Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
SEOUL, KOREA–“I wish I could find underground designers that I could bring back and be the first to have in the store before everyone else get on board,” said Sara Dovan, a co-owner of the Traffic designer men and women stores in Los Angeles, over breakfast on her last day in Seoul before a night flight home from the city’s Fashion Week. “I’m surprised to see how the younger designers here are so quick to espouse commercial fashion, rather than taking a route–like many of their colleagues in New York or Paris–that champions making creative or even perhaps unsalable clothes,” I added. “But there are a few really good collections here,” Sara responded.
In the fashion capitals of New York, Paris or London, there was a time when young designers rarely began their careers by showing commercial clothes. Well, perhaps they did show a few items for the retail stores. But they experimented with ideas and concepts as they found their own vocabulary. Some were able to establish a small business and grow; others surely failed. But over the last few years, especially during the Great Recession, designers–young and established–have been focusing more energy on making clothes that will positively impact their bottom line rather than creating showy pieces to be photographed in trendy magazines.
In Seoul, the fault line of fashion is the divide between the established designers like Lie Sang Bong and Miss Gee, who showed at the Seoul Collections venue, and the new comers like Jaehwan Lee, Lee YoungLee and Hwang HyeJeong, who showed at Generation Next at the Kring Kumho Culture Complex (known for its façade of circular shapes). While the established designers tend to work within the vocabulary of their brands, the young designers are still searching for their fashion road map.
The strength of the Seoul shows lie in the fact that designers here, both the established and the younger generation, understand that fashion is a business and that clothes well-designed in luxurious fabrics are what consumers want. There’s still a dichotomy between designers feeling the impulse to create a style of quiet luxury with clean silhouettes–thus expanding commercial viability of their brands–versus those exigencies to create a more urban fashion, a sort of contemporary bohemia with sharp cut clothes in innovative fabrics, incorporating elements of music and pop culture from another era to a new generation of consumers.