IMAGO-A's bags are unique enough to stop you mid social media scroll. They feature unique, sculptural shapes and expert draping thanks to founder Yegang Yoo’s years of designing at fashion houses in London, Milan and New York. In an industry that can appear at times monotonous – especially given the fast fashion, dispensable nature of social media shopping – IMAGO-A delivers something different.
I had the opportunity to ask designer Yegang Yoo about her process (finding inspiration, navigating trends, constructing with integrity) as she makes these bags. Her answers – and designs – capture the essence of quality TQE was founded to celebrate. Read more below.
I’d love to hear about your background. What led you to IMAGO-A?
YY: “I was in school [at Parsons] at the same time as many amazing designers. Proenza Schouler, Sophie [Buhai] and Lisa [Mayock] of Vena Cava, and many others. After school I designed clothing for a long time, starting at Hussein Chalayan's studio in London.
I did a lot of draping when I was there. I eventually worked as a draper at Vena Cava, and also at Rachel Comey when she launched her women's wear line. Then I worked for Ports 1961, which was based in New York before they moved to Milan. I went to Milan to help with the transition and oversee the whole new collection – that's when I got really into handbags.
I saw how the Italian artisans work and something clicked. I’m really into construction, and there are some limitations with shapes in clothing design, but not with handbags. I fell in love with working with leather. I came back to New York and started sampling some designs that I had in mind, which were very sculptural and asymmetrical. I started making them in Brooklyn – that's where everything started.”
When you went from working for someone to launching your own venture, what were you hoping to provide for your customers?
YY: “My customers are definitely looking for something unique. They're looking for statement bags that are more up and coming – bags you won’t see everyone else wearing. I would love for them to think of the brand as unique, sculptural bags made with great quality, materials, and craftsmanship.”
I’d love to learn more about your process from start to finish. Can you walk me through that?
YY: “I designed the current collection mostly through 2020. At that time, I was very into interior design, so I collected images that I loved from several designers. I really research into specific designers or artists. For instance, for this current collection, I was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, Valentine Schlegel, and Gio Ponti, so much so that I even used their first names for each bag.
For this current collection, I was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe, Valentine Schlegel, and Gio Ponti, so much so that I even used their first names for each bag.
After researching, I sketch a lot of different things, and then there's an intensive editing process because I can't make them all – I consider what sizes I need in the collection, how they are related, what detail is tying the collection together. Then I start building the shapes of each bag. I literally build the shapes with paper to make sure all the proportions are correct, all the details are correct and it's all spec'd out very accurately in real size.
Then that's passed on to the sample maker, and they recreate the exact measurements and shapes. So they send me that and then there's a lot of back and forth revisions on things that I couldn't foresee from the stage of designing. There's a lot of correcting until it's perfect basically, so it is a long process.”
You mentioned that you started working on this collection in 2020. What challenges did you face as you navigated launching it during the pandemic?
YY: “Before the pandemic, I was developing four seasons a year and showing them in Paris and New York. It was a very tight, nonstop, and busy schedule – after finishing a collection, I would dive right into the next. Once the pandemic happened, everything was suddenly canceled, and everyone scaled down to just two seasons as they tried to figure out what makes sense in that new world.
I had a lot of time to think, ‘What's next? What new designs do I want to try?’ And because I had so much more time, it was possible to actually design this new collection because it was actually a lot more demanding in terms of development. The pandemic helped me actually have time to create it – and I’m now just designing for two seasons.”
It’s very clear that you’re an artist who is designing with integrity – and I’m also aware that you’re running a business. How do you navigate that? Do you think, “Oh, these large bags are selling, so I should design more of those” or are you really just designing whatever inspires you, even if it’s not specifically what is selling at the moment?
YY: “It's a fine line to walk. I definitely listen to a lot of feedback from buyers because they're always looking at things all the time, and they definitely know what's going on (most of them at least). It definitely affects me when I hear, ‘Oh, right now only the mini bags are selling.’ I've realized over time that you have to definitely consider what’s trending, but within the context of your collection. It's not easy, and I’ve definitely had experiences where I've done something that I personally don't like because it was recommended. Weirdly, those pieces never really work out.”
Shifting gears a bit, how would you describe your personal style?
YY: “I love tailored jackets, coats, and shirts. I dress somewhat like a grandma – I wear a lot of trousers and knits, lots of layers, and mix and match styles. A lot of my pieces are vintage or from Salvation Army even, and I also own a lot of pieces from friends who are designers.
In terms of bags, I love unique bags, neat shapes, and unique constructions. That inspires my designs – everything I design has to be completely functional in terms of size (able to carry things), and comfortable to wear (if it’s not comfortable, it’s not worth it). This season I did a lot of soft leather straps, so it's actually super comfy on your shoulder even if you have a lot of stuff in your bag. I also think about compartments – the right amount of pockets inside and outside – and how they’re sectionized inside is also really important, so that you can organize your things.”
Are there any brands, people, or moments that you're keeping an eye on right now?
YY: “I always love The Row. It’s so effortless, and they use the most high end materials – which makes the brand out of my price point. I also love this Scandinavian brand, Totême, and Khaite’s accessories.”
What’s next for IMAGO-A?
YY: “As always I'm working on new styles. I love leather as a material, but I want to use more sustainable textiles, and I want to offer a more affordable price point. Leather is still amazing material, that's 100%, nothing is comparable, but I want to start using sustainable textiles as well.”
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This interview was edited for length and clarity.