Does anyone love burgers as much as Vandy the Pink?
The American fast-food staple has become a main source of inspiration for the South Korean designer (born Junghoon Son) since he founded his brand back in 2017. More specifically, the reference point was born from Vandy’s intrigue with the massive, illuminated billboards that were scattered across Times Square the first time he visited it as a teenager.
“The billboards that stood out the most were from McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's,” says Vandy. “It really resonated with me and I enjoyed seeing them. So I reflect on that with my designs now.”
In 2023, Vandy’s fast-food obsession resulted in some of his strongest collaborations to date. In August, he worked with McDonald’s Hong Kong on a special merch capsule and even got to re-design its packaging as part of the company’s 40th anniversary celebration of the McNugget. In October, he rekindled his relationship with Clarks to put a delicious twist on the Wallabee complete with sesame seeds stitched on the toe and fobs resembling burger fixings like lettuce and tomatoes. Samlip, a South Korean food company, even sells various flavors of Vandy-branded burgers.
Of course, Vandy’s designs aren’t limited to his homage to fast food’s finest grub. Throughout the past year, he's continued to fine tune his brand's seasonal output with standout offerings like waffle knit zip-ups and graphic denim. For Art Basel Miami 2023, he is participating in a special activation with Clarks Originals. The Clarks Creates Workshop will give select guests the opportunity to customize their own one-of-one pairs of Wallabees. Vandy's skeletal graphics can be added to the toe box, a riff on his past customs and an official 2022 project.
“I feel like Clarks is really flexible,” says Vandy. “They give me so much creative freedom.”
The Art Basel involvement caps off one of the strongest years yet for Vandy’s brand. While he can’t say much, he lets us know that his fans have a ton to look forward to in 2024 including plenty more pop-ups and a footwear collaboration with a yet-to-be-revealed brand. Despite the growth Vandy is experiencing, he’s staying humble and making sure to do things properly. “I just don't want my brand to be going crazy one year and then it dies out,” says Vandy.
Ahead of Art Basel Miami this weekend, we got a chance to meet up with Vandy to talk about working with Clarks, some of the major collaborations he racked up throughout 2023, what’s next for the brand in the new year, and more.
What will you be doing at Art Basel Miami this weekend?
I was actually able to partner one more time with Clarks Originals. We have a cool, experimental type of event going on at Art Basel. VIPs will be able to do one-of-one skeleton Wallabees, and then there will also be a customization session. I’m really excited for that one.
You've done a few projects with Clarks, so far. What makes them such a good partner to work with?
I feel like Clarks is really flexible. They give me so much creative freedom. There's not really boundaries. And the Wallabee is such a classic shape. I was always a fan of it since I was in middle school. I've been wearing it for a long time. They’re such historical shoes. It's like a huge empty canvas. It’s a fun shape to put my ideas on.
The burger Wallabees were probably one of your biggest projects this year. Could you talk a little about that one? And what was your favorite project of 2023?
So the burgers were my very first global release of footwear with Clarks. So that was really special to me. For the rollout, we wanted to make it look very nostalgic. That’s really my whole brand concept. We wanted to bring back those early 2000s [vibes] when streetwear was booming. I wanted to bring back that feeling to the modern day. So the rollout was like early 2005. And then the shoe itself was a very iconic thing, the burger. We tried to put all the burger DNA on it. All the fobs are like burger elements. There's sesame seeds on the toe box. So that was really fun.
I also did a fun project this year with Netflix. We teamed up with Scoops Ahoy from Stranger Things, and we were able to do an experimental pop-up at Family Style Food Fest in L.A. That was a really fun one.
Another very special one that we did this summer was working with McDonald’s. We were able to work with McDonald’s Hong Kong to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the McNuggets. We did the gift shop, the packaging for the McNuggets and apple pie, and then we did merch. My favorite was the plush toys. That was special because it ties in to the burger thing that I’ve been doing.
The burger and fast-food motifs have become a signature design element for the brand. Why?
I’m not from America. I’m from Korea. I saw a lot of McDonald's and fast food in Korea, but it was very different when I first came to America. I came here when I was 17 and saw Times Square for the first time like, “Holy shit.” All these signs. It's really big, very loud, in your face. And the billboards that stood out the most were from McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. It really resonated with me and I enjoyed seeing them. So I reflect on that with my designs now. I also just love burgers. [Laughs.]
