Hanuk of the North

Hanuk moved back to New York in 1995. The designer Narciso Rodriguez loved his sketch book and sent him to Zack Carr, at the time Calvin Klein’s right-hand man. Mr. Carr looked at his book and said, “‘I don’t want to hire you at Calvin because I will kill whatever you have,’’’ Hanuk said. “All I wanted was a regular job where everyone’s happy.”

Mr. Carr sent him to Richard Lambertson at Bergdorf Goodman. “He looked at my book,” Hanuk recalled, “and said, ‘Zack’s right—if I had a position underneath me, I would hire you in a second.’ So I looked at him and said, ‘The point is you don’t have a position underneath you and if I don’t find work I have to move back to Oxnard.’ He starts laughing and he says, ‘Do you think you could do window design.’”

Hanuk was happily dressing Bergdorf’s accessories windows along Fifth Avenue when the his boss found his sketch book. “He goes, ‘You’re in fashion? Then why are you doing window display?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. I love doing window display!’ He goes, ‘You have to be a designer. You have to meet Alber Elbaz.’ He was working at Geoffrey Beene. Then he says, ‘I had a lunch with Alber Elbaz just for you. And he’s expecting you to see your sketch book.’”

The Geoffrey Beene job didn’t materialize. Hanuk moved into Jade Fox’s apartment. With some financial help from friends, and his folks, he started doing small collections.

His men’s collection was accepted at the prestigious Hyères Festival in France. But fame didn’t follow. He got the gig working for Patrick Robinson, who was “adorable,” but six month later Hanuk was back to designing his own little collections, drinking vodka and ordering spicy Chinese food.  He did a collection of mufflers and bags that got picked up by Barneys and Geoffrey. But then he was struck by heartbreak of a romantic nature.

“I just couldn’t do anything for two years,” he said.

In 2004, he was very excited to have a meeting with Vogue editor Meredith Melling Burke about his accessories. Nothing came out of that one, but not long after, Hillary Swank stopped him on the streets to ask him about his nifty leather iPod purse. When he went to her house to sell her a few things, she told him that it wasn’t just the bags that made her stop, it was his aura.

Another one of Hanuk’s “sisters,” Damien Nunes, market director at GQ, says he’s witnessed this effect often.

“We were at dinner at Freeman’s and Kirsten Dunst was there, and he went up to Kirsten Dunst and was like, ‘Kirsten!’” Mr. Nunes said. “He’ll often have people come up to him and be like, ‘You’re amazing; I’m drawn to you,’ and he’s never met them before.”

“He’ll go up to a beautiful girl and say, “She’s skinnnny.’ That’s like he loves someone. And he’ll be like, ‘Chic, chic, chic.’ He loves like chic people. But at the same token, he’ll see some like Abercrombie jock and he’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, he’s like major.’”

“For a while he was just that crazy guy who was out taking pictures” said Mr. Nunes. “I think people are really starting to realize that it’s not just somebody out taking picture, but he has a gift for capturing these moments.”

People thought I was there just to have fun,” Hanuk said, thinking back on all those years spent banging his head against the fashion business. “I have social anxiety, and like all these issues—and I came to realize I really love making dresses. Even now, I sit at home and in my head I drape clothes, make clothes, and then I go, ‘I love going out meeting people and because when I was designing, I met these people and I love seeing them.’ It makes my day. Hopefully, it makes their day. I remember my friend Sally Lyndley’s birthday, afterward we went to this party in the Lower East Side, the place were they serve all the drinks in a teacup, and Sofia Coppola and Jefferson Hack are there and then Paul McCartney walks in. And Paul McCartney keeps on looking at me, looking at me. Finally he comes over and says, ‘How come we don’t have a picture together?’”

Recently, Hanuk told me, he came to the realization that he would be alone for the rest of his life.

His mother, who saw psychics in Korea, had already predicted he would remain solo, not part of a couple. “She said I would be successful, famous by late 30s, which I am almost there,” he said. “But she said, ‘You don’t have a pair.’ And, I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she goes—and she meant it in a nicest way but it’s sort of like haunting—she said, ‘Even the ugliest and dirtiest shoe has a pair.’”

“I actually don’t want to be with either men or women, it’s not like an excuse,” he said. “It’s like Elizabeth, the virgin queen. If she can be alone and rule the world, why can’t anyone else do that?”

smorgan@observer.com

Hanuk of the North