Gou Getter: What’s Next For South Korean DJ & Fashion Designer Peggy Gou
On a hot September evening in 2017 at Stockholm Fashion Week, Sweden’s stylish set was packed into a stifling venue for the closing party where a then-emerging South Korean DJ named Peggy Gou was spinning in a tiny side room. Only 25 years old, in the early days of her career, she was still lugging trunks of CDs around to her club dates—more comfortable with the antiquated medium than the USB flash drives used by her peers—while finding her footing in the techno and house scene.
On the main stage, Virgil Abloh, Off-White’s founder and now Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director, shared the spotlight with multi-platinum artist Kelis. No one, she was convinced, was going to turn up to listen to her. But one person did, and it was Abloh himself.
“He told me he was a big fan and he wanted to say hi,” says Gou, still with a tone of disbelief. “I was floored.”
They might have been at different points in their careers, but it soon became clear that like many artists of their generation, unbridled ambition and a knack for weaving seamlessly between disciplines were qualities they shared.
“I really liked his attitude,” says Gou. “A friend of his wanted him to design a fitted suitcase for a car, and Virgil’s response was, ‘No, I want to design the car.’ And that’s exactly me. That’s what I would say.”
On that fateful night, Abloh extended an invitation to Gou to DJ at his forthcoming Off-White x Dazed party in a London club on The Strand, where she met Claudio Antonioli and Davide De Giglio, the founders of streetwear conglomerate New Guards Group (NGG). It was no ordinary encounter; the Farfetch-owned company recently acquired Opening Ceremony and counts Off-White and Ambush under its umbrella. That evening, Gou joined their ranks.
Claim to Fame
Fast-forward three years, and Gou is now the proud owner of her own record label, Gudu Records; a fashion label, Kirin (the Korean word for giraffe, her favourite animal: “They’re so peaceful and calm—the opposite of me”) under NGG; lucrative ambassadorship deals with the likes of Louis Vuitton; and a screaming fanbase who can yell Korean lyrics from her 2018 hit single It Makes You Forget in deafening unison.
Tucked away in a cosy Seoul apartment on a brisk January afternoon, I catch up with Gou on the set of our photoshoot, somewhere between her two passions. She has one leg hiked up on the make-up chair as she hungrily devours tteok-bokki, a traditional Korean spicy rice cake dish, the first thing she craves on returning to her hometown. She cradles the fork to keep red sauce from dripping onto the denim racer jacket she’s wearing, from her debut Kirin collection. In town to DJ at a Jimmy Choo party, she had just flown in from a sold-out gig in Tokyo where the queue snaked around several blocks in Shinjuku—and she still has a golden tan from a recent holiday in Bali.
“I had a 39-degree fever, and wanted to just play two hours instead of three, but I pushed through in the end because the energy of the crowd was insane,” she says in the familiar husky voice found on her tracks, perhaps made deeper by the cold she’s nursing. But she’s otherwise highly animated, hands waving about as she reflects on her whirlwind career.
Growing up, Gou’s musical education came from a combination of the classical scores she was taught during her piano lessons and listening to analogue tunes from old Korean pop songs on her parents’ radio. “That’s where I get my inspiration for my lyrics,” she says. “They were just so much more poetic, so I use words in my songs now that young people probably have never heard of.”
In her school bag she always carried a Walkman and edgy stockings or socks to jazz up her uniform once she was at school—and away from her mother’s watchful gaze. “My mother never understood why I wouldn’t just wear what she bought me,” she says. “I always had a strong personal taste in my style; I just wanted to collect what was cool.” In fact, she first pursued a career in styling at London College of Fashion, and even interned at Harper’s Bazaar Korea, but soon realised she was neither interested in nor particularly skilled at dressing others. “It just didn’t make my heart beat fast enough,” she says.
Meanwhile, Gou discovered the DJ scene thanks to her boyfriend at the time—a DJ from whom she learned beatmatching and digging—and her love of frequenting dance clubs like London’s Plastic People every weekend. Before long, her growing network of music industry friends egged her on to try her hand behind the decks, leading to her first-ever gig at the Soho club Cirque Le Soir.
“I honestly don’t remember the crowd or their reactions, because I spent the whole night with my head in the mixer, too scared to look anywhere,” she recalls. A few years later, she became the first female Korean DJ to play at the notoriously exclusive Berlin techno club Berghain.
Even with five EPs and gigs at global festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury under her belt, Gou still feels nervous before every show. “For me, my career is like a sport, and doing sports shouldn’t be comfortable,” she says. “You have to push yourself to the point of discomfort to feel like you had a good workout. So I think it’s good that I still get the butterflies, or else it means I don’t care any more and that I have to find something else that gives me butterflies.”
When NGG came knocking, prophesying that they “saw Virgil in [her],” she says, the idea of starting her own fashion label made her feel just as queasy, which was reason enough for her to try. In their early discussions, Gou said she simply wanted to create clothes she would wear. At the same time, she found it challenging to describe her own style—until, that is, she discovered her signature look had become so recognisable among clubbers and social-media followers that some of them wore Peggy Gou costumes one Halloween.
“That year, a lot of people were wearing a tropical shirt, sunglasses and holding a stuffed giraffe,” she says. So, by popular demand, she dreamed up silk Cuban shirts with prints of haetae, a mythical, tiger-like Korean creature, smiley faces from acid house music and two-piece pyjama or denim sets like those she favoured for festivals.
To celebrate underexposed parts of her culture, Gou decided to use Asian silk fabrics for some of her logo-print sets, as well as traditional Korean motifs. And she began singing in Korean on her tracks, coining her own genre, “K-House.” Her first music video, for Starry Night, directed by her partner, Jonas Lindstroem, depicted various Korean communities—from taekwondo disciples to ladies in hanbok—all breaking out in modern dance.
“I was afraid people wouldn’t like it at first, but I always believe that you don’t know until you try,” she says. “And now it’s become my signature. I see so many Asian artists try to copy what the Europeans do, but there are so many beautiful things about Korea that I want people to look at and reflect on and appreciate.”
A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi
Like many people whom their contemporaries deem “cool,” there’s something decidedly uncalculated about each move Gou makes. She, like Abloh, is able to seamlessly direct her fanbase—the “Goucci Gang”—of more than a million (she has 1.4 million Instagram followers and counting) towards whatever endeavour she next chooses.
“I never think about forging a style or aesthetic; it’s just my taste, what I like,” she says with a shrug. “I know what I’m good at and what I’m not. If I know I can’t kill it, I’ll just move on.”
This is already proving to be an eventful year, with Gou building a recording studio in her newly purchased house in Berlin, where she will be producing a new album, before headlining Coachella this April. A second drop for Kirin is in the works and she’s also just signed with her dream label, XL Recordings, which represents the likes of Adele and Radiohead. All this, it should be noted, has happened sans manager (“You probably already know this about me, but I don’t like being told what to do,” she says).
But first, she’s cancelled forthcoming Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand shows in January to take three weeks off in Phuket.
“I’m still trying to learn how to meditate,” she says. Even her boyfriend laments her inability to sit still. “I’m always thinking about tomorrow or next week. But I’ve learned that I need to switch off in order to make space creatively.”
As she’s summoned back by the photographer and our chat comes to a close, I tell her there’s been a rumour of her starting her own skincare line or Kirin homeware, to which she beams and replies, coyly, “Why not? I’m always on the lookout to make things better.” She points to a humble vacuum cleaner leaning in the corner. “I think I can make a better vacuum cleaner than that.”
Peggy Gou: DJ, fashion designer and vacuum innovator? Why not? Labels are overrated.