Designer Andrew Kwon’s Hollywood-Inspired Gowns Are Destined For The Red Carpet
And this September, the NYFW runways.
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The Hollywood red carpet has long been an influence for wunderkind bridal designer Andrew Kwon, who makes his debut at NYFW Spring/Summer 2023 this September. In his sunlit atelier-slash-apartment, he thinks back to the pivotal childhood memory that still moves him today: watching the revolutionary 2004 Chanel No. 5 perfume commercial, starring Nicole Kidman. (Costing a still mind-blowing $33 million, and directed by Moulin Rouge and Elvis visionary Baz Luhrman, the ad is more of a two-minute cinematic experience.)
“I remember a very tall blonde lady,” says the still-captivated 26-year-old, perched on his pristine white couch, surrounded by sweeping views of Midtown Manhattan. The sensational short-film opens with Kidman, as a world-famous superstar, fleeing red carpet paparazzi. The voluminous feathered train of her celestial ball gown billows behind her. After a dalliance with a handsome normie, played by Rodrigo Santoro, she returns to her celebrity duties; walking up another red carpet in a sleek black gown, with a long diamond pendant dangling against the deep-plunge back.
“I was just so attached to what seemed so unattainable,” says Kwon, recalling the resulting emotional imprint. “It was just a different world.”
The drama and power of the Hollywood red carpet, as illustrated by Kidman's evocative arc in the glam commercial, informed Kwon through his formative college years, too. With internships at celeb mainstays Marchesa and Vera Wang under his belt, the Parsons grad harbored ambitions to enter the fashion industry with a red carpet-ready evening wear line. But, thanks to the pandemic, Kwon “pivoted” his vision to bridal instead for his April 2021 debut. Starved for joy and unabashed glamour, athleisure-fatigued editors (and the public) eagerly responded to the line, christened “Reminiscence.”
“There were pretty dramatic tulle capes,” says Kwon. The fluttering floral embellishments, intricate corsetry, plush silks and romantic draping evoke the awe and exhilaration Kwon felt watching Kidman in that Chanel No. 5 commercial. He also introduced his “red carpet-ready train,” a favorite of his clientele. His sophomore collection, “Dreamer,” continued to shake up the conventional bridal landscape with international travel-inspired color-play of pistachio green, buttercream yellow and Mediterranean Sea blue.
“Your walk down the aisle really is a red carpet moment,” Kwon regularly tells his clients. So it's no surprise that his Hollywood-inspired wedding designs, like the first collection jumpsuit — with a dreamy floral-appliqués and draped tulle cape-train — and the colorful ruffle-tiered gowns have graced the red carpet and glossy editorial pages.
Credit to Kwon’s sincere charm, determination, and media savvy, too, as he organically developed his own celebrity support network. At the first fashion show he attended (Hermès Spring 2020 in Paris, thank you), he introduced himself to mega-influencer Olivia Palermo, whom he now considers a friend and advocate. “My step dad and mom always told me, ‘When you go to those types of events, it's very rare. So if you see someone you really admire or connect with, in any sense, just say hello. Try to show your work,’” says Kwon. “I always thought that as well.”
He also manifests his celebrity clientele fantasies with the help of good old social media. A fan of Tony-nominee and Emily in Paris star Ashley Park, Kwon took a chance and slid into her DMs. Intrigued, she dropped by, and posted from, one of his bridal trunk shows at Bergdorf Goodman. Park’s friend and star of Netflix’s Partner Track, Arden Cho, spotted the IG story and reached out to Kwon directly. The result: Cho wore the green tulle-ruffled wedding gown from the Dreamer collection for a May 2022 feature in New York Magazine’s The Cut — and she gave him a shout out on Twitter.
“Thank God for Instagram, because without Instagram I'm sure it would have been a very different story right now,” says Kwon, who also looks to his red carpet moments as a way to reach and inspire young AAPI creatives to pursue a career in the arts and fashion design. “Growing up watching the red carpet, I know the power that the red carpet has,” he says.
