Forget the dolce vita: When it comes to the design influences of Milanese-Korean jewelry-maker Marisa Jiwi Seok, it’s all about ’90s hip-hop queens or vintage cartoon characters. Trading in Sophia Loren for Foxy Brown and Felix the Cat, Seok’s line, Jiwinaia, shakes up the refined reputation of the Italian fashion capital by fully embracing the eye-catching and whimsical style of flamboyant rap MCs and the illustrated feline. Think matchstick danglers, peanut and pearl rings from her Get Rich or Eat Peanuts collection, or bubblegum pink “Grinder” chokers. Infusing her Korean, British, and Italian roots into her designs, the Central Saint Martins graduate’s pieces have drawn the attention of such envelope-pushing fans as Charli XCX. Seok’s own enviable and Instagrammable personal style matches her collection’s joyful mash-up vibe, pairing Chanel hiking boots with baggy jeans for a refreshing spin on luxury.
A Mix of London, Milan, and Seoul
I was born in Seoul and moved to Milan when I was 1 1/2. Though I didn’t have much time to experience Seoul, every two or three years my family and I would go to Korea to visit relatives. I later moved to study at Central Saint Martins in London, and I think my sense of style now is a mix of all these cities. I was always interested in accessories the most; I’ve been collecting kitsch jewelry since I was little. I used to make beaded jewelry, and that’s where it started. When I was studying at Central Saint Martins. I decided to take the jewelry B.A. course, mostly because I finally wanted to make real pieces for myself. After graduating I launched my own brand, Jiwinaia.
Rebelling Against Tradition
I think that most Milanese people are very conservative in their jewelry taste. Even though it’s the fashion capital of Italy, people are attached to tradition, which I guess is why they like to collect more investment pieces rather than funky costume styles. When I lived in London, though, I noticed many shops selling crazy and fun statement jewelry, and that was a big influence.
A Little Comic Relief
[Growing up] I was obsessed with collecting stickers and toys from Seoul and Japan—I always loved all the useless and glittery things. I used to watch so many cartoons and still do! I got contacted by DreamWorks to do a collaboration with their classic characters Felix the Cat and Hot Stuff the Little Devil. For me it was a dream come true.
Jewelry Fit for a Hip-Hop Queen
I love listening and looking at old-school hip-hop and R&B videos—they inspire me a lot, especially Foxy Brown. One of my favorite videos of her is for “I Can’t” featuring Total. The style is amazing! Especially the metallic blue leather jackets, lilac furs, and crystal butterfly hair clips. If I had had the chance to make a piece for that video, it would have been long crystal earrings with cute fur balls and chunky chain chokers with enameled bits and crystals.
My personal style always changes, but when I find the right pieces, I wear them, maybe a bit too much. But I like to be comfortable with myself, that’s the most important thing. I like to mix and match, some statement pieces with more relaxed stuff—baggy jeans, sneakers, and a nice big sweater—and, of course, lots of eye-catching jewelry. I really like Pushbutton and Kye from Korea. I like looking around in 10 Corso Como and Excelsior in Milan, but I love shopping or even just window-shopping in London the most—there are so many great choices, and they have everything.
DIY Nail Art
Milan doesn’t have any adventurous nail salons—it really needs one! I think it’s definitely time to experiment more with nail art here. Mostly I just paint them myself. But when I’m in London, I love getting my nails done at WAH Nails. I love getting manicures when I go back to Korea, too; they have an amazing eye for detail.
Milan Is Perfect for the Food Selfie
Many people hate taking pictures of food, but sometimes I just can’t help it. In Milan there are so many little traditional shops where you can get good quality cured meats. You can go for amazing seafood pasta at the Langosteria 10, but ideally I think the best pastas are made at home by Italians! Unfortunately, I can’t really suggest a good Korean restaurant here in Milan, but every time I am in Paris to show my collection, I love to go to Woo Jung.
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