As the former assistant of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Aimee Cho knows firsthand that life is what you make of it. The former Vogue writer and current fashion designer began her career working in television and print, but soon after, decided to start her own company, Gryphon, which creates cult-favorite trench coats that have wrapped around celebrities like Halle Berry and Beyonce.
Out of college, Cho applied to a number of publishing houses and received an offer from Condé Nast to work as the personal assistant of Anna Wintour. “There really was no other opportunity that I could have had for a first-row seat to seeing someone who’s the best at what she does do what she does everyday,” said Cho. “I wanted to be a writer at a world-class, top-notch magazine and work for people who I thought were smarter and more accomplished than me, who I could learn from. Vogue and Anna were definitely that.”
Then the idea for Gryphon came from a brainstorming conversation Cho had with a Vogue co-worker while they were working on a story about the essential building blocks of a modern woman’s wardrobe. The staples that had came up in their conversation—the perfectly tailored pant suit, great city coat, cashmere sweater, t-shirt—all were sold at different prices from hundreds of sources. Except for trench coats.
“At the time, I thought that there was this classic piece of iconic clothing that every woman looks good in and every woman should own, but there really isn’t one go-to resource that you know you’ll find your great trench coat from,” said Cho. “I thought that, at a slightly lower price line, there was room in the market for someone to be offering trench coats in different ways.”
Beyond the fashion demand, Cho is also inspired by real woman. She thinks about what is practical, what women want to wear, and how to connect to them. “I think that women shop and women buy things because they emotionally respond to them. There’s a reason why you like something—whether it’s the color, the shape or the texture, something about it, makes you respond to it and makes you want to wear it,” said Cho. “I do always try to make clothes that I feel like women will respond to emotionally to, at least. I think that clothes should have souls.”
Having worked in both the fashion and garment industries, Cho believes that the garment industry is one of the most difficult to work in. To aspiring fashion designers and fashion writers, Cho advises doing your research and doing it well.
“I think that it does a disservice to students in design schools who focus purely on design for design sake; I think a lot of real-world lessons could help a lot,” says Cho. “Ultimately it is about the product and about the design, but there’s so much more to it than that. It requires a business mind and a practical mind—not just a creative mind—that I think that schools don’t necessarily prepare students for.”
That’s not to say school isn’t important; what Cho learned in college has certainly shaped her career, even if she didn’t study fashion. “I am a strong believer in education influencing your life in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily predict,” says Cho, who studied religion in college. “What Brown University taught me was to challenge myself and think analytically and critically to really look at opportunities from many different perspectives.”
With her success at Gryphon, Cho joins a host of other Asian American designers who are taking the fashion industry by storm. She encourages young, creative people to pursue their passions, and cites her parents’ encouragement as one of the reasons she’s been able to pursue her dreams.
“I think fashion is one of those industries where you can really see so many successful role models for young Asian Americans and from all walks of life—males and females,” said Cho. “I think that’s an amazing thing; I can’t think of any other industry that is so visual and visible in which there are so many Asian Americans doing great things.”
Photo Header: Kevin Sturman