Seoul Fashion Week
K-Pop. K-Drama. BB Cream. These are just a few of the biggest cultural exports influencing the world and its consumers, and they are all coming out of Korea. Even the big beauty behemoths are setting up R&D labs in Korea to take advantage of the influential shifts and experiments that the Korean customer initiates.
The same is true of their fashion – visiting their own multi-brand boutiques, shops like RareMarket, Boon the Shop and Space Mui, one can't help but feel that perhaps the most fashion-brave and forward-thinking buyers and customers live in Korea. Each shop had some of the gutsiest buys from the international collections – the kind of clothes you would never see in Bergdorfs or Selfridges because they'd be deemed "too fashion" and only for the die-hard. But here they were, beautifully merchandised and injecting a quiver of excitement that here seemed to be fashion nirvana for those of us who wonder where the clothes we see on the runway end up.
So it was with great curiosity that I wanted to check out Seoul's fashion week and its local talent. I was familiar with the more international labels that show in Milan and Paris such as D. Gnak and Juun J and Woo Young Mi. But having asked the Korean supermodels Irene Kim and Sung-He several times about what they were wearing and always getting local Korean brands scribbled down, this was the perfect opportunity to learn more.
The majority of shows were held in just one venue, the spectacular Zaha Hadid-designed DDP building. A joy to experience, full of beautifully sinuous curves, it felt even more poignant given Hadid's passing just two weeks after the fashion week concluded. Most editors' gripe about London or Paris fashion weeks is the distance one travels to get to shows on the schedule, as they can be far flung from each other. The joy of staying put at the DDP to wait for subsequent shows also meant we got to visit the local restaurants and beauty shops in the gaps in between the schedule. But most importantly, we were able to witness the street style credibility – not only of the Seoul fashionistas, but children too – their style game could arguably trump any starlet.
As Seoul fashion week continues to gain momentum and international eyeballs, I hereby present my personal highlights from my time in Seoul.
One of the first shows I attended, it was to start a trend of showing both men’s and women’s collections mixed together in the runway – something the larger brands like Burberry and Gucci are all about to do in the coming seasons. It was nice to see how one collection catered to both in a seamless, cohesive way. With Ordinary People, there was a collection full of pieces I wanted to have immediately – a great colour palette treated on the classics like a salmon-pink trench coat, terracotta wide-leg trousers and a heavy but beautifully cut khaki-green jacket. Dashes of leopard print were found on oversized winter coats, but I really loved the silk pyjama-suiting, perfectly tailored with just a little white outline defining its contours that will make a great update to my closet.
This was a show all about the details. Sure the clothes were super wearable classics with a twist, but what was most impressive was the attention to the smallest detail to convey its concept – "Hotel Nohant". On our seats were our hotel keys (also acting as USB keys with the press release), show notes as hotel stationery, an after-party ticket as room service menu – bell boys and a DJ booth at the heart of the runway that surely was the entry-way to the funnest hotel I'd ever have the pleasure of checking into. Overall, a great concept beautifully executed with fun clothes to match.
Upcycling denim is all the rage nowadays given Vetements' runaway jeans success; Kiok's focus on denim was not so much upcycled as much as re-imagined, with thick lacing, plaid inserts and undone, stapled sections falling off the shoulders. The 90s reared its recent-head again in this collection, with more than one nod to grunge. My highlight from the collection? I loved the styling touch of a long, curled ribbon scarf that acted like a neck muff at times in soft colours – a lovely accessorising trick that finished the collection perfectly.
This menswear collection made me wish I could fit a male silhouette; a three-piece double-breasted suit in khaki green (and grey) with a straight leg trouser silhouette jumped out at me as great tailoring, but these were clothes I can see the Korean pop-stars and young, K-Drama soap-hotties wearing to make a country of girls fall in love. Sharp, chic and elegant, the designer's use of rich colours like taupe, silky browns and cool greys hit on many of the shades I want to be wearing for Fall, and admittedly if I could wear the whole collection, I would.
A show that makes you smile and clap and laugh is a clear winner for me. Kwon's playful show featured a gaggle of "fans" – young actors sitting at the head of the runway with balloons, screams and a cheerful attitude. It also meant the male models swaggered with more confidence and cheekiness, and the whole effect meant the collection was one you wanted to wear in nostalgia of that positive feeling. On my list – the Oppa sweater (meaning "brother", a refrain I remember from all my K-drama watching with my Mom), as knits are one of Kwon's strong suits.
Moving from the Milan calendar these past few seasons, designer Kang Dong Jun has created a very successful international business selling everywhere but his home country, in fact. So coming home to show in Seoul is a big deal, and Seoul's calendar is better for it. It also allows D. Gnak to show off its quality prowess, as these runway clothes were cut to perfection and made beautifully, something you could tell even metres away from the actual pieces coming down the runway. And instead of his typical black and white colour palette, this Fall sees bright colour and print injections that were surprising to see but artful in his hands. The subtle nod to traditional Korean royal wardrobing created pieces that could only come from Kang Dong Jun but will hopefully be worn by a guy in London who loves its colour, embroidery and craft.