Inside Pop Star-To-Designer Sang A Im-Propp’s SoHo Studio

Kerry Pieri
Inside Pop Star-To-Designer Sang A Im-Propp’s SoHo Studio
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Sang A Im-Propp‘s Wikipedia page puts it like this, “Sang Ais a former Korean pop star turned designer of handbags.” As if such a transition is so simple. The delicately beautiful designer is soft spoken and reserved in her Margiela shoes, leather vest and intricate black dress, hardly the vision of a teen pop sensation, but certainly that of a cool designer who traffics in luxury, exotic handbags for the every-rich-girl. Im Propp was recently hand-picked as part of the second generation of CFDA Fashion Incubators, kind of an amazing name for a program that helps catapult young designers into the next fashion stratosphere. I stopped by Sang-A’s SoHo studio to chat the world of bags, some new more-affordable versions coming up, and forgotten careers in dance and food, while I made a mental note to copy the amazing dual colored nails she was rocking. And, of course, I had to check out the stunning array ofalligator, crocodile, python, ostrich, lizard, stingray, woven eel and fur on display. Read on and click through the photos by Spencer Wohlrab.

Tell me what it was like to make the transition into the world of bags from the entertainment industry.
I came on a business trip for two weeks, and after meetings that I came here for ,I decided to stay here to study. I had always wanted to stay here and study music or modern dance, which was my major in college. Then I moved here and started studying a whole bunch of different things at a lot of different schools. Living in the city inspired me to challenge and experiment and to build something. First, it started with cooking and I thought I’d be a chef. But, I dropped out of the school it was very difficult also, I think language had a lot to do with it being so difficult at the time. I mean, that cooking vocabulary is a whole other thing. Then I challenged myself to be a stylist. So, I went to Parsons and I enrolled through different programs and I studied a year and a half there. While I was in the Fashion and Business Strategy program I realized I wanted to eventually launch an accessory brand. So, after school and after interning for Victoria Bartlett, who has now founded VPL, she’s great I became an assistant stylist and I did some styling. Then I went to launch my brand.

What drew you to bags in particular?
Bags were in my mind already when I was at Parsons. I love all different aspects of fashion. I love clothing. I just thought that I wanted to break into the industry with accessories first and get into a niche market. Which I think was a great decision. But, I can’t just stay niche. So, now I’m expanding my brand to a contemporary price point. Which we’re very excited about. It’ll be launching in Spring/Summer ’12.

That’s very cool, because you work mostly with exotic materials.
Yes, when I launched my line in 2006 it was only exotic materials.

Why exotics?
Well in the beginning, I was preparing and researching and everything to launch a contemporary handbag line with plain leathers. I was traveling a lot in Europe, researching materials and artisans. Then I saw this amazing alligator which was finished gorgeously. And I was like ‘oh my god.’ When I came back I knew it was right, because it was such a niche and specific market that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make some money for a while if I get in this business. I knew it. I was really debating for a while, but then I was like — just do it. So, I did it. But, it’s gone really well.

When you are designing the bags is there a girl that you have in mind to carry them?
Absolutely, she hangs around uptown and downtown. They can hang out uptown and shop downtown at the Lower East Side vintage shops. They can style a cute vintage belt with a Chlo dress. Someone who can work low and high fashion, even when they’re running around crazy on the subways in New York, but at the same time they still have access to chauffeurs. It’s for someone who is very adventurous and experimental and fun and humorous.

Do you find that you’re inspired by New York a lot?
A lot, yeah, I walk around all of the time. I live in Tribeca and work in SoHo. Also, I am 1 of 12 designers in the CFDA Fashion Incubator so I’m in Midtown too. I see people and I’m very observant, I get inspired by people. Different types of people and different styles, not even just women that I see, I see other aspects and perceptions of styles then I just grab everything for inspiration.

So, what does it mean to be in the CFDA Incubator program? Obviously the first year has had so many incredibly successful people. What was that honor like?
It was amazing to be a part of the 12 amazingly talented designers. It’s just like being with my designer buddies! It’s just so much fun, we share things and comfort each other. Before that, it felt like I was in the middle of all of this drama and all of these challenges. But, then when you accomplish something eventually you share that with such a small circle. We share stories and it’s so encouraging and inspiring. That’s the really amazing thing. Obviously we’re all very busy, but when we get to talk for a few minutes to chat and catch up, it always gives me such a good boost of energy and that means a lot. Also, the CFDA is such an amazing organization with all of these highly respected people around. Just being in that circle means so much already.

Tell me a little bit about your personal style.
My personal style… I love to experiment with new designers. I love to find new designers in Europe, I love to find new designers in Asia. I like vintage stuff, but I don’t do vintage all of the way, I’ll just use little pieces here and there. So, I always have fun with that. Also, I go to Paris and I’ll buy things from the Paris flea market every time I go there. I like things that are simple, but a little bit skewed, or a little rebellious. So, basically it’s my brands essence — which is finding a way to be a little rebellious.

Tell me about your collection for Fall, that’s coming into stores now, what were you thinking for that collection?
It’s a Fall/Winter collection, but I still kept it with a cold stone palette with the black richness. Then I had a lot of washed and buffed finishes that I had custom designed for my pythons and people loved it and I really did well with it.

The matte looking bags are so beautiful.
Yes, thank you. People think of exotic skins to be luxurious and that you can’t even touch it because it’s so precious. Of course, it is precious, however I always say to my customers do not be nervous about squeezing it. Squeeze it as much as you can and it’s only going to get better. Punching it, squeezing it, smooshing it live with it! Don’t let the bag wear you, you should wear the bag. The bag should be adapted to you as you are. That’s what I love about bags. A lot of finishes that I custom design for my materials are based on that. So, it’s not looking like just-bought. It looks like you’ve carried it for a while in your life.

Is there anything that is on your wish list for Fall?
I have a bunch of stores that I like to shop at. I don’t have a wish list yet. For fall/winter, I’d probably like to have one amazing winter jacket, because I was designing one for myself we’ll see if I actually get to that and finish it. But, I always look for great winter jackets. Just to put it on and you don’t need anything else. Something easy. I always love tartan or plaid. I still have this beautiful Italian plaid I bought in a gorgeous color. But, maybe I’ll just design something new for myself.

Tell me about this amazing studio with all of your books and mood boards, what was the idea behind the decor and set up?
It just organically happens. At first when I moved in I wanted to have a humongous mural in this abandoned space, but it all got covered. But, now I just cover that space with whatever we create. We were actually just organizing my cabinet so we were moving things around. Yeah, whatever I like, I put it out.

So, with the mood boards is it just images you come across?
Images that I come across, then for some collaborations like a Fashion Night Out project that we’re doing with stores and we came up with little cute ideas, some I never designed, but it’s something fun to do for all of the different projects. So, that’s what all of the mood boards are about color palettes and aesthetics and any elements.

It looks amazing, thank you so much!

All photos: Spencer Wohlrab, StyleCaster