Hanuk of the North

He was more than happy to allow me to pay for his martinis.

Hanuk Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea. His father was a successful businessman, his mother the daughter of one. When he was 6, Hanuk got carbon monoxide poisoning because of a faulty valve in a heater in his grandparents’ mountain estate. He was rushed to the hospital, where his parents were told that their comatose son would not survive the night. “My mom said I was completely white,” Hanuk said. “She said that she looked at me thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s so beautiful,’ because my lip colors were all white. She said I looked like I was made out of marble. And she’s crying, crying, crying, and sun was coming up and I yawned and all the color came back. So they thought I became retarded.”

He said he thinks this might have something to do with why his parents still pay his phone bill.

When Hanuk was 13, something unpleasant happened with his father’s company, and the Kims relocated to Oxnard, a small farming town just south of Santa Barbara, Calif. They opened a mom-and-pop grocery store, which they operate to this day.

In high school, Hanuk began his practice of going to bed fully dressed. He loved to draw, was a computer whiz, wore all black and was forever listening to his Walkman. When he started wearing his hair in a perfect bowl, his father jokingly requested that he retreat backwards after introducing himself to guests. Senior year, he announced, “‘Dad, I think I want to do fashion.’ And he starts laughing,” Hanuk recalled. “He said, ‘If you think you can make an honest living doing fashion, go for it.’”

Hanuk had been sneaking swigs out of his parents’ liquor cabinet for years, but when he moved to San Francisco to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, he discovered bars. “There was something called Club Uranus, which I thought was the funniest thing ever because it was like your anus, but Uranus. But I think Stud Bar was the most crazy. All I remember is going to Stud Bar, getting kicked out, because I was underage. And then the door man gave me the VIP card.”

At school, he was drawn to classmate Barbara Colman.

“She was like a second mother to me,” he said. “Chic, chic, chic.”

“I was more like a muse to him,” said Ms. Colman, now 64, a former Ford model who is an interior designer in Marin County. “Hanuk was this Asian kid who would follow me all over. He would pop up all of a sudden next to me, smile with his wire-rimmed glasses, and say, ‘That’s a Cartier watch. You have three Cartier watches.’”

She said Hanuk’s designs were the stuff of genius but flew over the heads of his professors. “He’s just so funny and so cute and just incredibly talented, and it was amazing because he came from this little rural town.”

He soon set his sights higher. “I told my parents, ‘Oh, I think I have to go to Parsons,’” Hanuk said. “And my father laughed, and was like, ‘Well, if you apply and you get in, of course you go’. The deadline was like literally tomorrow, so I drew sketches thinking I would never get in. Of course, I got in. So they’re like, ‘Of course you get in.’”

When he arrived at the Marlton House dorms on East Eighth Street in Manhattan, he was horrified and requested that all the furniture be removed from the room before he set foot inside. Soon he met a new best friend.

“Minji Goo,” he said. “She was like the last princess of Korea and she was my best friend. Last minute, Minji goes, ‘I’m gonna go to Parson’s in Paris.’ So I called my dad, and he laughs and says, ‘Wherever you live as a student, you spend same amount, so might as well go, enjoy yourself,’ which is amaz—’

“Did you just burp in my face?” he demanded coyly.

I apologized and suggested he order another martini.

In Paris, Hanuk fell in love with his work. He would stay at school so late they had to kick him out. His classmate, Christian Fastrup, told me that Hanuk’s big thing was to take the finest fabrics and then boil them.

He became pals with the artist Casey Cook. “He’s absolutely able to live in the moment,” said Ms. Cook. “His life is one big art piece. He’s constantly inspired by people. He would always be like, ‘Oh my God, I saw this boy, and I cry,’ or ‘Oh my God, I saw this dress and I cry.’ He becomes so emotionally invested or overwhelmed in a way.”

Hanuk of the North