Hanuk of the North

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Hanuk Kim spent the better part of two decades trying to make the cut as a fashion designer. A series of minor successes, along with the generosity of a certain heiress who gave him a floor in her Chelsea loft rent-free for 10 years, allowed him to orbit the fashion world long enough to discover he had a talent for hanging out and taking pictures of his friends at various fashion functions. He became known as “Hanuk,” the wacky Asian dude who wears bow ties and takes pictures of his subjects while kissing them.

Hanuk attended more Fashion Week parties last month than he’d care to remember, but designer Chris Benz’s gathering at Automatic Slim’s sticks out in the haze. It started out like the rest: He mingled with old friends, met some new ones, took a bunch of pictures, drank a few vodka martinis with a lemon twist—he thinks at least four, because he’s usually pretty O.K. after three.

He doesn’t remember who helped him into a cab; he does remember—sometime after 3 a.m. and shortly after getting into bed in the two-bedroom apartment he now shares in the West Village—realizing he’d left his Louis Vuitton handbag in it. He went to his computer and posted the party photos with a comment: “I lost my Vuitton pochette, but thank god my Mont Blanc pen was up my ass.” (In fact the $3,000 pen had made its way into his jean pocket.)

Hanuk takes party photos—lots of them, and posts them. He started in the early 2000s, at the same time he was snapping shots of his collections. He used to write pithy narrations to go with the photos. But as the link to his mac.com home page got passed around to a wider society audience, he decided to stop writing comments lest people quit inviting him to parties.

The young Barbara Bush had missed the Chris Benz bash but saw Hanuk’s comment about the Mont Blanc up his ass and wrote him, “I wanted to tell you this made me laugh out loud and miss New York.”

Last summer, Hanuk’s lofty benefactress, Arvyanti Arief, a woman in her thirties who prefers to be called Jade Fox, told Hanuk he would need to find a new home. She was moving to Bali, to give herself a “new look.”

The prospect of having to pay his way inspired some reflection. He decided to try to make an actual living out of photography. A friend lined him up with a gig doing a party page for the now defunct Men’s Vogue, and he began covering events for Interview, as well as doing fashion shoots for thecontributingeditor.com, launched by former Details market director Matthew Edelstein.

“I first met Hanuk at a party a few years ago,” said Mr. Edelstein. “I was so intrigued by a photographer that plants kisses on his subjects. He has a wonderful way of putting people at ease and making party photographs look spontaneous.”

Socialite-fashion writer Peter Davis calls Hanuk, “the Johnny Pigozzi of the junior jet set—an insider with a 24-hour all-access pass to the parties, places and people worth a second look.”

“I think everyone in the fashion industry knows him,” said Patrick Robinson, the Gap’s executive vice president. “Especially now that he’s taking pictures; this industry loves anyone who takes our pictures. But I don’t know how he eats—I guess he gets his meals for free by being so entertaining.”

Back in 2006, Hanuk was one of seven emerging fashion designers to receive the prestigious Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation grant of $25,000 to produce a collection. Other recipients included Brian Reyes and the design teams behind Rodarte, Rag & Bone and Vena Cava, all of whom have since advanced to “rising star” status. Hanuk was not so lucky.

“That’s what I thought was going to be a break on my clothes-making career,” he told me. “But I lacked business sense and was too much of a daydreamer.” The silence that followed the all-red runway of dresses he produced broke his spirit. He quit designing collections and started updating hanuk.com.

I asked Jade Fox what it was like living with him all those years.

“He orders the spiciest thing from the Chinese restaurant, and then he would be in the bathroom for like a day, which is gross, whatever,” she said. “And then he would work and drink vodka all night, and then the next day he would order again and start all over again.”

The two met at Parsons in 1993. Jade Fox, who didn’t pursue a career in fashion, was delighted to help Hanuk forge his. 

“What I’ve always admired about Hanuk is that he tried and tried and tried with his collections,” she said. “It’s very hard for a young designer to make it these days—even before the recession. He always tried. Even though people tell him, ‘Get a job, get a job,’ he won’t listen. He kept on making his collection. And I admire that.”

Hanuk refers to his close friends as his “sisters.” Men’s wear designer Victor Glemaud is one of them. They were flower girls together at the wedding of their stylist friends Kate Young and Sally Lyndley. At Lauren (formerly Davis) Santo Domingo’s wedding in Colombia, Mr. Glemaud was not surprised to see that Hanuk wore all his clothes to the beach; he calls him the Never-Nude.

“It forced him to try to figure out how he was going to live in New York and pay rent,” said Mr. Glemaud of Hanuk’s gentle ejection from Jade Fox’s Chelsea loft. Mr. Glemaud first met Hanuk in 1998, when they were both working for Patrick Robinson. Hanuk refers to the experience as the only real job he’s ever had.

“I hired him because he was off-the-wall talented,” said Mr. Robinson. “But I kept him around because he was so entertaining. He was always the last one in, first to leave. He would come into the office after seeing a cute construction worker on the way over and he would be in love. He would be making up stories about him all day long. Or he would see the wrong person and have a complete meltdown that day. The wrong person would be someone just very ordinary.”

“I always have this problem with money, like asking for money, or requesting for money,” Hanuk told me on a recent Friday afternoon at Bar Six on Sixth Avenue. “It’s difficult for me to ask for a friend. But now I’m like, ‘I will do it for this.’”

Hanuk of the North