Between Seoul and New York, this Creative Is Curating Her Own Path
Having already found success in the fashion industry with the retailer Opening Ceremony, 26-year-old Suea Cho finds herself returning to her first love of cooking.
"Beyond the Fit" is a series that explores how emerging creatives weave together personal style and identity.
Suea Cho once had dreams of becoming a chef. Until she actually worked in a restaurant in high school.
"I always, always loved cooking", she says. "But that job was so horrible, and I was like, yeah, I don't want to do that".
Instead, Korean-born Suea turned her sights on another love: fashion and style. The two were natural fits for the Seoul native, who spent her childhood in Germany, Montana, New Jersey and California, and took pride in her "first-day-of-school outfits" and finding clothes that no one else had.
"I knew I wanted to work in fashion since I was a little girl", she recalls. "I was, like, 7 or 8 and would put together outfits for my neighbours".
After university on the West Coast, Suea headed back east. For her, being at the epicentre of style meant being in New York. She got her start at Opening Ceremony, the influential and iconic city centre retailer. She stayed for four years, eventually becoming the associate director of brand image, overseeing creative content and special projects. "I remember I was so excited when I got that job. I was happier than when I got into university".
Yet her passion for cooking never quite left. After successfully working with the elites of fashion, starting her own supper club didn't seem as daunting. In fact, Suea said she was ready to try something new, and nights out in the city's unparalleled restaurant scene inspired her return to the kitchen. Enter Suea's Dinner Service: the experimental pop-up dining experience she started last summer, which connects friends and family over her love of cooking.
Suea's style blends inspirations from the different cities—and walks of life—she has experienced at just 26 years old. Here, the creative talks about her ever-evolving relationship with fashion and food and how she has torn up the playbooks from both industries to carve her own path.
"I don't think I have one title for myself that perfectly encapsulates everything I want to do".
Whether fashion or food, you've never followed a traditional trajectory. It doesn't seem like your style fits into a single aesthetic either. How would you describe it?
I've just become a lot more specific about what I wear. I think this has come from being in a competitive place like New York where, and I know this is kind of cliché, but I really hate wearing something that everyone else has.
In the last year, my style has gone from girlie to incredibly sporty. As I've got older and pulled away from this concept of dressing up and, you know, trying to look amazing every day. I've put comfort above a lot of things and I like being able to move, but obviously I still want to look cute. So if I am wearing basketball shorts, I'll wear a cute T-shirt or something.
I would also describe my style as evolving. Although my core identity is the same, my style has changed so much, and it will continue to change.
Can you talk a bit about your shift from the fashion industry to starting Suea's Dinner Service?
I wanted to do something since I was younger, but I felt intimidated by the concept [of opening a restaurant]. My favourite social activity is having dinner with my friends. But around last year, I stopped going out at night because I got tired of the lifestyle. So I started Suea's Dinner Service as a way to still hang out. It's not going out to the club, and it's definitely not going to a bar.
I want to focus on the overall experience, making the dinner experimental and interactive. Food is just part of it, but you want the overall bonding experience. For my first dinner, I made garlic butter candles that could be used as dips when they melted, and my friends were freaking out. That excitement got me thinking, "What can I do next?"
For me, I love bonding with my friends and cooking for them. And I love when they tell me it's really good.
And how has the venture been affected by the pandemic as restaurants have shut down?
Right now, it's based back in NYC, on my apartment's rooftop in Chinatown. Ironically, because of the coronavirus, it works in my favour to be so private and small.
"In the last year, my style has gone from girlie to incredibly sporty. I wear a lot of basketball shorts and tennis skirts, but I pair them with a cute T-shirt".
Cooking also feels like a way for people to connect with their roots—has that happened with you?
Actually, it's funny now looking back, because the reason I started cooking in high school is because my mum never made American food. You know, like Korean mums. And I think since I started Suea's Dinner Service, I've become so much more interested in learning Korean [cuisine]. I know how to make the basics. It's just so common for Koreans to cook. So this summer, I was always bothering my aunts, like, "Can you teach me?" I've become much more appreciative of my own culture.
Words: Elaine YJ Lee
Photography: Min Hyun-woo
Reported: August 2020