Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would know that streetwear has taken the fashion industry by storm over the past couple of decades. In 2020 alone, streetwear sales raked in USD185 billion, making about 10% of the entire global apparel and footwear market. Going against the norms of conventional designers, fiercely-independent streetwear brands are celebrated for their inventiveness and AMBUSH is among the most-determined of them with a unique backstory that started from the streets of Tokyo and has led to its founders rubbing shoulders with Rihanna, Kanye West, the Hadid sisters, and the rest of today’s fashion elite.
AMBUSH is the brainchild of husband-wife duo Verbal and Yoon. The pair were a couple of pop culture-loving teens when they met at college in Boston – Yoon was studying Design while Verbal, now an established hip hop artist now, was just a rap-fan marketing major.
After graduating they moved to Verbal’s hometown Tokyo. It was around the time of the rise of club culture with international DJs stopping by the bustling city every other day.
“Hip-hop, electro… Everyone was peacocking so you wore things to stand out. This was before Instagram, so if you wanted to see what a scene was like, you had to go to the clubs. My hair was a different colour every few weeks, I was customising clothes with studs, making jewellery from found objects. Mixing things up,” Yoon reminisces in an interview with Evening Standard.
Yoon’s mix-and-match skills soon became an asset that was more value than the activity of ‘peacocking’ when Verbal’s rap career started to take off. As a rising artiste in the spotlight, image was crucial. At the time, Japan’s top stylists would present Verbal with the stereotypical huge chains and rings adorned by American rappers which the couple thought was ridiculous, so they started making smaller pieces that Verbal could wear that represented his style. Soon, his friends and contemporaries started to request for jewellery to be made for them.
In 2008, AMBUSH is born as an experimental line of jewellery deriving inspiration from the duo’s love for pop culture. International media started to pick up on the brand after their POW! collection was endorsed by artistes like Kanye West and Pharell. A year later, Japanese streetwear heavyweight BAPE comes knocking on their door for a collaboration, which brings the couple’s brand to new heights. Collaborations with Jun Takahashi of Undercover and Chitose Abe of Sacai followed.
Expanding from jewellery into apparel, Yoon decided she wanted a matching canvas for her accessories, so she started designing unisex apparel – belted kilts, boxer shorts, T-shirts with “Make Art Not Friends” emblazoned in gothic lettering, which made the brand a finalist for the prestigious LVMH prize.
“We initially started off making few clothes because we realised during look book shoots we didn’t want to use other brands. It came from a place of complete creative control of our message and telling the story. For apparel brands, jewellery and accessories accent the collection, but for us, it’s the other way around. Everything else accents the jewellery,” said the Korean American designer in an interview with The Spin Off, adding that, “Inspiration comes from many places but they all have the same underline, which is youth. The state of something unfiltered, pure and innocent.”
Naturally wanting to have their own physical home for their ever-expanding lines, AMBUSH opened their first flagship store in Tokyo in 2016, combining a retail space with their design studio for maximum creative ethos.
Due to the duo’s ingenuity and non-stop hustling, AMBUSH reached a new level of success again when they did their first runway presentation as part of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo 2018. That same year, Yoon was named as Dior Homme’s Jewellery Design Director, essentially making her the decision-maker at for the luxury brand’s jewellery.
Now, in 2021, AMBUSH continues to push the boundaries with Yoon collaborating with yet another internationally renowned brand, Moët & Chandon, to redesign the iconic Moët Impérial.
The Moët & Chandon X AMBUSH Collaboration sees Yoon working her minimalistic aesthetics into the bottle’s design, making her the first artist in 152 years to redesign the bottle since the House’s signature champagne was born in 1869.
“I was thrilled to be given carte blanche to re-design the bottle of Moët Impérial. It was a great challenge given its recognisable and iconic codes, but I also saw it as a great opportunity to bring my own aesthetics to this iconic champagne,” said Yoon.
Yoon also chose the World Land Trust to be the beneficiary of this project. “On my visit to Epernay, I saw the devotion of the people at Moët & Chandon to nature and to their precious terroir. This inspired me to select the World Land Trust to receive the support of the House, so that together we could help preserve other terroirs around the world.”
As a result, Moët & Chandon will donate a portion of profits from the sale of limited-edition Moët & Chandon x AMBUSH bottles to the World Land Trust, an international conservation charity that protects threatened natural habitats where rare and endangered species still survive.
For Moët Impérial’s redesign, Yoon has changed the gold neck of the bottle to a deep shade of black, contrasting it with a new embossed label in white to produce an eye-catching design that suggests a blank slate, like a window into a future filled with possibilities. Or, if you look at it from a more deviant point of view, a graffiti tag with the bold type “Design By Ambush” forcing you to take notice.
AMBUSH continues to be a striking forcing in the world of contemporary fashion. From the Lighter Case Necklace to the Multi Cord Hoodie, AMBUSH’s website is teaming with items conceptualised in Yoon’s mischievous mind, the same mind that mixed and matched influences in the clubs of Tokyo all those years ago.
A reminder to all up and coming designers to never lose that youthful playfulness that makes fashion and art accessible to the rest of us.
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