Sparkling in Abush

Seattle-bred graphic designer Yoon and Tokyo-honed producer, DJ and rapper Verbal met, fell in love, and somewhere along the way launched the world’s coolest jewelry brand. Why Ambush? Yoon: “He named it.” Verbal: “When we started the company, we started out of nowhere, it was like an ambush in warfare, I thought it was a fun name.”

 Yoon: “We were both studying in Boston. I was at Boston University studying graphic design and Verbal was at Boston College.”

Verbal: “I’m Korean, but I was born and raised in Japan. I went to an international school so it was like a natural transition for me to go to the States. I was a business and philosophy double major. I was already studying business when I got into philosophy. So I added that.”

Yoon: “We met at church.”

Verbal: “A lot of Korean people go to church. I didn’t, but I had a lot of Korean friends in college who went and after a while I was like, oh yeah, why not, and I started going, and that’s where I met her (laughs). She just came from Seattle.”

Verbal: “I did music back in high school, but at college I gave that up. Back in the nineties in the US and everywhere else in the world hip hop was getting bigger, but in Japan there was no rap music on the charts, in any shape or form whatsoever. Korean parents are known to be really strict with their kids and mine said ‘you are not going to do music’. So I went to college instead. In 1998 I returned to Japan on a winter break and I got back together with my buddy who I had been doing music with in high school. We did a demo and that turned into a record which did well. That was the beginning of M-Flo (Verbal’s hugely popular band, MM). Yoon and I had been dating for a while and I asked her to come to Japan with me.”

Yoon: “I was working in Boston and I wanted to move to New York because there were better jobs there. Around that time he was like ‘Why don’t you try Tokyo? I told him to find me something to do, to get me some small graphic design jobs. I didn’t mind trying. And it’s been 13 years. Tokyo’s my home now. I never expected it to turn out like this.”

Verbal: “It was hard to find work for her, so I created a little firm, just me and her, where I did promotion and sales and I’d plug her into certain projects. That’s how we started with cd design and graphics for apparel. I had always dreamed of doing my own jewelry, so I told her, let’s come up with something fun. Every rapper has to have their own chain, right (laughs)? That’s how Ambush started. Originally, it was just some jewelry for myself, but then we put a few pieces in my friend’s store in Omotesando and that caught the attention of the media.”

Every rapper has to have their own chain, right ?

Yoon: “He made a huge chain that looked like an Olympic gold medal, to celebrate what I think was your fifth album? That piece became kind of iconic, and people like Kanye would notice it. The pieces were huge and expensive, so we thought, hey, why don’t we make smaller versions? And then it really took off.

“We were wearing it, the cool Tokyo guys were wearing it, Kanye was wearing it, Kid Cudi and everybody was wearing it, it was just blowing up. And that’s when people like Sarah from Colette came up to us and asked where she could get those chains. We weren’t even trying to build a brand, but people wanted it. At this point we were still packing and sending things from our own house. About three years ago we decided if we’re going to do jewelry then let’s do a full collection, with a story behind it, and that’s the start of Ambush.”

Yoon: “Because of that start, people often associate us with hip hop jewelry, but it isn’t really. It’s the story of that period in time. We’re also into different things, and that reflects in our collection. A lot of things come from the subcultures, and the things we enjoy: the movie Holy Mountain, Japanese bike gangs, African tribes. One of our last collections, Dream Catchers, was about native american, and this winter’s collection was inspired by the photography of Karl Heinz Weinberger.”

Verbal: “We’re about to open our first store in Tokyo, in Shibuya. That’s the next stage: being able to see how customers react to certain pieces. We’ll also continue to show in Paris during fashion week. From day one almost half of our business has been outside Japan which is quite rare. We are a Japanese brand because everything is made there and that’s where we’re based. But our mindset and our ideas are international.”

WRITTEN BY JESSE BROUNS