February 23, 2010
02. Shini Park

Shini Park
London, UK

To use the trendy idiom that the fashion world has practically patented in describing the process of displacement - “Fashion blogger” is the new “freelance writer”. As in, the ubiquitous, if slightly vague job title that, thanks to the laissez-faire policy of the World Wide Web, everyone and anyone can now wield.

Indeed, Park & Cube reads, first and foremost, like an astutely-documented fashion newsfeed. The prerequisites are all there – big, glossy images (check) of everything from the Blogger’s favorite editorials (check) to the contents of her very enviable wardrobe (check). And then there are, of course, the comments. After cataloging her life on the Web for the past 12 months, Korean-born, London-based Shini Park has since amassed a large following of devoted readers, including a couple of publishing bigwigs who went on to proffer page space in the very magazines Shini herself had pored over, not too long ago. While the inundation of a Blogger’s Gmail inbox is a good means of measuring her popularity (as Shini’s probably is), it’s not too hard to imagine why people would want to write. Lush pictorials and lengthy comments box aside, Park & Cube’s appeal lies in the very quality that few would note in a community that is powered more by visual eye candy more than anything else – that Shini-ness of Shini Park that ricochets so identifiably and endearingly through her writing.

First of all, the girl is funny. Really. Unpretentious, witty, and charmingly self-deprecating at times, her day-to-day chronicles are akin to having a phone conversation with your best friend. You know, the kind that makes you want to flop on your futon and yak about Hanson (okay…the Backstreet Boys) and school for hours on end. Probably while eating cookies. “Today : Wrote one lame paragraph for my dissertation (aimed for 15, oh well.)” Also - “Ellen and I ploughed through the thick rain and dodged ominous black puddles to arrive at the showroom looking like dogs that tried to drink from a lawn sprinkler. Typical Park & Cube grande entrance.

Shini, hotfooting it in Londontown while showcasing her outfit for the day.

Getting to know Shini Park seems easy. She gripes about school. And about TV (“I find myself frequently hurling PG13 insults at the slow-running storyline and end up skipping a few episodes in the middle”). She shares her clothes (well, kind of. Check out her DIY instructionals and foolproof guide to shopping on G. Market). In fact, these all seem pretty darn ordinary. Only, of course, with 2,500 hits daily, Park & Cube is anything but. Paradoxically, what gives Shini an edge over her cooler-than-thou counterparts is the fact that she – in her typically self-deprecating fashion – doesn’t seem to think that she is very cool at all. “I thought I had an…original style when I was in Poland, but when I… got to mingle with all these artyfarty types [I] realised I looked like something plucked out of the set of ‘Little House on the Prairie’, or like a door-to-door dictionary salesman.” And sometimes, it seems, she can’t help but stand out – the idea of patent-yellow Chloe booties may leave most Poles unfazed, but the petite Asian clomping around in them, on the other hand, hardly registers as a typical sighting. “I still get stared at in the streets of Warsaw,” Shini admits, “and not because of what I wear. I do know that I’m a weird fusion dish, a dish you’d hesitate to order at a restaurant and, once you do, [either] love…or absolutely hate it.” For now, it seems, the votes are unanimously in favour of the former, and, to Shini, it’s a win-win situation. She agrees that “the fact that I have an Asian face will draw Asian readers’ interests,” but feels that growing up in Poland has also made it easier for readers from the West to relate “to how I appear to think and understand the world.”

One of Shini’s many DIY tutorials.

Breaking down the basics - a regular Zara cardigan that doubles up as a skirt.

