THE DESIGNER SERIEs

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28.2.19 | A.M.

 
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Sunny Chang is the Founder and Creative Director of women’s bridal and formalwear brand Sunny Kay Designs. Established in 2016, she debuted her first collection at Union Station in Seattle, Washington during the Seattle Fashion Week SS17 couture runway show. Initially inspired by her love for her daughter, each handmade dress is entirely bespoke, featuring custom embroidery, unique appliqué and modern silhouettes intended to make its wearer feel like a princess who is the hero of their own story.

 
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Sunny Chang

BORN : SOUTH KOREA
RAISED : Seoul
Education : Hanyang W. University
EXPERIENCE : DESIGNER, Sunny Kay Designs
LABELS : 1
FOCUS : Dressmaker
Studio : YES
LOCATION : Olympia, WASHINGTON


 

Sunny’s second collection debuted in 2017 during the FashioNXT runway show in Portland, Oregon. A departure from her first collection, her designs showcased a renewed focus on the Pacific Northwest bride’s desire for classical elegance and contemporary minimalism. The collection featured bold and refreshing gowns that upheld a delicate balance between sheer textiles, clear décolletage, plummeting backlines, and a mixture of classical and asymmetric silhouettes.

 
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/ dāˌkäləˈtäZH / | Noun

Modern. Neckline.

When describing the bust, the area of skin ranging from above the clavicle to approximately mid-sternum, generally above the bustline. In commercial fashion, this can refer to the length of the neckline having a low-cut and exposing skin. From the French adjectival décolleté when describing a dress with a low-cut or strapless neckline that reveals the neck and upper chest.

 
 
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SS18 Collection FashioNXT images © Gig Media Courtesy Sunny Kay Designs.

 

Sunny’s latest gowns feature an entirely refined approach, owed primarily to the exceptional speed at which she’s evolved technically and artistically, as well as the nuance in her textile selection. Her satins are firm and maintain their silhouettes while laces and tules add subtlety and softness. The results feel organic yet sculpted, traditional yet forward thinking, and always at the behest of the wearer.

 
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Sunny Kay Designs SS19 Selections

 
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Sunny Kay Designs

Sunny was born in South Korea to an artistic family.  In keeping with tradition, time-honored art and ceremony were celebrated in their home.  But perhaps out-of-step with contemporary sentiment, the pursuit of a commercially viable artistic career was itself both celebrated and encouraged.

“My mom loved fashion too, so my mom always [supported] me,” Sunny recalls. “My dad is always happy when I make a new dress or clothes.” From her earliest memories, Sunny recalls that her predilection for fashion was a source of joy for her parents, whom recognized early on that their children showed potential in a number of artistic mediums.

 
When I was young I was so different.  I couldn’t find my style so I decided to make my own clothes.
— Sunny Chang
 

And it seems fashion has become a legacy passed down throughout her family’s generations.  Sunny’s daughter, now seven, has expressed both a love and an aptitude for fashion, going so far as to design dresses for herself.

“She is copying me everyday,” Sunny enthusiastically asserts. “She wants to learn to make a dress, how to use a serger, how to use a needle.”  And like her mother before her, Sunny is overjoyed to encourage and support her daughter’s creativity.

The oldest of two children, Sunny spent much of her time in Seoul. A self-professed city-girl, she drew much of her inspiration from the energy and activity of the bustling capital city. Her little brother—himself a talented artist—pursued interior design and has become quite successful in his endeavors.

But for Sunny, the pathway to establishing a career in fashion was less straight-forward and surfaced numerous challenges that would take many years to overcome.

 
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/ ˈsərjər / | Noun

Textile Manufacturing Equipment.

 

A specialized machine dedicated to producing an Overlock stitch and trimming unwanted fabric from edges.  Invented and patented by The Merrow Machine Company (now Merrow Sewing Machine Company) in the 1800s for commercial use, it subsequently underwent numerous improvements, most notably in the form of the Baby Lock design seen in homes today. It remains an essential tool for many independent apparel and accessories manufacturers.

