Stephane Park in Totême Capri Cotton Shirt
Only a few years since Aesther Ekme was launched, the label’s refined leather bags have quietly cemented their place as wardrobe essentials for the modern woman. My Chameleon meets Stephane Park, Founder and Creative Director of the Copenhagen-based brand, to discuss career beginnings, design philosophy and what inspires her.
— Where were you born and raised? Has this influenced your design aesthetic?
Sao Paulo, Brazil - but my parents are originally South Korean. This mix of cultures has always been part of my life, and balancing cultural clashes built a lot of my personality and way of thinking. I'm heavily inspired by Brazilian architecture of the 70s, when Neo-concretism and the Brutalist movements were in their peak. I’ve always found a sense of ‘rawness’ in design attractive.
— How did the idea for Aesther Ekme come about?
My interest in accessories came while studying womenswear at Parsons. I won the Coach Handbag competition in 2012, even though my technical knowledge was limited. Designing bags was much more intuitive for me than designing clothes. That lead me to work with accessories at Alexander Wang.
The luxury market used bags as a billboard for logos, creating statement hardware and easily recognisable shapes for the 'It-Bag' effect. I pursued the opposite direction by thinking about women’s needs first, combining design and functionality into bags that don't overwhelm the wearer, but instead, enable her possibilities.
Aesther Ekme started in 2016, after I completed my Master’s Degree at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In Copenhagen, I truly connected with the local design culture, and started to experience design as a way of thinking and living, which added a problem solving approach to my process.
I struggled for the first 2 years, like any other start-up. But the brand was well-received in the Japanese and Danish market, and then stocked online - it was always the product pushing the brand, more than any marketing exposure.
— What is the philosophy behind Aesther Ekme?
Aesther Ekme’s DNA is based on the idea of ‘functional beauty’, taking classic shapes and pushing their boundaries to achieve both lightness and strength, purpose and sensibility, resulting in purified and sculptural aesthetics. Our subtle embossed ‘three dots’ logo represents the woman who doesn’t need to be labelled.
— Where does inspiration strike you most?
Streets, metro stations - and definitely airports are a gold mine for me. At airports you see people from all over the world interacting with their bags in different ways. It’s interesting to see how people carry, organise their things, and run with their bags.
— Where is your leather sourced from and how did you make this decision for your brand?
The leather is a smooth calfskin from Italy but tanned and finished in Turkey, in the same factory that produces my bags. In this way we have more control over the quality of the skins before manufacturing the final product, ensuring a better selection and treatment.
— What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
Switching between being a designer and micromanaging the many different areas of a start-up, whilst keeping your eye on a long term vision is very hard to balance. Fortunately, the brand is growing organically and has found a solid place in the global market. And yes, I’ve hired more people!
— What can we expect to see next from the label?
An exploration of alternative materials such as special treated canvas, and other techniques in leather work such as weaving - something that brings more craftsmanship and technique into the designs.
— Where is the most memorable place you've travelled to?
A trip with my sister to Iceland 10 years ago. Iceland has a magical way of making me connect to nature in an otherworldly way. You see colours you have never seen before in nature and the energy is very powerful.
— Who are the role models in your life?
Several generations of women in my family are role models to me. From my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, and my sisters. They are all unique, but have always shown great strength, an entrepreneurial spirit, and are explorers of the world.
— What are you currently reading and listening to?
I'm reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and listening to The Intelligence podcast by The Economist.