How I Became… Peggy Gou

Creative News

The DJ-turned-designer has worked with Nike and Louis Vuitton and now has her own streetwear line Kirin, backed by the operator of Off-White — the New Guards Group.

BY ROBIN MELLERY-PRATT,

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LONDON, United Kingdom — In the three years since the release of her first EP September War in 2016, Korean DJ Peggy Gou has gained industry-wide recognition and amassed an impressive group of collaborators, working with the likes of Nike and Louis Vuitton. She recently launched her own streetwear label Kirin with the New Guards Group.

Perhaps surprisingly given her rapid rise to fashion fame as a DJ and influencer, Gou first entered the industry in an editorial role. Following a short-lived dream to become a designer, she undertook a degree in styling and media studies at London College of Fashion and began her career as an editor at Harper’s Bazaar Korea.

“I realised very quickly I’m not good at styling other people. I didn’t enjoy it. I only really enjoyed styling myself,” says Gou. It was during this period of her life that Gou’s focus shifted from fashion to music as she made good her ambition to become the youngest and first female Korean DJ to play at renowned Berlin club Berghain.

From right: Peggy Gou, Virgil Abloh, Luka Sabbat and guest at the GQ Style and Browns
LFWM Party | Source: Getty Images

Throwing herself into music full-time, Gou pushed her fashion studies aside and initially, her fashion identity as well. “I wanted to look serious. At the beginning of my career, a lot of people would judge me because I was from the fashion world, saying, ‘What would she know about music?’ So, I used to dress really simply at the beginning. One of my mentors told me that the fashion part of me could have been my weakness — but I managed to turn it into a strength.”

It was at the closing party of Stockholm fashion week in 2017 that Gou’s journey to launching Kirin began. “Virgil and Kelis were performing at the same time as I was. They were on the main stage, I was in a tiny room. I thought, no one is going to come. But Virgil showed up. On his own. He said that he had been following me and after that, he booked me for an Off-White party he was throwing with Dazed,” says Gou.

At that party that Gou met representatives from New Guards Group, who expressed an interest in building a line around her vision. Kirin, the resulting streetwear brand, was named after Gou’s “spirit animal” — the giraffe — and marries traditional Korean mythological motifs with club culture graphics, debuting at Paris Fashion Week in 2019.

BoF sat down with Gou at Browns East, where the label will launch in the UK, to discuss her career journey and why she believes loyalty to both her gut instinct and her partners is fundamental to her success.

What was your first job in fashion?

Before I moved into music to become a DJ, I was working as an editor for Harper’s Bazaar Korea. During that time, I didn’t really have a relationship with brands. I was writing or interviewing people, but I also used to also have a Tumblr account where I would post pictures of me wearing different clothes every day. I think it all came from that. Some people started to called me a blogger or influencer — that’s all how it began, through imagery.

How did you distinguish yourself at the start of your career?

Having originally wanted to become a designer, when I worked an editor I realised I didn’t enjoy styling other people half as much as styling myself. I discovered music and I almost dropped the fashion world because I wanted to look serious. At the beginning of my music career, a lot of people would judge me because I was from the fashion world, saying, “What would she know about music?” So, I used to dress really simply at the beginning.

Today, I trust myself. You need to know how to say no.

But I realised that wasn’t me. So I decided not to give up what I like — fashion — because it was a part of me. One of my mentors told me that the fashion part of me could have been my weakness — but I managed to turn it into a strength.

What are the challenges in building a career linked to your personal identity?

When it works, it’s not challenging at all. I think most of the work that I am doing now is linked to my identity and sense of self. I try to avoid anything that is not good for my image or my name — my brand — which was a challenge for many years when I was starting out.

Peggy Gou’s debut womenswear line, Kirin, by Jungwook Mok | Source: Courtesy

It comes back to the question, “When do you say yes or no?” When it’s all based on my image and my identity, it’s challenging to build a team because if a project doesn’t fit my identity, it’s a no. Some people don’t understand my identity fully, so I find that difficult.

In the beginning, when I was running music production, I would often rush projects to finish them, asking myself, “How can I finish the track as soon as possible?” But the moment I decided I would take my time to complete a track, that’s when it was finished. When I started to listen to my gut, they would come more instantly. Today, I trust myself. You need to know how to say no.

How have you maintained momentum in your career?

Loyalty is so important in your career — especially when you are working for brands. With my Nike campaign, that opportunity evolved over time. They were seeding me first, so I was posting pictures of Nikes, then we did some small online campaigns and some cool panel talks — all of those elements culminated in a global campaign. Louis Vuitton was the same — it started with me going to the shows, and now I’ve had the chance to play at an event for them in Korea.

Everything starts small and then it depends on your loyalty. It is so important to show your commitment. I know a lot of friends who will go to any fashion show and do any kind of campaign because it’s big money or big press. I haven’t been like that, I am naturally really selective — it’s in my nature. So any brand that has given me an opportunity, I have remained extremely loyal and transparent with. Partnerships are hard. Somebody asked me recently, “Who would you collaborate with music wise?” There are so many artists I would like to work with, but it is easy to fall out because with two strong opinions in the studio, you can get frustrated when you can’t compromise. It’s not just about you.

How did Kirin come about?

I played a show closing Stockholm fashion week in 2017. Virgil and Kelis were performing at the same time as I was. They were on the main stage, I was in a tiny room. I thought, no one is going to come. But Virgil showed up. On his own. He said that he had been following me and booked me for an Off-White party he was throwing with Dazed.

People think I’ve achieved quick success through luck, but I’ve always believed that you make your own luck.

When I get there, the owner of New Guards Group looked at me and said, “I see something.” They approached me and that’s how it happened. I said, “I’m not a designer. How are we going to do this?” He said, “We just need a vision. We will provide a team and we need your vision.” That was how we started.

How did you approach the creative process?

It was a long process and I was a bit afraid in the beginning because I have a full-time job DJing and being a producer and this shouldn’t affect that. I’m a bit of a control freak, so I wanted to have everything my way, but [New Guards Group] gave me the support to do that. I had a nice team working around me and a graphic designer that I’m very close to, so with everybody’s support it was great. In this case with Kirin, it’s about me and I have a team supporting me putting the designs together.

What career advice would you give individuals starting out in the creative industries?

You should always listen to yourself. It’s so easy to say, but you can’t lose elements of who you are to become something else. There are times when you have to make some sacrifices, but don’t give up things that are inside. With fashion, I almost gave up, but I now think, why did I want to let this go just because I wanted to build my music career? People think I’ve achieved quick success through luck, but I’ve always believed that you make your own luck. I am often described as having tunnel vision — I often have one particular way I would like to move forward.

I have a lot of things I want to achieve and I haven’t even done half of them.

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