Korean-American model Irene Kim more than a pretty face

Korean-American model Irene Kim credits her success in fashion to her social media and styling savvy

Irene Kim on her three must have items when travelling.ST VIDEO: GWENDOLYN NG
Korean-American model Irene Kim.
Korean-American model Irene Kim.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

A pretty face and a good figure no longer a supermodel make.

Korean-American model Irene Kim, who has become a force in the fashion world thanks to her savvy social media presence and sassy attitude as bright as her rainbow-hued locks, says: "It is not about the pretty face any more. It is not about the measurements. You have to be able to talk in front of people. You have to have a brain. You have to know how to style yourself."

On top of entertaining her close to one million followers on social media, Kim, 28, has strutted down many runways at the Seoul Fashion week, graced the front row of New York Fashion Week shows and hosts Korean fashion television shows such as K-Style and Style Live.

Together with another social media supermodel Kendall Jenner, she has curated a new line of Estee Lauder make-up called Estee Edit.

"To have this following and build my brand, I would say that a lot of it was done myself - 98 per cent is controlled by me. There's my team helping me, but I want to make sure that everything is filtered through my rainbow hair," says Kim, who was speaking to local media on Monday in between filming a travelogue here.

M.U.S.T, which stands for My Unexpected Sweet Trip, is a new travel series which premieres on cable TV channel tvN next month.

It is not about the pretty face any more. It is not about the measurements. You have to be able to talk in front of people. You have to have a brain. You have to know how to style yourself.


Her trademark multi-coloured locks are the result of her experimenting with the spectrum of hair shades out of boredom and curiosity.

"Back then, coloured hair wasn't the trend, especially for Asian models because we are known for black, straight, long hair. Once I changed it, it totally gave me this trademark," says Kim, who flips her red- tinged side fringe to reveal streaks of other hues beneath.

"Every time I get my hair retouched, it just makes me feel good. It gives me a little bit of recharge. When people see it, I get compliments, I get smiles. Who doesn't love colour and fun?"

She switches hair colours twice a month on average and picks hues depending on her mood and her colourist's creativity.

Raised in Seattle, where she was born, and South Korea, she oozes effortless charm while speaking in fluent English.

Before bursting on the modelling scene five years ago, she was already pursuing a career in fashion, albeit behind the scenes.

She studied textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as worked on an online style magazine in New York and dabbled in styling work in South Korea.

While serving an internship at talent agency JYP Entertainment, she came up with the Wonder Girls' leopard-print look for their hit dance single So Hot in 2008.

"The manager asked me to try coming up for a concept for their new album. Then mine got picked. That was really amazing. I was like 19. My name was even listed in the album," adds Kim, who counts girl group miss A's Min and former Wonder Girls' member Sunye as her close friends.

To hear her tell it, she was destined for a career in fashion from a young age.

"I watched my mum and grandma put on make-up every morning. I would go to my mum's closet and try on her shoes.

"My mum said from when I was three years old, I would change outfits three times a day. She would change me and, if I didn't like it, I would change it again. Or I would change before every meal."

•M.U.S.T premieres on Nov 3 at 10.30pm on tvN (Singtel TV Channel 518 and 619, StarHub TV Channel 824).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Not just a pretty face'. Print Edition | Subscribe