Interview + Photography by Luke Alland, using Leica's Q2 Reporter.
"I have military blood and my mind is like a Marine's. I'm constantly looking at everything as survival because, if I was doing anything else, I'm going to be the best there is. You have to approach it with that sharp mind and zest; to do things to the best of your capabilities."
Jihae An is a tailor by trade as well as craft, and in her own words, "feeling my way through each stitch and life. A focused, first generation immigrant."
We sat down with her at the Regency Cafe in Pimlico, over a full English breakfast, to talk about her progression from working as a cleaner whilst studying at University, what it's like moving to the UK as a kid, the influences on her life, where her glorious Yorkshire accent comes from and how her insatiable love for order crosses over perfectly with tailoring.
Luke Alland: When people envision a stereotypical tailor, it's generally an older, grey-haired gentleman that's been whittling for decades and is now very much set in their ways, both professionally and otherwise. You're not exactly a stereotypical tailor...
Jihae An: "I don't think even think I think of me! The old men, hunched over, asking me why I've come into this [profession], when I'd end up being a hunched over old lady, but yeah, a craftsperson that embodies the craft! I wouldn't say I am an exciting person; I love my routine, I love to know what I am doing and I love to know I am constantly improving. That's the major appeal. I like to know there is a formula for success: get up early, work really fucking hard and evaluate every piece to make sure it gets better every time."
LA: Was tailoring always the goal?
JA: "I actually really wanted to be a wedding dress designer. When I was younger my mum used to draw the outline of them and I'd fill in the details and I loved it. When I got to Uni, I just didn't feel my personality and style was fully formed enough to be able keep up with the fashion industry or that side of it.
"The thing I reflect about a lot is whether I became a Savile Row tailor because I wanted to be accepted as a British person. This is the route I chose, you know, from wedding dresses to this, because this is even more English."
LA: ...and more London?
JA: "...and more London. Yeah. Did I choose the most London-y, British-y, thing that I could possibly think of? I don't know. It's such a subconscious thing. What did I want my identity to become? That I chose this?"
LA: Do you look back on it as if it was a fast pass into being British?
JA: "Yeah, I think it must have, and to be honest I only felt really comfortable with my name recently after seeing everything during COVID with racism towards Asians. I remember distinctly, there was an American politician who had just had enough of people calling her something different, and called people out on it saying, "Do not shorten my name" and I mean, I shortened my name and now I just really like Ji, I wouldn't change it."
LA: So, how did you wind up growing up in Hull...?