In a world where DMs are a dime a dozen, her nearly 26k followers qualify lowkey influencer status. That number alone creates a degree of separation; like getting to know her is a lot less intimate when twenty-five thousand other folks are too. I scroll down far, trying to get to the meat of it; lo-res iPhone photos clash with party pics, shots of her modeling for brands and clips of her deep, inky art. I conflate it all in an effort to piece together an identity from my lack of visceral reaction. I’ve read all of her captions, watched her daily stories—have even gone so far as to dissect her conversations with commenters, but I don’t know this woman. The truth is, Milk became @milkizm long before social media, and that’s just one side of the story.
On the day of our shoot, she and husband Poster charge into the gallery space all fire and fury, her husky voice filling the space between us. She’s got red hair the color of smudged lipstick, dark almond eyes and a nose that girls would pull up a picture of to show to their plastic surgeons. For lack of better word, she’s gorgeous. And the unfussed ease in which she carries herself just adds to the whole effect. We engage in smalltalk—where she’s from (Korea), when she moved here (four years ago) and how everything with the show is going (she’s one in the 5-membered crew on FuseTV’s ‘The 212’) before she steps in front of the camera, pulling an orange angora bucket hat over her head, slipping seamlessly into a playful, performative character.
It’s a few weeks before we meet again and the afterburn of her warmth has stayed with me. This time, it’s on her turf—in the Lower East Side basement of Homies Wonderland—where during our descent and on the way back up the steep steel stairs, she carefully reminds me to watch my head. It’s a kind of caring conscientiousness that seems to have escaped my generation, might have skipped over a few New Yorkers, but has landed gracefully on Milk. I hesitate to swathe her in words stereotypical of maternal femininity, but she is delicate, caring, and soft. She frames unconventional moments with the word ‘beautiful’ and drenches all the hardships of her life’s journey in self-reflection.
I’d like to think that Milk has always been this woman sitting in front of me—her tiny frame buried in a slouchy, oversized hoodie, a heavy puffer, and Air Jordans. (She loves sneakers and dressing Tomboy “comfy.”) Easy confidence fits her. But the past few years haven’t been so plush, I can tell that much. The 25-year old was raised in Canada and moved to Korea after graduating getting expelled from high school, her future the uncertain consequence of family hardships and getting a little too stoked on an early acceptance to London’s Central Saint Martins art program. Two years later, she still hadn’t made it to London and the depressive narrative kind of wrote itself. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Korea, “but I still felt racism from other Koreans, just because I didn’t grow up there and I was dressed a little differently. I just felt left out.” It was enough motivation for Milk to start saving, doing murals in the interiors of her father’s client’s homes and applying to art programs in Canada and New York. Parson’s was the first to accept her. “I just said, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna go.’ And then I begged my mom and she bought me a one-way ticket to New York. I just dipped and never really looked back.”
Turns out Parson’s wasn’t for her, as she added the title ‘dropout’ to her resume. But here’s the thing about Milk and her generation; they engage in a familiar lexicon just to get by and ‘dropout’ certainly doesn’t have the same ring that it used to. The nervous weightlessness of independence gave her a sense of responsibility. “I knew that I wasn’t the only person, so I kinda had hope,” she says, pretty matter-of-factly. “So many people come to America with just nothing. Let me see if I can figure something out.” That’s when she ended up at Homies, and so began an education of a different sort.
I’m sure there’s a smattering of kids over lower Manhattan to Brooklyn who came up on Essex Street inside the white walls of Homies Wonderland. And I’m sure if you ask, struggle expressed itself in its own unique way for each of them. But inside those walls, big things happened in the achingly tender moments of just trying to figure shit out. “I always explain to [Poster] that Homies is kinda like school, but not like an actual school. All of our friends that came in around the same time as we did, we all graduated and now we are separately doing things and working with different brands and doing our own things.” For Milk, her own thing has been a lot of different things. From creative and art direction with brands like 10Deep to modeling and designing for her clothing line with Poster, aptly named Milk&Poster.
The line of hoodies, though pretty tied up in the aesthetics of Milk&Poster the people, is so much more about Milk&Poster, the idea. Milk tells me that they “want it to be a network for people to connect with one another” before Poster slides in and gives me the full brand manifesto. She reminds me that a lot of its ideology as a ‘charity of information’ is informed by their own relationship; “What I love about Poster is that we’ve never kept things to each other. If we had something cool or something that we could help each other on—and I feel like that is so beautiful in a way, having that connection with a person. I feel like a lot of the people who first move to New York, they don’t really know until they meet a certain person that they can help them and open their minds about certain things, and [that’s] important.”
For Milk, recognition is an integral part of her being. Whether it be the recognition she received after leaving college, unsure of where—or even how—she’d stay in the city, or the recognition of her own sensitivity and emotion, it all knits together pretty well. Yes, she is an artist, a designer, a creative, but in that she is also a vessel of intense self-awareness. That kind of honesty can be intimidating, and I ask if she was ever scared. “Yeah. I think that’s life though. I feel like everyone goes into things so boldly and says you aren’t supposed to be scared of [anything] in life,” she trails off and loses focus in a stoney, mid-conversation haze. “But once you hit the bottom point and your wake up, it’s like, ok are you going to keep going this way or go back up and in the direction you came in?”
The last time we talk it’s via iMessage and I ask where she got the name Milk:
It’s funny and fitting and obviously no coincidence that this brings us full circle. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that whatever it’s worth won’t be drying up anytime soon.
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