It's been a huge year for Doo-Ri Chung, who was recently named the next featured designer for Macy's Impulse. This announcement came just days after Michelle Obama wore one of her pieces — a gorgeous, floor-sweeping purple gown — to a state dinner with the South Korean president. Chung, who is known for her artfully draped jersey, spent her formative years at Geoffrey Beene, where she worked directly with the late Mr. Beene as well as Alber Elbaz in his pre-Lanvin days. She took some time out of her design schedule to tell us about her forthcoming projects, as well as her 6-month-old baby boy.
Congratulations on your new baby — how old is he now?
He's about 6 months old. It's been a lot of work. I thought it was hard just being pregnant, but having a baby is really exhausting.
Is he a stylish baby?
At first, I would just dress him in anything that opened in the front. But now I'm really into this label Splendid. They make cotton T-shirts and stuff like that for adults, but they also make really cute baby clothes.
Do you have any desire to design baby clothes yourself someday?
I was thinking about it, but it's really complicated. There's a lot of safety issues and guidelines — there's a lot more that you have to work around than you'd think. So, probably not.
Tell me a little bit about how the Macy's line came about.
I've actually known about it for about a year. It wasn't that hard to keep it a secret because we were always working on other projects throughout that time, so we had plenty of other things to talk about.
Did Macy's seek you out, or did you find out about the opportunity and approach them?
They approached me and gave a presentation, and I was really flattered and pretty shocked, honestly, since my customer is so different from theirs. I've never had the opportunity to do something with such wide appeal and distribution, so it's a huge deal for me.
Your customer is definitely more high-fashion than the average Macy's shopper. How did you have to change your designs to have a more mass appeal?
The Macy's people were really helpful with that. I had to cut things much more conservatively. They were like, "It has to have sleeves!" Also, everything had to be longer — the skirts had to come to the knee at least.
The announcement of your Macy's line came just a few days after Michelle Obama wore your gown to a state dinner. Was that pure coincidence?
It was! Everyone thought it was planned, but it was just luck. I found out about Michelle Obama because a Washington Post reporter called my cell phone while I was in the car, and I was like, "She is?" It's the first time she's worn something from my collection, and it turned out to be great timing with the Macy's announcement. It was also nice that she wore it to the state dinner with the South Korean president — personally, I relate more to being American than being Korean, but it was a nice moment for my Korean family members too.
What's your own personal style like?
I'm very casual and practical. I wear a lot of jeans and flat shoes. During the day, I'm doing a lot of physical work in the studio, carrying bolts of fabric and things like that, so I need to comfortable.
What designers do you wear, besides your own line?
I wear a lot of Maria Cornejo, Ann Demeulemeester, and VPL by Victoria Bartlett. I always get my jeans from Rag & Bone — I think they have really great stuff. Most days I wear these great zip-up boots by Yohji Yamamoto. They're flat and comfortable and I've had them for years; I think I've gotten them re-soled like, six times. I also wear Keds during the summer.
You're known for your jersey draping. How did that become your specialty?
I got into that when I was working at Geoffrey Beene, which was just the best training in the world. It was my first job out of school, and I got to work with Alber Elbaz, who was so incredibly nice and showed me the ropes. We each got got to develop our own niches there; for Alber, it was silks, and for me, it was jersey. So that's really how started doing it.
What are some tips that Alber gave you?
Oh, I got yelled at by so many people when I first started, and Alber would explain to me so nicely how things were done. Every designer has a certain protocol — how you line up the pincushions, and so forth — and he showed me Mr. Beene's way of doing things. I was so terrified of Mr. Beene when I started — he was so scary. Alber left pretty soon after I got there — about seven months — and I was devastated. But it was really the best first job I could ever have hoped for.
Whose style are you particularly inspired by?
I love people who stick to a particular look, almost like a uniform, and really make it theirs. Like Lynn Yaeger — she's so consistent in her wackiness, and never strays from it. Or some people who wear all black, always, but never look boring. I love when people have the confidence to create a truly consistent look.
What current trend are you really happy to see?
Colorful patterns! It's enabled me to get some of my artist friends to make some amazing prints for us.
How about a trend that you wish would go away?
Clunky high-heeled clogs. They're just not flattering on a woman! I can understand that sometimes high fashion isn't necessarily "pretty," but I truly believe that what you wear should always be flattering.
What's the proudest moment you've had in your career so far?
The first time I saw a woman wearing a piece of clothing from my collection. I saw her on the street and my mouth just dropped. I couldn't say anything to her, but I was just so excited, and she looked amazing.