High School :

Though fashion was always a passion in Sunny’s life, it wasn’t until high school that she began a diligent effort to develop an understanding of art history.  Sunny recalls having drawn upon classical art as a primary source of inspiration during this time.

Additionally, contemporary Korean culture—of which the tensions between tradition and progression would form a theme throughout the remainder of her career.  Central to this theme, one finds Sunny’s favorite color both anchor and launchpad for all of her creative endeavors to date.

“Some say that Korean people just love white,” she offers fondly.  “When I was young I thought that I really liked white.  I think that pure white is similar or is the same thing as brighter.  Everything is fresh."

In Korean culture, the color white signifies many things—among them light, purity and temperance.  For centuries, the unified Korean people had been known colloquially as baeguiminjok or “the white-clad people” (백의민족) whose love of colorlessness was apparent in everything from fashion to interior design.

It was at this time Sunny became fixated on bridal gowns for their metaphysical allusions and made them the focus of her life’s work.

 
The Colors In Korean Life And Culture   , National Folk Museum of Korea. 1-1. White. Courtesy Google Arts & Culture.

The Colors In Korean Life And Culture, National Folk Museum of Korea. 1-1. White. Courtesy Google Arts & Culture.

 
 

College :

Sunny enrolled at Hanyang Women’s University and declared her major within the Department of Fashion Design, tackling the technical curriculum with ease.  And while the course load was difficult, she recalls her greatest challenge was, and remains, artistic in nature.  “I try to practice, but I’m not good at sketching,” she reluctantly confesses.  And while she still practices sketching on paper each day, the images are most alive in her imagination, requiring little effort to translate into finished constructions.

Sunny graduated from Hanyang W. University in 2003 with her degree in Fashion Design.  She recalls the difficulties were well worth it as she stood before family and friends eager to celebrate her victory on one of her proudest occasions: “I remember the graduation ceremony.  All my high school friends [attended].  They all celebrated me and gave me flowers.  I can’t believe I did it.”

Though the culmination of her collegiate efforts adequately prepared her for a career in fashion, it would be another 13 years before she would see her first collection grace the runway.  But rather than succumb to discouragement, Sunny found within herself what she needed to keep hope alive.

 
I could never give up my dream. I’m still here and I keep going. All people can do it. Just don’t give up your dream.
— Sunny Chang
 
 
 
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Sunny Chang in her showroom in Olympia, Washington, January 2019.

Sunny Chang in her showroom in Olympia, Washington, January 2019.

 
 

“When I make [a dress] it’s so quick. Just one or two days. I don’t eat anything, I just keep going. Hard work,” Sunny reluctantly confesses. It is the general expectation of a modern dressmaker that they should deliver a dress of moderate complexity within a month of their initial meeting with a client.

This depends on the number of scheduled fittings, availability of materials, volume of concurrent clientele, and any number of other factors. But generally speaking, a dress of moderate complexity should take an individual 20-40 hours to produce over the course of several days in a typical atelier setting. Which is why Sunny’s work ethic, focus and speed—characteristics shared by some of the most skilled dressmakers in fashion—are so impressive. And why her reluctance to confess this ability was at first, frankly put, bewildering.

After graduating college, Sunny began making plans that many in this industry have made since they first discovered their true path in life: Moving to New York in pursuit of attaining their wildest dreams.  But like all whom ventured into the unknown before her, life happened in entirely unexpected ways.  And in Sunny’s case, it took the form of a military ball that would entirely alter her trajectory.

It was 2004, and only a handful of months after the United States invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction.  The war would have a devastating and lasting impact on the Middle East—and indeed, the world itself—creating conditions that would embroil many nations in a state of unrelenting strife and seemingly unending occupation and instability.  For the people of South Korea, there existed then, and exists to a lesser extent even now, a constant if subtle and unspoken reality that flows like an undercurrent throughout daily life.

