We live in a world with a black president and kpop on the today show…rifling through my diary to see what other dreams will come true.
— Jane Chun (@msjchun) September 15, 2012
What I love about Jane Chun is that she notices everything. In her answers below, you’ll see a quality of acute perception that’s rare and beautiful. In the time I’ve known her, she’s worked in cosmetics in Japan, written a thesis on the history of blue jeans, ventured into digital advertising in New York, and moved back to California—a place we’ve both called home.
This introduction is a celebration: a moment of concentration, an opportunity to step out of routine and follow someone new. I hope you’ll take me up on it and invite Jane’s thoughts and work into your life hereafter.
1. What did you discover in the process of writing your senior thesis on the history of blue jeans?
There is no other design that has graced the cover of VOGUE, been worn by American cowboys, Wall Street tycoons, hippies on a farming commune…blue jeans are perennial, the first fashion to truly break boundaries of gender and class for the masses. It is the most important piece of fashion history we’ll experience in our lifetime (unless biomimicry enters the mainstream).
Much has been written about Coca-Cola as a symbol of American cultural imperialism, but little scholarship addresses the global popularity of the denim. Fashion has meaning, so what’s most fascinating to me is seeing images of flag-burning anti-American protestors wearing blue jeans.
Blue jeans are simple and utilitarian in design, but complex in cultural and historical importance.
2. We met through Professor John Stilgoe, a scholar of the built environment. He often talks about the importance of noticing what others don’t. Since taking his courses, what do you now notice that you didn’t before?
There are cameras everywhere, be aware of this and use it to your advantage. In the built environment there are many reflective surfaces, and you should use them to see things without directly looking. When viewing an advertisement, look closely for hidden symbols and double entendres. Always look up, observe the sky and architecture. Look ahead, but always be aware of what’s behind you.
I am leaving out so many things…What meant the most to me was his confidence and encouragement. Never be afraid. Know when to trust your instincts. Notice what others notice, as in if I walk with you in a city, I can tell pretty quickly whether you’re a good driver or if we’d survive if shipwrecked just by how you interact (or don’t) with your surroundings.
3. What’s important to know about K-pop?
The Korean music industry is a dominant force in East Asian culture. Everyone focuses on China, but do you know what they’re listening to there? K-pop, which also has a strong presence in much of Southeast Asia and Japan. You’ll be surprised at how much the East Asian music industry (as well as film and television, but that’s another conversation) derives its trends from Korea.
It’s created an entire ecosystem that relies on the success of the industry and its idols—advertising, cosmetic surgery, tourism, etc. Not only does it influence multi-billion dollar industries, it’s probably one of the best examples of the use of soft power in East Asia politics. Ambassadors have been known to time their visits with touring k-pop artists, they’re a common sight at embassies.
It’s not my favorite genre of music and it may seem frivolous and vapid with its sugary pop melodies and coordinated dance routine…but we often ignore kitsch, only to realize its importance later.
4. And now…where do you live on earth?
At different points in my life, Boston, Tokyo, Seoul, New York was home so my mind drifts between memories of these places and dreams of Singapore and Berlin…but it always comes back to San Francisco—the beginning and end of every journey. My favorite book as a child was Miss Rumphius and the heroine has three goals in life: go to faraway places, make the world more beautiful, and grow old beside the sea.
Clean ocean breezes, good food, and sunshine seem to be key ingredients for happy people. The innovation and creativity commonly associated with the Bay Area are just fruits of a lush life.
5. Where do you live on the internet?
I’m having a hard time answering this question because I really don’t feel like I “live” or experience a sense of “place” on the internet as I do in everyday life. John Stilgoe wrote a great essay on the history and use of the word landscape in his book Landscape and Images that I always think of when people talk about the digital landscape. I’m very spatial.
I encounter stories and ideas on Reddit, Daily Mail, NY Times, Luxirare and catalogue the best of the best in a tightly edited Tumblr that I try to update frequently. Nothing yet everything is the same as it’s always been… I spend a lot of time trying to find patterns, perhaps a vain effort to read tea leaves.
I do not maintain an account on Facebook or LinkedIn. “Privacy is going the be the most valued commodity in the future.”
6. What are you learning?
I think a lot about risk. As each year goes by, I feel like the world is a chisel and hammer that tries to chips away at an inner column of optimism and it becomes harder to experience a natural, childlike audacity—the confidence you had before you ever fell on your ass and experienced the pain of failure.
Learning is almost always thought of as positive, but I think it’s also crucial to unlearn all the bad ideas and habits you mistakenly pick up along the way. While watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this line stuck with me: “Just when you think you know it all you realize you’re just fooling yourself and then you get depressed.” I think you can feel overwhelmed by the size of the universe, but I’m just excited that every day promises something new.
I’m learning how to skateboard.
7. What are the best things you’ve read, heard, and seen lately?
I frequently read the dedication from Paul Jacques Grillo’s Form, Function, & Design. It’s a little long, but save it and read it—especially if you’re a creative. I like the ideas in Pico Iyer’s NY Times Opinion piece, “The Joy of Quiet”, where he writes about the importance of stillness. And since it’s election season: this is my own writing, but recently in a manifesto (as the daughter of immigrants, I get really excited about America) I declared, “We pledge allegiance to the United State of America but as citizens with civic responsibilities that know no national boundaries.”
I have a bit of an obsessive personality when it comes to music and listen to the same stuff over and over. Scandinavian Pop Princesses like OH LAND, SIA, LYKKE LI, early NAS, NOTORIOUS B.I.G., KIDS & EXPLOSIONS.
My favorite song (for four years now until forever) is the Aeroplane remix of Friendly Fires “Paris.”
Jane was featured in the Boston Globe last year for her work in the fashion community.
She offered this opening question: If you had to wear a uniform, what would it be? Reach out to her on Twitter with your reply, if you’d like.