Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
SEOUL, KOREA-- “The weather is pretty weird today,” said a guy in front of me to his friend while we were waiting to enter the MVIO show on the first day at Seoul Fashion Week. He was right--it was nearly 74 degrees and sunny on a Friday morning late in October. I was told that it has been a strange year for weather in Seoul, as it had been in most of the world. But this conversation wasn't meager chitchat. What the man was really concerned about, according to my interpreter/fashion student Etty Kim, was that he had on the right clothes.
Dressed in a red plaid single-breasted jacket, blue chambray shirt, light grey slim jeans, and red leather boots, the Seoul Arts University student had scored tickets to fashion week through his school. One of his friends wore a black leather bomber jacket and black crew neck t-shirt. The other had on a faded jean jacket, black shirt, black sweatshirt tied around the waist, black jeans, a black fedora and purple leather boots. The styles on display were precise and subtle without any overt statements. There was a prevailing sense of personal style and individuality that seemed to override any requisite for trends. In fact, I noticed the same prevailing sense of individual style among the late night revelers who packed the streets, nightclubs and bars in the Jeonju University and Seoul University districts and around the shopping areas.
Held at SETEC--the Seoul trade and convention center near the underground Coex Mall--Seoul Fashion Week is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. What started with 12 designers coming together to show at Central City Millenium Hall in October 2000 has now spawned an entire week of shows featuring more than 55 runways in conjunction with a trade fair for buyers. The first two days of Seoul collections were devoted solely to menswear shows, something that even Fashion Week in New York currently lacks.
Like what I saw on the streets, there’s a pervasive individuality common in each of these men’s designer shows. Overall, the men’s shows were quite strong and inventive--I would say there’s a mood here similar to Paris men’s shows a few years back when there were a great deal of energy coming from younger and more experimental designers, as well as from the bigger brands. Each of these young Korean designers seemed focus on their own work rather than being preoccupied with setting trends. That’s a good thing in this age of fast fashion when designer fashion often feels, well, less like designer fashion. (I.e. clothes with a strong point of view.)
The evidence of this individual approach was abound on the Seoul runway shows.
At MVIO, designer Han Sang Hyuk created a classic collection of single-breasted suits in lightweight tropical wool with cropped jackets, and slouchy slim pants. To each suit he added the long vest that protrudes beneath the jackets like an extension of the jacket that serves as pockets over the matching pants. Sleeveless vests, in khaki linen at times replaced jackets as the new summer suit, worn with white shirts and black ties.
At D.GNAK, Kang Dong Jun sliced the sleeves and lapels of his tailored jackets, including a navy single-breasted jacket with the white shirt sleeves. Mr. Kang played with geometry to create a new silhouette for the urban chic. Think sleeveless khaki jackets paired with loose white shirts, untucked to contrast with the slim jacket and flare navy pants.
Song Hye Myung’s five year old label, Dominic’s Way, was the most avant-garde show of the men’s presentation. The designer expanded on her previous season’s studded progressive rock collection by mixing different fabrics--cowhide leathers, cotton, wool, snakeskins--with silhouettes ranging from loose to draped to super skinny. The prominently black collection consisted of trenches, long jackets worn with black jeans, as well as sleeveless bombers with long leather fringed belts and skinny jeans. She mostly used long hair models with fake molars like the devil’s teeth. Two outstanding looks were the sleeveless black wool double-breasted suit with black leather riding boots and the loose black cotton bow long sleeve tunic worn with loose shorts over wool slim pants.
At Resurrection, Lee Ju Young injected functionality into her jackets, which can transform into vests. The designer's super light grey cupro jacket can be folded and stored inside the wearers pant pockets.
Of all the designers showing their collections here--either at the main exhibition hall or at the Generation Next at the Kring Creative Culture Space--designer Wookjun Jung of Juun.J is the most recognized menswear brand on an international level. Shown in Paris since January 2007, Juun.J is known for his meticulous re-working of many men’s wardrobe classics. (Like his transformation of the trench coat for his Fall 2008 collection into a new garment.) At the smaller show space inside the fair where many designers and brands were showing small collections to buyers, Junn.J presented a portion of the collection he had shown in Paris in July. This time, the idea was traveling. In this respect, he combined featherweight fabrics with heavy leathers so the clothes looks liked they were constantly moving, like the white bomber with a light cape attached.
Perhaps less known abroad than Juun.J but pursuing a similar strategy, Song Zio showed in Paris for the first time last July, exporting his more conceptual menswear, altering traditional shapes and juxtaposing different proportions to create a new silhouette. A tan linen jacket with loose lapels is paired with white cotton dropped crotch pants that become leggings below the knees. A white slim single-breasted jacket with loose cotton shorts and short leggings are an example of how, with a little drama and tension, Mr. Song Zio approaches men’s fashion.
Other innovative designs on the runways included the dropped shoulder, navy linen, double-breasted short-suits by Ko Tae Yong’s Beyond Closet; the sleeveless single-breasted sweatshirt jacket with light grey sweatpants by Park Sung Chul’s Line or Circle; the voluminous grey linen, cotton hooded, short sleeve, zippered and belted coat with asymmetrical side draping Kim Sun Ho and Park Jung Eun’s Groundwave; the extra large sleeveless jacket coat and light camel tank and flare shorts by Leigh Sang Hyun’s Leigh; the black rayon cotton tuxedo tee-shirt and white belted shorts by Kim Jae Hwan’s Alani; the long white sleeveless evening tunic tuxedo shirt belted at the waist and worn with slim pants, tucked into black leather knee high boots, by Chang Kwang Hyo’s Caruso.
When I visited the designer Jehee Sheen at his selling space at Kring the day after his show, he explained that all his clothes are made in Korea, a point he emphasized. Many of the stores that buys the clothes appreciate the quality of the fabrication. As I pointed to a lightweight tropical wool camel jumpsuit, he told me that fabric was made locally. I did notice that the fabrics on most of the men’s suits were very light. Among the best pieces of his fourth collection are the jackets with shoelaces shown onto the sides to tighten the silhouette and the lightweight knee length coats.
There's no doubting that, in the next few seasons, these talented Korean menswear designers will export their collections overseas in a broader manner than they do now. There are plenty of reasons why the clothes shown here can resonate in other fashion capitals. While some have tried to raise their profile showing abroad--like Che Bum Suk’s General Idea at New York Fashion Week--the notion of emigrating is less urgent now that Seoul Fashion Week is growing into its second decade.
As I took the large staircase to the second floor at Kring, I noticed a new group of young people gathered to enter the next show. As I looked around, there was a pervasive sense that fashion isn’t born in the head here--it’s not an intellectual process and it doesn’t look like many people put too much thought into their outfits. Rather, their fashion stems from the heart--people seemed to have a natural gift for finding their own style. The young men who stood in line before me demonstrated that many diverse styles of dressing can coalesce in one group.
In Seoul, students and young professionals are incredibly stylish and unique, but they are certainly not trendy.