 
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/ KOOˈTÜRĒˌAIR / | NOUN (FEMININE)

A Fashion Designer and construction specialist responsible for the creative direction, manufacture and sale of apparel and accessories tailored to a client’s specific measurements and requests. In practice, an independent Couturière in the Pacific Northwest may also be the Creative Director and Managing Director of a fashion house or brand. In this sense, they are the chief creative and business force within their company, setting both fashion direction and business goals, and are involved in every aspect of the client’s experience from the initial meeting to the final deliverables.

South Korea : A Brief History

Since the early wars of the twentieth century, tensions had been high between the formerly united Korean peoples.  The Japanese occupation was harsh, and the expansion of Communism was viewed by the United States as the greatest threat to global security.  With the formation of the nation of South Korea and the establishment of the demilitarized zone after World War II, tensions in South Korea remained high for fear of invasion from a North Korean army, and by extension, Communism itself.

South Korea faced a decades-long battle for political and ideological independence and stability, involving multiple constitutional revisions, military coups and political assassinations.  To this day, allied forces maintain an active military presence.  However, with investment in new technologies, comprehensive educational reforms, its addition to the United Nations in 1991 and its first freely elected civilian president in 1993, the country began a trajectory that would see it becoming the #16 Best Nation for Business according to Forbes.com—ahead of the United States, which came in at #17 on the list in 2018. 

For Sunny and many others of her generation, this tension was less felt as it was perhaps overlooked, the way one does with a chronic pain that cannot be readily alleviated.  Life moves forward with a new normal the way it must, and the divisions many families had carried over the generations soon faded from memory.  And so the normalcy of the dichotomy between war and peace would become a theme inexorably interwoven into the fabric of her, and indeed, her nation’s tapestry.

Yet it is the love Sunny has for her family that fills the spaces in her memory.  And South Korea has grown to become an economic and creative force on a global scale, largely owed to the application of the people’s unbreakable spirit and the readiness of its government to take on the immense task of investing in its people.

A Stitch In Time

Sunny remembers the first dress she ever made as belonging to one of the formative events of her early life.  Although she earned her degree in Fashion Design, she had yet to develop a business plan or formalize her brand identity. Whether consciously aware of it or not, the dress represented her next step toward achieving these goals.  It also represented her first opportunity to imprint her creative voice onto a garment as meaningful to her then as are the gowns she makes for her clients now.  

At the time, Sunny made the bold move of dating a U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea.  A charming and very kind man, she quickly grew to love him for the content of his character.  Though when pressed, she confesses their journey began as many surely do.

“My husband’s parents thought that we met at church, but it’s not true.  We met at a club in Korea.  We fell in love the first time we saw each other.”  Sunny’s cheeks grew a shade of rouge as she held back playful laughter.  It was clear her feelings have only strengthened with the passing years.

And when the time came for a military ball, Sunny was invited by her charming suitor.  “Korean people don’t have many places to wear these dresses.  So [the military ball] is special to me.”  Sunny designed and fashioned her own dress from heavy satin and lace, creating a tiered skirt that flowed cleanly into a strapless tube top with a clean décolletage.  Simple, elegant, and timeless.  “I always imagined I was going to be a princess,” she whimsically recalls.  And with that first dress, her dream drew closer to reality.

It wasn’t long thereafter that Sunny stood opposite her then suitor in another dress that was deeply meaningful to her.  It would be on the occasion of their wedding. And in 2005, her then U.S. soldier-suitor would become her husband in what could easily be described as the culmination of a fairytale romance.

Even better, the newlywed couple received news that he was ordered to New York.  The universe had aligned in every way that she had always dreamed it would.  In 2006, they said their goodbyes to family in Korea and ventured off in pursuit of the unknown.  And they would quickly find it.

 
When I make a dress it’s so quick. Just one or two days. I don’t eat anything, I just keep going. Hard work.
— Sunny Chang
 
 

 

Follow Sunny Chang on Instagram and visit Sunny Kay Designs