< Return to podcast

Business of HYPE: Yoon Ahn

The Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders and entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. On this week’s episode, Jeff sits down with Yoon Ahn, the brand designer behind AMBUSH. (Editor’s note: this interview was recorded on the eve of Yoon’s appointment as men’s jeweler at Dior Homme.)

Yoon Ahn is a bit of a polymath: her duties have ranged from music packaging to jewelry design and everywhere in between, but it is her consistent work ethic that have made her stand out across the board. Yoon’s upbringing is that of a classic Third Culture Kid: she was born in Korea to a military family; this meant they moved constantly: first to Hawaii, then back to Korea, and then to California. They made it back to Korea before Yoon’s father left the army and the family settled down in Seattle. In this conversation with jeffstaple, Yoon explains why she turned down a spot at NYU and chose Boston to study graphic design and art history at Boston University. “I knew I wasn’t gonna study if I went to New York,” she says. “Plus BU gave me a full scholarship,” Yoon explains with a laugh, “so that was a practical reason. I’m a pretty practical person.”

It was at BU where Yoon met Verbal, an aspiring musician and Yoon’s soon-to-be creative collaborator, partner, and spouse. Verbal invited Yoon to visit Tokyo, to see if there was “anything for her to test out.” She took the plunge, despite not knowing the language. When it came time for her to make a decision, she says her third-culture upbringing might have something to do with it: “I could just pick up and go.”

Yoon and Ambush made a splash back in the mid-00’s with brash, in-your-face designs. Yoon and Verbal made fluorescent POW! knuckle rings and passed the onomatopoeia out to their friends in the Japanese music scene, including the Teriyaki Boyz. Kanye West was a big fan — so were foreign buyers like Sarah Andelman and RSVP Gallery. While their brand slowly but surely took flight, it’s important to note that Yoon and Verbal had “no idea what they were doing,” in their own words. What had started as a bit of an in-joke between friends was all of a sudden handling accounts and orders from respected retailers.

This episode features references to the following:
3:50: Verbal  
6:45: Boston University  
7:27: Vogue  
12:05: M-Flo  
13:29: Sub Pop Records  
15:32: Kerning  
17:50: Fubu  
19:14: Dior Homme  
19:15: Raf Simons  
20:15: Antonio Murphy & Astro  
21:13: POW! Knuckle Ring  
21:53: Kanye West / Pow Ring  
21:54: Teriyaki Boyz  
22:16: Sarah Colette  
22:22: RSVP Gallery  
24:40: Ambush   
25:45: Tenjikai  
42:38: LVMH Prize  
43:50: Anna Wintour