Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK’s Best Wardrobes in Britain. It’s where we do exactly what it says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes in this fair country of ours. We’re honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters as much as the characters you don’t yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.
You may not know Haeni Kim by name or face, but you've definitely wanted to wear her clothes. The South Korean–born ballerina-turned-fashion-expert is the genius behind everyone's favourite affordable online brand, Kitri. In our team alone there have been multiple editors signing up to all the (many) waiting lists for the label's sellout smash-hit midi dresses, and we revel in telling those who aren't in the know about where they can buy reasonably priced and flattering clothes that don't scrimp on design. But what does a woman with all of these pieces at her disposal wear on the regular? Every time we've met with Kim, she has always looked impeccable, so it was only right to take a deeper dive into her wardrobe to find out more…
Do you have any early fashion memories?
I’ve got quite a few, actually, because my mum and her sister were always really into fashion (my aunt used to work in an atelier in South Korea). So when I was growing up, both of them used to drag me around shopping and trying things on. I was basically their Barbie, and I used to absolutely hate it. I just wanted to go to my dance school and go to ballet.
The first look I remember liking is this really long camel-coloured corduroy skirt (very serious) with black, proper army boots. At the time, I must have been about 8 years old and that was my favourite thing. I remember wearing that to school and feeling pretty cool. Everybody else thought I looked stupid and would make fun of me. But I really liked it, so I’d wear it all the time!
So did you have quite a clear sense of what you did and didn’t want to wear from a young age?
I used to always hate wearing anything too girly. I never used to wear dresses and I never used to wear skirts, but that one with the stompy boots and in corduroy felt a bit cooler. I always used to always love huge wedge trainers. This was back in the ’90s and everyone used to wear them. Because I’m quite short and used to get picked on a lot at school, I remember one day my mum was like "That’s it—we’re going to go shoe shopping,” and she took me to this local shoe store where everything was made of rubber (like Adidas three-stripe slides), and they used to have these huge, chunky rubber trainers. I just didn’t take them off—even once I came to England aged 12.
It was very different [in the UK] from Korea, and I was so fully focused on [ballet] training. I was training every day and after school because I wasn’t allowed to train during school time, so I wanted to make up for it. I used to train with people a lot older than me, so I never really hung out with people my own age unless I was at school. I just didn’t know where they went shopping—I didn’t know pop music or anything!
For a while, I was just in this fashion wilderness in my leotard. And then, when I went to my A-level secondary school, that’s when I started really thinking about a career away from ballet, going to university and what I’d actually wear because you’re changing and want to fit in and want to look cool. It [my fashion sense] didn’t come until a lot later.
How would you describe your personal style now?
I am a lot more experimental with prints and colour than I used to be. When you first start experimenting with fashion, it’s a lot safer to go with all neutral colours. I think when I first got into fashion, I was very monochrome—my ideal look was that Parisian Vogue look, you know? The pointy heels, really tight jeans, nice blazer, an Equipment shirt… that was my look for ages. But as I grew out of that, when I started living in Hong Kong [aged 26 and after five years of working in London] in fact, that was when I started really loving colour. The weather and the people out there… It’s just generally more colourful and a lot more print-orientated.
When I came back to London (that was three and a half years ago), this kind of printed midi dresses thing really started happening and I felt like Okay, I can do this here too. Normally, I’m in midi dresses (colourful, block-coloured ones that I love); a blazer for a meeting or jumpsuits, which are really my thing. When I wear jumpsuits for meetings, I feel put-together and feminine but I don’t feel like I’m wearing a "suit suit.” I love one in a punchy colour.
I can see that you’re also partial to a designer accessory or two…
It’s really naughty, but they’re mostly from our shoots. You know, you always pick things that you want to wear yourself (like your dream wardrobe), and sometimes they get scuffed. But I do like designer accessories; they last longer and they’re not as trend-driven. I’m not in a position to be able to afford really expensive designer clothing. It’s quite unnecessary for my lifestyle at the moment, and that’s the reason that I founded Kitri, so it makes sense that I have those pieces like a designer handbag or shoes once in a while.
Do you have any fashion regrets?
I’ve had a lot of makeup disasters, like at my first prom. Actually, that was a bad fashion choice too. It was after GCSEs and you’re 16 and you have no idea what you’re doing. I didn’t want to spend too much money. I remember I tried on all of these ghastly prom dresses, glittery, flowery or really satin-y.
