itself as sesame, a cool and offbeat endorsement for the products to which it is affixed. 

It helps popular brands to give themselves a sharper image, and allows very exclusive brands to reach a younger audience.

The creator Yoon Anh

The label's rise began in the late 2000s. Only to see its popularity really explode on June 23, 2018, the day of Kim Jones' first Dior men's fashion show: 

at the time of the salute, the English designer dislodged Yoon Ahn from the front row to finish his lap with her. 

He had chosen her to design the brand's accessories when he took office in April 2018. 

But nothing forced him to dub her in front of the fashion world and the hundreds of thousands of people who watched the show's broadcast.

 "I've always wanted to work with Yoon. I love him and I'm a fan of his work," says Jones.

1. A clique of fashionable friends

As Ambush is always associated with brands bigger than itself, we tend to forget that it is also a brand in its own right that offers fashion and jewelry. 

Yoon Ahn founded it in 2002 and has had international ambitions since it was acquired in January 2020 by New Guards., the Italian group that also owns Opening Ceremony, or Off-White by Virgil Abloh.

 "A fashion brand has to tell new stories every season. It takes work to study, to cultivate, to constantly observe what's going on around you," says Yoon Ahn when we meet her through Zoom in early February.

On-screen, the designer almost looks like an avatar. Her bun is an impeccable sphere at the top of her skull.

Her eyes are perfectly stretched by a line of eyeliner, her eyebrows form two smooth black stripes, her mouth is a heart drawn in mattered. 

Under his black turtleneck, on his left shoulder, is a black comforter that seems to be held by the operation of the Holy Spirit. 

She speaks to us from her Tokyo office, but we won't see anything of it because she has chosen wallpaper to hide the "disorder of the room" in which she is standing.

Japan is the anchor point of the brand, it is where the headquarters and the three boutiques are located. 

Yoon Ahn, who studied design in Boston, moved there sixteen years ago with his partner Verbal, a Japanese hip-hop star. 

When they founded Ambush together, the label first resembled a design agency designing album covers for Verbal. 

To add to their stage costumes, the duo then turned to what would make their fortune: 

  •  Jewelry, which they generously donated to their acquaintances. 

Verbal has a clique of fashionable friends, including pop star Pharrell Williams and Nigo (musician and founder of the Bape brand), Yoon Ahn having hooked up with fashion people in the clubs she frequents at night. 

Excerpt from Ambush's
Excerpt from Ambush's spring-summer 

In this Warholian era where co-optation between hipsters is at least as important as talent, here they are in orbit.

2. Jewelry padlock or barbed wire

Their unisex, flashy, offbeat and a bit street-smart jewelry have the qualities required to please their circle. 

Padlock-shaped earrings, chains that merge with barbed wire, metallic necklace that also serves as a lighter or cigar holder, safety pin bracelet ... ideas are flowing. 

The most famous is undoubtedly the "POW!" line, pendants or rings in the shape of a comic book bubble. 

Its popularity skyrocketed in April 2008, when Kanye West wore two "POW!" chains. - chains - one gold, the other fluorescent green - at the opening of the Bape boutique in Los Angeles.

"Until then, we had been successful with our friends and the Japanese scene. When an international star wears your work, it changes everything," says Yoon Ahn

Once you get that kind of attention, everything you do afterward has to be better. 

Like in music, if you do a featuring with a star and you don't have another hit afterward, you disappear. »

To avoid risking overnight success, Ambush develops its jewelry, initiates collaborations launches a line of ready-to-wear. 

This last initiative means conquering Paris, whose aura of the big houses and competitive spirit motivate Yoon Ahn: "

If you want to become an actor, you go to Hollywood if you want to break into fashion, it's at Paris Fashion Week," she sums up. 

She presents her first collection there in 2017, the year she is selected among the eight finalists for the LVMH prize. 

The French capital is generally not kind to neophytes who become designers without even a fashion degree to prove the seriousness of their business. 

"I may have been a little insecure until I realized that the result is more important than the studies," sweeps the designer.

"Yoon Ahn has always had a very resourceful side, says Sarah Andelman, founder of Colette, which was one of the first stores to sell Ambush jewelry. 

She's good at creating strong images and I remember her showrooms [places where designers present their new collections to the press and buyers] at the Brancusi workshop in Beaubourg in 2018. 

Or when she staged the clothes in front of Mercedes cut in half" (in January 2020, one month before Virgil Abloh had the same idea for his Off-White women's fall-winter 2020/21 fashion show).

3. A claw writing its history

If the staging is striking, what about the collections? "When you have the support of a group, there is always a risk of standardization. 

Her work may be more standard today than it was in the beginning," says Andelman. 

The jewelry is more discreet but hasn't lost its humor, like this medicine necklace where you can slip in a pill. Ready-to-wear was "very streetwear at first.

Before moving in a more elegant and sophisticated direction, with an aesthetic approaching Bottega Veneta," analyzes Léo Guegan, buyer at Printemps, who assures that the deconstructed pieces. 

The "logoted" hooded sweaters and the offbeat jewelry work very well, especially with young people sensitive to a mixed wardrobe.

Ambush's spring-summer 2021 collection
Ambush's spring-summer 2021 collection

For her part, the main interested party gives a rather vague definition of the style of the house: 

"We're talking to people who know what they want," she eludes. 

We're a young brand, we don't try to deliver any particular message. With two collections a year, it takes time to define who we are.

In Japan, we expect something new all the time, it's normal to demolish buildings to build new ones instead. 

It's a state of mind that I've gotten used to," explains Yoon Ahn, whose next Ambush collections are intended to set up "the basics of the brand".

In the meantime, this freshness may not be a disadvantage in "covidated" periods; it allows certain flexibility, to test new formats.

 "Our DNA is not to be traditional," claims the designer, who cites as an example her collaboration with Amazon.

 So that Ambush boutiques are equipped with Alexa voice assistants instead of salespeople (one can imagine the outcry if such an initiative had been taken by a Parisian fashion label).

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