Kwon also counts a mix of tenacity and fortuitousness for landing the prestigious Bergdorf Goodman as his first retailer. After being cc’d on an email, kingmaker and SVP of fashion and store presentation director Linda Fargo connected Kwon with the Bridal Salon. “I was still a one-person team,” says Kwon. He enlisted a friend to help carry his entire collection to show manager Nara Ragimov, who gave him a test run with a trunk show. “Now I have a lot of pieces on their bridal floor,” says Kwon. Soon thereafter, he cold-called the Neiman Marcus flagship bridal salon to land his second posh retailer. “I asked to speak to a manager and they actually connected me,” he says, with a laugh.
Now it’s late August 2022 and Kwon is excitedly preparing his inaugural evening wear collection for New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023: a realization of his initial dream. For encouragement and inspiration, a YouTube video of opera singer Andrea Bocelli and Katherine Jenkins performing “I Believe” plays in the background on repeat. Crediting his professional-level pianist mother and “biggest muse,” Hye Yon Pyo, music remains another essential influence on his work.
Still, long-lasting childhood impressions of the Hollywood red carpet help Kwon push his established vision even further for his 18-look evening wear debut, featuring innovative techniques, luxe fabrics and red carpet-ready embellishments. “I want to come out with a crazy huge punch!” he says.
As a middle schooler, Kwon took his first ever flight from his Colorado hometown to the storied Los Angeles. The aerial view of the city grids and winding freeways immediately sparked wonder and imagination in him. “There was just something about those geometric lines and the city lights that made me think, ‘Oh! Maybe there's an event happening over there,” says Kwon. “It always just stuck with me that my first flight was to Los Angeles: the City of Angels, the Hollywood glamour, the red carpet…”
As he walks me through his sketches, accompanied by luxurious, tactile swatches, he points to rose gold and silver 3D lamés, in a honeycomb-like pattern, which will peek out from draped tulle on an off-the-shoulder silhouette. “I keep imagining this was when I was looking down [from the plane] and we went through the clouds and then you saw shimmers of the city lights,” says Kwon, who produced the collection with his longtime studio in New York City’s Garment District.
He displays a “crushed gold brocade,” layered over exquisite, delicate lace, for a corseted, shoulder-baring cocktail dress. Kwon explains that he hand-crushes the metallic texture to create a dynamic foil-effect. “It's taking [existing fabrics] and really making them my own — and creating this opulence,” he says.
The influence of Kidman’s mini-film finale moment is evident through a long-sleeve black velvet gown with an alluring portrait back. A row of ravishing crystals float between two velvet panels at the waistline. More diamond-esque crystals trim the cuffs, “like a tennis bracelet,” says Kwon. The collection features more sumptuous elements, like Italian guipure lace, crystal-inflected tulle and dégradé sequins, plus a macrame-like weave on a misty rose cape-trench dress and an ombré-lace on a floaty statement-sleeve gown. “These are actually painted into watercolor florals,” explains Kwon, presenting a lush painterly pattern in blues, greens and gold.
And, yes, Kwon will offer bridal versions of the evening wear, like black asymmetric high-low ball gown, with a velveted corset top and lavish layers of tulle ruffles. “We're going to make the train huge,” he says.
Kwon’s usage of gleaming metallics, sculptural silhouettes, expressive layers, and 3D accouterments reflects his holistic — and strategic view — of the red carpet, too. “I always try to imagine what it's going to look like when it hits the light and I always imagine other photography,” says Kwon, taking into consideration the viral glam moments disseminated via Instagram.
“That's what I always had in my head [when considering] fabric choice and seeing some of the fabrics that are lighter and how it's going to be carried by the wind as they're walking away,” says Kwon. Just like Nicole Kidman running off the red carpet in the seminal Chanel No. 5 commercial.