I found this two-piece, corseted, satin, fishtail dress and thought This is black—it’s classic and flattering. So I bought it and I had to buy corseted underwear to get into it aged 16, which is probably not a good sign. I did my own hair and had this big fringe coming down with a little bun. I did a lot of black makeup and had braces (obviously, because I was 16). I had this intense black beaded choker that was three tiers and a matching beaded cuff and chandelier earrings. I basically looked like an Asian Morticia Addams! That was my very first formalwear [moment]. I think I must have torn up all the photos—I looked back on it a year later and thought That was the worst outfit ever. I thought I was really chic at the time!
What are your shopping habits? Do you shop often? Alone or with people?
My husband is really grateful that I’m a lone shopper. I kind of know what I want or even if I’m looking to be inspired I just go around and I’m done, so I’m super quick. I’ll have a list of shops I want to hit, I go through the rails, I don’t dawdle, I don’t kind-of hum and haw… Everyone’s so busy these days, so online [shopping] is a giant lifesaver. I’m super-quick with purpose and quite ruthless. If I don’t love it, I don’t touch it.
What do you always buy or wear on repeat?
I think just really great smart but fun jumpsuits. That’s always my go-to. But also floral midi dresses—I’m really quite into them. I’m worried about the day they go away…
Is there anything you really want to get for autumn/winter 2019?
I would really love a well-tailored suit but in a mad colour. My brother-in-law is getting married and [he and his groomsmen] have all ordered their tailored suits and I’m getting quite jealous. I just wish I could wear a good, properly tailored suit. We have more fashion semi-tailored suits in Kitri and I would love to get to a point where we could do something more made-to-measure or bespoke.
Can you recall a particularly big purchase that meant something to you?
Oh, yes. It’s really embarrassing, though—it makes me sound like I’m such a designer whore! It was an Hermès enamel bracelet. I was obsessed with it for so long and because it had an H on it and my name is Haeni. I just loved it and kept seeing people wearing it back in the day (this is when Lindsay Lohan had like 10 of them, but it wasn’t because of her!), I just really liked the idea of having something and giving my daughter all of the H things and her name beginning with H and having these hand-me-downs. When I first got a pay rise, fortunately, it was the exact amount for the month that the bracelet cost, so I just thought it was meant to be. I blew it all on the bracelet. I still have it. I haven’t worn it for a little while. I’m hoping that it’ll come back into fashion soon…
Do you have any style icons?
We always talk about Bianca Jagger [in the Kitri office]. I’ve just been such a huge fan of hers for such a long time. When I first graduated, the brand I was working for had the absolute pleasure of dressing her. When I met her, she just had this sparkle and no shits given (or should wouldn’t take any). She was just so cool and is still beautiful—she has a bone structure like no one else. So Bianca Jagger throughout her career is always on our mood board, but all of our friends are really well-dressed! I get more inspired by the people we work with and the girls in the office. It’s not necessarily a celebrity anymore; it’s a lot more idiosyncratic than that.
I know that you’re always working on ways to make Kitri a more conscious brand, but how are you aware when it comes to your own closet?
I’ve been having seasonal culls since I was quite young, not because I have so many clothes, but because I always want to edit it down to the essentials and then give away to charity or pack away knowing it will become relevant again for me (whether it’s in fashion or not) and that I’ll cherish it again later and bring it out. It’s about keeping it edited, and for me, it’s slightly different because I’m pretty much always in Kitri. It’s important for me to try all of the new styles on myself to make sure it works and to see if we were to do it again how would we do it differently.
Shop Haeni's Wardrobe
Hannah Almassi is the editor in chief of Who What Wear UK. Hannah has been part of the the Who What Wear brand since 2015, when she was hired to launch a UK sister site and social channels, localise content strategy and build out the editorial team. She joined following a seven-year tenure at Grazia magazine, where she led front-of-book news, fashion features and shopping specials as fashion news and features editor. With experience in both print and digital across fashion and beauty, Hannah has over 15 years in the field as a journalist, editor, content strategist and brand consultant. Hannah has interviewed industry heavyweights such as designers including Marc Jacobs and Jonathan Anderson through to arbiters of taste including Katie Grand and Anna Dello Russo. A skilled moderator and lecturer specialising in the shift to digital media and e-commerce, Hannah’s opinion and work has been sought by the likes of CNBC, BBC, The Sunday Times Style, The Times and MatchesFashion.com, among many others.
Hannah currently resides in Eastbourne with her photographer husband, incredibly busy toddler and highly Instagrammable cat.
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