While we’re on the subject of Shini’s sartorial inclinations prior to her stint at Central Saint Martins (where she is majoring in graphic design), let’s steer this hypothetical phone conversation back to its original tack for a bit. “What do I wear?” is a good starter, mostly because it pays to have a best friend who’d tell you exactly why or why not you ought to buy something. (Even if the reason is something along the lines of, “That sweater makes you look like a sperm whale,” you could still laugh about it afterward.) Instead of sporting achingly hip accoutrements from head to heel, a move which almost always borders on costume rather than comfort, Shini is more selective with her trendspotting. While she certainly has a knack for identifying the season’s most coveted looks (animal rings, it seems, and bejeweled neckpieces), her current aesthetic still manages to retain a stylish pragmatism. “Just because you’re a fashion Blogger, people think that you must be on par…with the current trends and high fashion - and they’ll soon refer to you as the ‘fashion expert’. A fashion Blogger can know no more than the ordinary woman.” Shini is quick to emphasize that it is one’s individuality as a discerning consumer, and “not a study of the history of fashion” that “gives a voice to the clothes that someone wears or shows interest in.” As a result, her personal snapshots often feature creative variations on well-cut blazers, a lot of knits (for countering London’s blustery weather), and wedge-heeled booties which lets her “breathe the 5’8 air” from her usual “5’5(?)” height. These are then accented with big dollops of color – yellow is a favorite – or weirdly wonderful items from her large collection of DIY projects. She does, however, admit to overdosing on shoe-shopping, specifically from the Korean-based apparel bazaar, G. Market. Oh yeah, you think. I’ve been there. I know what you mean. You reach for another cookie, and read on.

The self-proclaimed “fusion dish” in an East-West medley of G. Market and Christopher Kane for Topshop.

Shooting a feature for the British publication, Company.

When I first encountered Park & Cube – a little belatedly, I regret to admit, in September 2009 - she had already bagged feature space in several reputable Polish publications, such as Piana Magazine. Since then, her work has traversed some 6,000 miles halfway across the globe and straight into the manicured pages of Vogue Girl Korea, and Way Magazine China (January 2010 marks her second appearance in the latter). Bam, fashion Blogger score! The possibilities are endless. Her own column! Make that – her own magazine, and (maybe) a date with Karl? But for Shini, “it marked the moment that my mother stopped thinking of the Blog as a nuisance to my studies and [saw] it as something to be proud of. I believe she still shows the magazine to her regular customers at her shop.” Contrary to popular belief, a glitzy career in fashion is not on the cards for Shini, who counts “settling down at a design agency, and maybe getting married” as more ideal options for the near future. As to the reasons why, she offers yet another culinary analogy - there lies, arguably, an inevitable descent into pure “materialism” when one starts putting “food on my table…with my clothes on back.” As a design student, she harbors some pretty firm principles about the notion of artistic integrity and the age-old adage of ‘staying true’ to one’s craft, which is also why Park & Cube has remained – and will remain - “personal, and in saying that I [also] mean advert-free”. Despite all the razzle-dazzle of the industry and the perks which may have appeared to spill into the bandwidth of its Blogger-ambassadors, Park & Cube, Shini emphasizes, is ultimately a production over which she has full control - and fame a “privilege” that happened to wander onset. “I’ll be keeping at Park & Cube as long as it’s relevant to my lifestyle, in which case even if it becomes irrelevant, I’ll change the contents so it does.” Even if that means a voluntary exile from the luminous terra firma of the fashion world? Absolutely, says Shini.

For now, though, it looks like she’ll be staying put. Writing on the evolution of vintage clothing, Shini muses, “It’s hard to find a one-of-a-kind piece without having to go through piles of clothes that were mass manufactured years ago as a part of trend then…The pieces aren’t necessarily unique or strictly compatible with current trends, but they edge closer to classic and timeless.” Clearly, the fickle whim of public opinion doesn’t seem to faze Shini Park, and why should it? Despite its familiarity, Park & Cube is still very much about the individualist, and it is its unique characterization of the supergirl-next door that would undoubtedly make fans want to keep reading, even after the dubious longevity of the “fashion Blogger” - like most trends - has come and gone.

Park & Cube

Images courtesy of Park & Cube.