“Modelling is My Vocation in Life, My Calling.” – In Conversation with Gimu, a South Korean Model
It was 2019 when I met Gimu at Seoul Fashion Week for the first time. And, as bizarre as it might sound, it took me just 10 seconds to realise that he is one of the nicest and funniest models I came across. Although we have experienced a language barrier at times, his smile, positive attitude and well-mannered personality drew not only my attention, but also the recognition of other journalists, fashion fans, photographers and designers in Korea. Gimu has modelled for various brands, including Nike, Sergio Tacchini, Vagantiger & Umbro Korea. He also featured in magazines such as Dazed Korea, Esquire and Break Magazine, and he is not a stranger to lookbooks either.
It cannot go unnoticed that Gimu’s facial features are one of his strongest points; the contours of his face, such as his high cheekbones and even jawline, make him one of those models who do not need to be altered by Photoshop much.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
Although the fashion world has been hit hard during the Covid-19 pandemic and stopped many models from doing their work, Gimu kept going. Apart from participating in online shows for Seoul Fashion Week, he appeared in Fadeaway, a music video by Jvcki Wai, Coogie, Paloalto, The Quiett and 뱃사공, and Jerd’s music video Black Sheep.
Being a perfectionist helps Gimu to have an organised life, but it also makes his life harder, as the model explains in the interview. Outside of work, he likes to play basketball and socialise with friends, and whenever he finds more time, he enjoys visiting second-hand bookstores and getting books he missed out on reading due to work.
Just before Christmas, we had a chat with Gimu about his career as a model, the fashion industry, his favourite styles and life in general.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
Do you remember the first moment when you felt that your future should lie in the fashion industry?
When I was very, very young, my parents only had me wear brand clothes and top-quality things. Once I got a little older, I worked part-time jobs and decided on my own to use my first weekly salary on Converse shoes. That’s when I got interested in fashion and I went to school for Fashion Design. Then, I worked as a designer in male fashion afterwards. I think I probably knew that my future was in the fashion industry ever since I was young. When deciding on my major and career path, I decided to do fashion on my own so that I could live a life without regrets. Around that time, Korea’s fashion industry was going through a boom because it had become such a hot topic for everyone then.
Looking at your work as a model, what features of your character have helped and still help you at work as a model, and which complicate your work?
I am a perfectionist. Ever since I was young, I always did everything beyond what was expected of me. But the thought that I need to excel also made me beat myself up a lot and bound me up. Because I knew that you must do your very best to have no regrets in whichever area, when I became a model, I quit my other job to focus on just one thing. That’s how focused I was on being a model. That part of me is my greatest self-care and schedule management method. But my mind also gets so busy with thoughts about my work as a model that it’s hard for me to fall asleep, and I feel a lot of pressure. My nature as a perfectionist is my greatest strength and greatest weakness.
You have been modelling for some time now, has modelling changed other aspects of your life?
One month from now, it’ll be my 6th year of being a model in Korea. What makes me the happiest is how I’ve become a role model in fashion, or just for anyone, thanks to many years of modelling, and how I can be a significant and positive influence on people. People sometimes recognise me while I’m walking down the street and ask for photos. I’ve also garnered a pretty sizable fan base now. One day, after I’ve become more successful, I want to give gifts and hand-written letters just to say thank you, although the number I can handle will be limited.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
How would you describe your own fashion style? Considering anything and everything from colour to historical eras and more?
My solely personal fashion style is clothes that really show off bodylines and emphasise sexiness. I don’t really like clothes in big sizes, so even though oversize clothes are ‘in’ nowadays, I’m not going with the trend. For colours, I match together colours in the extreme like black or completely vivid colours. I also like clothes with a lot of graphic patterns and clothes with function. I very much love Alexander McQueen’s clothes because he was my role model.
A British fashion photographer, David Bailey, said that he falls in love with everyone he photographs. Can you describe the model-photographer dynamic? Do you ever feel uncomfortable being photographed?
I hypnotise myself when I’m photographed. I completely immerse myself in the character and concept and express them through my body. The relationship between a model and a photographer is that, for the duration of the shoot, they focus on each other the most, and they give and respond to exact requests from each other to create synergy and rhythm. I’m not sure about falling in love. But I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that at least within that relationship, the two people are friends sharing the same heart.
I learned project planning when I worked as a designer. Since I used to only do project planning, it was a bit uncomfortable for me to be photographed and be commanded to take specific poses. So, I worked harder on practicing poses, being more expressive, and making my body flexible. Now, I express various poses according to the concept and even suggest poses to the photographer. I think I’ve grown a ton.
The fashion industry is very demanding, and at times, mentally exhausting. How do you stay physically and mentally healthy?
During what is typically called the ‘season’, all models work down to their bones and it’s themselves that make their bodies and minds tired. At such times, I usually focus on exercising and enjoying my hobbies so that my mood doesn’t go on a rollercoaster. I also meet up with fellow models more often so that we can be each other’s sources of mental strength. I can handle my body being weary and hungry through one way or another, but if my mindset is unstable, both my body and mind suffer. I think the modelling occupation requires mental strength above all else.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
You participated in many fashion shows over the years, featured in magazines and worked as a model in Italy and the UK. Is there any habit you follow before you walk on the stage or in front of the camera for a fashion shoot?
