Our Model-Artist Moon Kyu Lee combines Parisian Chic and Korean Cool - check out her conversation with Vogue below
Moon Kyu Lee lives in a picturesque little courtyard flat in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris—near Belleville, a small leap from Canal Saint-Martin—with her painter boyfriend, their English bulldog, and a pretty black cat named Coco. To add to the Godardian picture, the 27-year-old Korean also counts as an artist (and a model besides, who walks for Koche and Facetasm) though she’s reluctant to call herself one.
“In my own definition of art, I don’t think I do art, at least, not yet,” she says, ticking off a list of mediums she’s tackled: illustrations, animations, graphic design, textile patterns, sculptures, lithography, photography. “So in the end, there is nothing I am really specialized in. Art needs to be perfect and finished, and what I do is more like in the phase of research than art.”
Humility is a trait Lee has carried with her since childhood. Born in Seoul to a pair of textile-designer parents, she grew up surrounded by their sketches in the neighborhood of Samgakji, and then Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Eventually, she moved to Lyon to attend an applied-arts high school, before heading to Paris in 2009 to study visual communication. “I have always loved drawing, so I really wanted to come and study art in France,” she says, speaking English with a pretty, lilting French-Korean accent.
But the experience did involve some culture shock. On summer holidays in middle school, her mother sent her to a Korean art Hagwon, or academy. “There I learned traditional art: where to put the shadow, how to draw a human face, human body like Renaissance-style,” she says. “But when I entered French art school, the teachers used to say, ‘I didn’t ask you to draw what you see, I asked you to express yourself in your drawings.’ ” She laughs. “It took me years and years to erase all the basic rules of drawing in my head—I still am.”
Armed with a Rotring pen and doodle book, she continues to experiment with form and function—a series of abstract nudes holding hands like a Matisse, or two entwined figures against a colorful patchwork backdrop called Lovers 1, drafted from gouache (opaque watercolors) on paper. As for the modeling work, she fell into it quite naturally, given her sharp features: Street-cast shortly after she moved to the city, she took it up on the side, mainly enjoying the creative process unfolding before her. “It’s quite funny, I can understand the technical language, for example, when they say it’s shooting on 100 fps, I know it’s going to be slow motion,” she says, “Or when there is low light, I should pose more static because if not, the picture’s going to be blurry. I put myself more on the photographer’s side.”
She does love fashion, and unsurprisingly that, too has become a creative pursuit. “I feel like I can be someone else when I wear a different style of clothes because people judge someone’s taste and personality so easily on first sight,” she says. “If I wear an oversize hoodie and tight leggings with a cap, people might think I’m a cool teenager who loves to listen to Kendrick Lamar, and if I wear a nice long dress and high heels with a clutch bag, it would be a young lady going to a fashion party.” Above all, Lee avoids everything she calls TTH, or trying too hard. “I always choose minimal clothes that I can mix easily with basic brands like Uniqlo,” she says. “I like the basic and simple cut of Courrèges, the avant-garde but not-too-much style of MM6 and Sacai, and I love the patterns of Missoni and Tsumori Chisato.” (The last designer is a particular favorite, whom she works with quite frequently.)
Ultimately, Lee has managed a neat trick: blending the effortless je ne sais quoi of a Parisian with her own brand of Korean cool. Tres jjang.
Photography: ND Kim | Words: Monica Kim
Follow Moon on Instagram: @mooncube