Rok Hwang Is Reconstructing Womenswear With His Brand, Rokh


Rok Hwang creates impeccable garments. Then, he dismembers them. “We destroy the perfect collection—I think there’s a beauty in that” said the 34-year-old, London-based designer, who launched his womenswear line, Rokh, in 2016. Naturally, he doesn’t leave his buttery leather jackets, tailored suits, or signature duffel coats slashed on the floor. Rather, in Frankensteinian fashion, he and his all-female team splice the cut-up wares back together to create something entirely new. “We call it ‘reconstruction’,” Hwang said while sitting in his Paris showroom just days after debuting his first-ever runway show, which was styled by Self Service fashion director Elodie David Touboul and soundtracked by Michel Gaubert. “You have the DNA [of the original garment] embedded into every single piece.”

It’s not the simplest process, but it’s one that showcases the skills the designer has fine-tuned throughout his impressive career. Born in South Korea and raised in Austin, Texas, Hwang moved to London at the age of 19 and, somewhat unexpectedly, ended up studying menswear at Central Saint Martins. “I never really dreamt of being a fashion designer,” Hwang admitted. “I was quite into music and youth culture,” but after reading an article about the prestigious art and fashion school, Hwang decided that’s where he wanted to be. He went on to receive an MA in womenswear from CSM in 2010, studying under the late Professor Louise Wilson, whose former students include Alexander McQueen and, more recently, Craig Green. “One thing that always stuck in my head was when she’d tell me, ‘Wake up!’” said Hwang, who was in the same graduating class as Simone Rocha. “When I was a student, I always thought I was awake, but now, I get it. It’s about how much you are engaged with the world, how much you are actually open to it, and how aware you are—I think that changes everything.”

 

After finishing his graduate collection, Hwang was quickly scooped up by Celine, where he worked under Phoebe Philo. “She taught me about precision, fit, and understanding women—how to make clothing attractive,” Hwang said of Philo. “For her, it’s not about just being conceptual—it’s about how you feel in the clothes in daily life. It’s not just about ‘fashion,’ it’s the garments that really mean something.”

 

“When I was a student, I always thought I was awake, but now, I get it. It’s about how much you are engaged with the world, how much you are actually open to it, and how aware you are—I think that changes everything.”

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Those sentiments have stuck with Hwang, who freelanced for Chloé and Louis Vuitton before starting his own brand. “[The team] tries on everything so we can understand the clothes and how they fall and feel on the body,” he explained, noting that he aims to provide women with a full wardrobe—from outerwear and blouses to shoes and clean leather handbags. “We’re never just focusing on one element—we are suggesting a wardrobe for a new woman, a new culture.”

 

 

Hwang achieved swift success after breaking out on his own, winning the LVMH Special Prize in 2018 and quickly attracting retailers—he’s now stocked in over 100 stores worldwide, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Net-a-Porter among them. But Hwang conceded that starting a company comes with its difficulties. “Every single thing is a challenge,” he said, listing cash flow, fabric sourcing, and production among the hurdles. “But that’s part of the fun, too, because you’re not only handling the [creative] vision, but every aspect of the brand.”

 

On his Fall 2019 runway, Hwang presented a collection dubbed “Teenage Wasteland,” which dug deep into the lingering adolescent anxieties the designer explores in his work. “It’s about a sense of youth,” said Hwang. “So, I wanted to connect myself with youth culture and also touch on my own experience of youth and my generation.” The designer looked back to his upbringing, imbuing a coming-of-age uncertainty into the printed silk dresses he layered over second-skin turtlenecks; remixed suiting looks embellished with punkish metal closures; and a deconstructed duffel coat held together by twine. “Culturally, I was never quite sure who I belonged to,” said Hwang. He recalled feeling lonely while growing up in Texas, where he lived in his economist father’s caravan in the woods. “There was always a sense of isolation and I wanted to share that experience with the audience.” He achieved that by showing in a dim setting bathed in red light. Each model carried a small flashlight, perhaps so she could find her own, individual path through the darkness.

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There were more literal references to his childhood, too—the grannyish floral prints were inspired by “tacky ceramics” his mother used to collect, and the paisleys and crochet-blanket knits were inspired by the décor of his childhood home. “It’s my own memory of going back to my dad’s caravan,” Hwang said. Elsewhere, orbit prints stemmed from the NASA decorations Hwang had in his boyhood bedroom, and the swirling pattern seen on a series of knits read “Paracetamol” and “Ibuprofen.” “That reminds me of my youth, too—I’m quite nerdy, so it’s not like an acid print or anything,” he said of the tongue-in-cheek drug reference. “It speaks to my own kind of people, and I wanted to show a bit of humor inside the collection.”

 

Hwang is already planning his next moves—a series of installations and pop-ups are on the horizon, and he hopes to launch menswear in the coming seasons. “My goal is to keep giving my audience a new story—something that’s fresh and exciting,” he said. And while the future is bright and Hwang’s showroom was bustling, he’s not taking the success of his first runway for granted. “Everybody worked so hard for this—there were a lot of long, endless nights,” he mused. “But now, there are a lot of new people interested in the brand. It’s such a rewarding feeling.”

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