Irene Kim is one cool chick. “I just lost my wallet. I don’t know how it happened,” she exclaims, her signature girlish voice raising several octaves higher. “Or maybe I dropped it.” She shrugs it off, “When something shitty happens, just remember to keep the good vibes.”
To those in the know, Kim’s nonchalant response pretty much sums her up. This Instagram superstar, with the head of candy-coloured hair, has built her entire career channelling the mantra “Good Vibes Only”. Her Instagram account, @ireneisgood, focuses on the positive. Whether she’s soaking up the sun on a trip to the Maldives, or pretending to make a phone call with two Chanel pumps close to her ears, Kim lives the sort of fun and happy life her 891k followers wouldn’t have problems identifying with.
Branching out from modelling to hosting TV shows has endeared her even more to her fans. “TV is always fun and I get to show my personality. It shows I’m not a two-dimensional pretty face wearing pretty clothes. I talk and I have an opinion,” she adds. “You know, I get to travel all over the world for work and attend fashion weeks, but that’s such a small part of who I am,” Kim says while biting into a burger. “I didn’t start out as some glamorous supermodel. I’m just a normal girl who loves fashion. People have been very responsive and supportive of what I put out.And I think that has made me more relatable because they’ve seen my whole life on social media. Perhaps it’s given them some inspiration.”
Kim’s rise to fame at home and abroad is symbolic of the importance of diversity. In South Korea, where standards of beauty can be frustratingly limiting, Kim is a breath of fresh air for her non-conformist attitude towards prevalent societal norms: She doesn’t possess the ethereal quality South Korea prefers in its leading ladies, nor does she have the wide-eyed naiveté commonly seen in the country’s pop exports. Kim sums it up: “Times are changing. It’s also about who you are and what makes you special.”
Kim’s story isn’t atypically Korean. She was born in Seattle, USA, where she spent much of her formative years exposed to Western culture. Kim admits it was tough when she first moved to Seoul with her father during her middle school years — she barely knew how to speak Korean and often got into trouble for being different.
“It was a culture shock for me. I didn’t know that hierarchy was so important in South Korea. I was not used to that. In the States, you can call everyone by their names no matter how old they are,” she admits.
Initially rebellious (she once even ran away from school), Kim eventually adjusted to the intricacies of living in a society where deep-rooted traditions are important. A few years later, Kim enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where she studied textile design and dabbled in editorial work. “It’s a blessing that I got to experience the best of both cultures and worlds. I can bring whatever I’ve learnt back here and educate others through what I’ve seen overseas.”
And help she does through her social media platforms and interactions with the creative industry. Kim has launched Hi Studio, a digital and content production agency that aims to equip others with unique online voices: “I’m consulting brands and other celebrities on how they should improve their digital platforms because a lot of them don’t know how to do it.”
More importantly, Kim wants to empower youths with the confidence to be comfortable in their own skin. It’s an important cause for Kim, who believes in the beauty of unconventionality: “No one should feel afraid of who they are.” Voicing her concern about the lack of visibility for positive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) role models, Kim intends to be a mouthpiece and bring about recognition and support for a community that’s not talked about openly.
“It’s upsetting. I understand why we’re so conservative because everything is so new in Asia right now,” she explains.“I hope to be able to do something to help a lot of my friends, starting with the creative industry that I am part of. But I want it to happen organically because I’d never want to do anything forced. People should know that regardless of your sexuality or your preferences, it’s okay to be yourself.”
By Gerald Tan
Photographed by Kyungil Park
Styled by Kenneth Goh
Makeup: Joyeon Won
Hair: Hyeyoung Lee
Manicure: Eunkyung Park