I talk to myself in my head before a fashion show begins. I tell myself that I can do a good job out there, that this is the result of my efforts leading up to this moment, and that I’m standing here right now because I have already been doing well. I maintain that confident mindset. I’ve used this same method whether it’s now or in my early phase after I debuted. I also move my facial muscles almost mercilessly to relax my face. Before I go into a photoshoot, I also constantly stretch my body and jump in place about three times to relax my body as well.
Which part of your job as a model do you find the most difficult? And which one is the most rewarding?
I feel like managing my food intake is the most difficult yet my proudest part of the modelling occupation. I must be ready at all times because you never know when someone will call you with a job. So, I get clinic care for my body and face, consistently do mask packs for my skin, etc. I’m the one who notices the difference the most in the final photos when I’ve managed my food intake for the photoshoot.
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is harsh. How do you perceive the Korean modelling industry? Is there anything you really wish you could change?
I realised something when I went overseas. Models around the world only go to another country to work when it’s the season. Off season, they work in their other jobs that they also focus a lot on, so much so that they stay up nights for it. So, I hope Korean models can also navigate their studies or other talents well, and find enough passion and talent to have side jobs. In Korea, I can see people around me whose main job is only modelling. My wish is that models in Korea keep holding onto their other jobs and passions so that they don’t feel stressed with finances or view side jobs as a bad thing.
Who encourages you? Who supports you from the side-lines on your hardest days when you do modelling?
It’s my family. My loving family has always cheered for me by my side. When I go through a difficult time, or have something great happen to me, I run right over to them and we get a meal together and talk. Their hearts ache for me when I suffer sometimes, but at such times, they become my source of motivation and the driving force that makes me move.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
Do you see yourself strictly as a model or do you ever feel the pull to create fashion designs yourself?
It’s very clear to me that I should model. Modelling is my vocation in life, my calling. In the past, when I asked myself what my other passions were, my answer was fashion design made with my own hands. I wasn’t able to make it a reality in the past, so I’ve been preparing for it a lot on my own after coming back from overseas. My first season is going to be so full of passion, so please look forward to it.
Looking at the fashion world and models, it seems that today, models are given more of a voice – especially through social media – rather than just being the image of a brand. What are your thoughts on social media and its role nowadays?
At this point in time, I think social media is a mode of communication that everyone needs. It almost sounds like fiction, but everyone on earth uses it. Because of social media, some people don’t even need television or newspapers anymore. The era in which only celebrities and models had command on influence is gone. Even ordinary people have huge numbers of followers through social media. I think being quick is the current trend. I believe you lose your function as a model or a designer if you fall behind on trends, so I’m someone who goes to social media to read articles, gain good creative sources, and ‘buy’ people’s connection to me even though I don’t use social media that much. But there was this one time when I went to the UK for a modelling gig and there was no internet connection in the subway so people were not on their phones. That was shocking to me. That’s how much I think we should directly see many things and be more interested in each other. I think of social media as the medium that can very quickly connect you with people around the whole world.
In your free time between shows and campaigns, what helps you relax? How does your perfect day off look like?
Usually, when I have a day off, I go play basketball at a nearby park or watch a movie at home. Or I sleep and get all the rest I couldn’t get before by staying home all day. But recently, I’ve been preparing for my brand, so I go to the studio in the morning and then focus on my work until it’s late and into the morning. So right now, I don’t have times of rest like I used to. But I know being healthy is the most important thing, so I make sure I eat well in every in-between pocket of time. I also enjoy meeting up with friends and co-workers I haven’t seen in a while and hearing what their lives have been like.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
Do you have any guilty pleasures you can share? Maybe something you love to eat or music you secretly love listening to?
I mainly go to second-hand bookstores to peruse and buy books I’ve missed out on before because I was busy at the time, or books that may be helpful. I love the ambience in second-hand bookstores because their books are placed in various ways without rhyme or reason; they aren’t restrained. And I feel shy about admitting this, but I enjoy doing housework. I feel refreshed from cleaning or doing laundry.
Now that Covid-19 disrupted our lives, what are your goals, how do you see yourself progressing in this industry? Perhaps you have different plans for the future?
COVID-19 is disrupting everyone’s life and also causing huge blows to the national economy as well as the imports and exports sector. I think there was also a huge blow to models in that models all around the world, myself included, cannot go to other countries for any modelling work. Fashion shows are being held online. Many photoshoots are being cancelled as well. But I believe a crisis is also an opportunity. That thought is what led me to start preparing for my brand. I have plans of maybe being an actor one day or starting a YouTube channel to tell stories of my life. I want more people to connect with me. I also want to live abroad for a long time so that I can work as a model for even longer.
Thank you so, so much for listening to my story. I will keep ‘going for it’ to the very end, with passion. Please continue to cheer for me.
Photo © Jeong Yun-seong
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Julia Litwinowicz
Translation by Esther Kim
We’d like to thank A.Conic for their assistance with the interview and Gimu who kindly took the time to answer our questions.
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.