Anything else you’re excited to check out in Miami during Art Basel weekend?
Oh, man, there's so much stuff going on. I'm starting to get more into this industry now. I'm starting to see a lot of people around me, a lot of people who helped me the last couple of years, doing stuff there. So I'm just really excited about my friends doing stuff there. Tombogo is doing stuff, Daniel [Buezo] from Kids of Immigrants, Chris Pyrate.
I think it is super cool and it’s really impressive. It feels great that all of these young, up-and-coming artists and designers are doing such cool things in Miami. That’s what people should look into more.
I noticed that for a lot of pieces for the brand you reinterpret luxury monograms that people are familiar with. Are there any aspects of the luxury fashion world that inspired what you’re doing with your brand?
I get inspiration and ideas from my daily life. On the weekends, I will go shop with my family. I get inspiration from seeing stuff, not just the monogram or luxury brands. From there, I'm trying to put all the inspiration with my DNA to make it my own.
Every time I go to stores, I see things like, “Man, I wish it was another way.” I wish it was more wearable for me. I make a lot of references to things that I see in my daily life, but it's more about making something that I can be comfortable wearing.
Have you ever thought about doing a Vandy runway show or something like that?
Actually, yeah. Right now, I'm trying to focus more on my main line, seasonal collections, a proper brand. I definitely want to try. If there's an opportunity, I would like to do a runway show, for sure.
You've named a few up-and-coming designers that you're a fan of right now. Are there any others that you would love to collaborate with in some capacity in the future?
Yes, there's a lot. [Laughs.] When I recently participated at ComplexCon, I met these new friends that are really cool. They're actually from Ghana, Free the Youth. They inspire me a lot, how they highlight their culture and they tell their stories about their country. For street fashion culture, I think it is really important that we have all different cultures evolving together. So they inspired me a lot. They're one of my favorites right now.
Speaking of culture, you grew up in Korea, but then you moved to the U.S. when you were a teenager. You've gotten to experience streetwear culture in both places. What would you say is the main difference between streetwear culture in Korea and the United States?
That's a really good question. Korea doesn’t have a long history, but I feel like Korea has been growing really fast and has a lot of cool, young brands right now. Basically, Korea didn't have a big history of streetwear, but is recently catching up, which is why so many stores are opening in Korea. You see Supreme; you see Golf Wang just opened a pop-up there a few days ago. The people are paying attention to Korea right now. We're going through this phenomenon.
How do you feel about more brands like that from the U.S. embracing Korea more than they were in the past?
Very grateful for the K-pop industry. I feel like it's really because of the K-pop industry. NewJeans, Big Bang, 2NE1, I think they were the people who really jump-started streetwear in Korea.
You have a very strong following in the United States. I know you've done a few pop-ups in the U.S., but would you ever consider opening a permanent store in the U.S.?
To be honest, I don't think we're going to because I feel like this new generation of shoppers, ever since COVID happened, is doing everything online. So what we realized after doing this for seven years now, the younger customer’s attention span is so short. I just don't think that a store would be economically beneficial. I think it would dig into the existing money that we have and stop our creativity.
But we really do enjoy doing experiential pop-ups. Although they do cost more, they have a better impact because I can be completely free with how I want to design the place. It always changes. If tomorrow I want to do a pop-up with an astronaut in the middle of Mars, I can do that. But I wouldn’t want that to be in my store forever. So we’ll continue to focus on pop-ups and online. It also gives our consumers a better experience. Every time we do it, we give it our all. We don't want to just have a permanent store and not give it our full love because we're focusing on other things.
So there's going to be so many more pop-ups coming next year.
As you continue to grow the brand, what’s something you'd love to create or work on that you haven't gotten the chance to yet?
Ever since I was a kid, I was a big car person too. I used to always watch car racing. I used to always collect Hot Wheels. I've been seeing the crossover with streetwear brands and car companies. If there's an opportunity, I would love to do something like that with a car brand, especially an Asian car brand.
As we head into the new year, what’s your main goal? Any exciting projects?
I don't have a big plan. I just don't want my brand to be going crazy one year and then it dies out. My goal is to stay humble.
I want all of my supporters to be a part of the creative process with me. That’s why I engage with consumers so much on Instagram. I want everyone to be part of the experience.
I also have a really cool footwear collab coming.