Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
SEOUL, KOREA--"I am in my second year at Seoul Arts College majoring in modeling," says Lee Sang Min, wearing a wool cotton double breasted coat, black and white striped turtleneck sweater, black slim pants and black leather boots. He was waiting in line to get into the CY Choi show in the main hall at Korea Fashion Week with a group of five of his schoolmates. Surprised, as I thought they were just fashion kids rather than college students studying modeling, I asked through my interpreter: “How long is the modeling school program?”
“You can do a two year associate or a four year bachelor’s program,” said Back Min Kyu, who stood nearby wearing a black button down shirt, a white double side button pea coat, black pants, and black leather boots. “Have you come to the shows here before?” “Yes, we came the last time,” replied Choi Min Suk wearing a pair of light sunglasses, grey beret, black double breasted side button coat, grey knitted cardigan, black slim jeans, and black boots.
For many of the young people who flocked to these fashion shows hoping to glimpse next season’s style--or maybe learn a few tricks or two about walking the runway--they, like student Kim Hyun Gyun in a formal white button down shirt, maroon sweater, black double-breasted coat, black slim jeans, black oxford shoes and white athletic socks, mix different styles and moods of clothes in their daily looks. The best fall menswear shows in Seoul this past week reflect that notion of mixture, of adopting one element and juxtaposing it with another.
CY CHOI A series of light bulbs protruding from inside small wooden crates placed unevenly around the square runway--models had to walk carefully around them, peeking through their wool fedoras--was the setting for Choi Chul Yong’s fourth season and his first show, entitled “Inosculations.” “A+B=C” was how Mr. Choi explained his concept of hybrid mixing of silhouettes, fabrics and colors--from a simple wool suit with a jacket that contrasted a slim cut on top with a flare around the waist that started the show, to a black wool coat with a detailed curved cut in the back, to fitted and voluminous coats that combined heavy wool and waterproof cottons, to a grey knit coat with a nylon back. Formal and casual, sport and work, fit and anti-fit, as well as long and short, all mixed together in a collection that offered individual pieces that customers can nicely integrate into their existing wardrobe.
“This is made of fabrics from three countries: the plaid from China, the heavy wool from Japan, and the gingham from Korea,” Choi said while holding a coat at his showroom a few hours after the show. Born in 1972, he studied fine art and fashion design at Hongik University in Seoul, a school specializing in arts, and then went to Domus Academy in Milano. Late in 2009, he launched his brand CY CHOI in Paris, where he sought to merge cultures, art and fashion design to create new ideas and products by fusing different and often contrary elements together.
Groundwave Inspired by the symmetrical robes and pants of Korean Zen Buddhist monks, Kim Sun Ho of Groundwave also used elements of traditional garments to craft a great collection that contrasts long and short silhouettes made of fabrics resembling the seamed lines of the robes worn by the monks I saw the day before when I visited Seoul’s oldest Goygesa and largest Bongeunsa temples. The symmetry of the heather grey monks’ robes transformed into a slightly asymmetrical quilted single-breasted jacket with a slim brown leather belt, worn with a khaki knee length shirt, brown short pants and leather sandals.
There was also a black coat with pieces of padded fabrics on one side and belted with a thin leather strip and short, heavy cotton, black pants; plus a long padded cotton khaki coat worn like a wrapped kashaya robe.
D.GNAK by KANG.D A collaboration with New Balance not only brought a slew of running shoes onto his runway show but allowed Kang Dong Jun of D.GNAK by KANG.D to break the more formal approach to his clothes with street wear sensibilities, like mixing a long gold cable knit coat with a brown wool suit and a brown single-breasted jacket with three lapels--two on one side--paired with a mustard corduroy jumpsuit, navy sweater and blue cotton dress shirt. His classically tailored cuts have raw edged pockets and were worn with blue running shoes.
A graduate of Parsons, the designer has staged presentations at London Fashion Week for the past two seasons, at Tranoï in Paris as well as trade shows in New York since starting his brand in 2006. In the age of global branding, je understands the absolute necessity to take his fashion beyond borders. This fall, he is debuting a special line--D by D--at Urban Outfitters.
General Idea Working with the Italian outdoor clothing brand Nepa, Choi Bum Suk of General Idea combined the idea of military garments with outdoor clothes, transforming the staid wardrobe of mountain climbing into high fashion street wear styles, bringing back to Seoul the same show he did during New York Fashion Week. (Where he has shown his full collection since fall 2009.) Having started his career selling at the Dongdaemun fashion market where he now has a small shop in the Doota building, Mr. Choi is fully aware that street wear, more so than high fashion, demands novelty every season. That means working with different people across industries to come up with interesting ideas and products.
With Nepa, Mr. Choi has created a yellow wool hooded parka worn over dark green suits, a green plaid coat with rolled up mountain climbing pants and lace-up suede boots, and a red nylon windbreaker with camouflage long shorts. These essential garments for the casual hiker now surely have street credibility. It’s hard to believe that it might have taken so long for a designer to notice mountain climbing gear, since Seoul is surrounded by mountains. On a late Sunday afternoon the day before his show, I saw people of all ages dressed in hiker garments, each with two portable walking poles sticking out from their backpacks on the orange metro line from Anguk station.
CARUSO In the show notes left on our seats at CARUSO’s show, Chang Kwang Hyo mentioned the 8th century Korean monk Hye Cho, who traveled to India to learn the language and culture of the West and recorded his travel in a memoir called Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India. It was found in the Dunhuang grotto in the early 20th century and is currently on exhibition at the National Museum of Korea.
Mr. Chang sought to portray the modern day Hye Cho, the people who today travel to different parts of the world and absorb different cultures into their own lifestyle. Looks included a cropped black suit with long gauze shirt and black leather heels, as well as a mustard coat-jacket belted at the waist and worn with black pants plus the obligatory plain leather high heel boots.
129 35 Atelier “Boundaries between This and That” was how Jung Yoenje, one of the eight young designers of the cooperative 129 35 Atelier who designed the three piece looks--a high turtleneck leather jacket with one attached glove, a long shirt and boxer cotton pants--explained the concept behind their year old store in Busan, the second largest city in the south. “We met while we were at a fashion event two years ago and decided we all have something in common, and then we opened a store in Busan last year. Each of us make several items for the store,” said Shin Jegal, who make his clothes--a black nylon wool jacket with detachable elbow covers worn with a short-pant combo--under the name of Synopsis. The crux of their project is that each designer creates his or her own small selection of clothes. Clothes that they would wear and sell at their store regardless of seasonal trends. “We will add on more designers in the next season,” Kim Dongwan of La Mer Ma Maison told me.
“Some of the prints came from a painting I was working on,” Song Zio pointed to several large canvas of black and white line paintings on the corner of his office in a high rise tower when I visited him the next afternoon. “My collection is about aspirations and about the journey that every young man takes to achieve his dreams,” he explained how his clothes transcend the East/West cultural differences.
In a collection that played on the contrasts of volumes and lines, bulk and fit and lengths-- fluid loose black coats, high one-button lean gabardine suits with shawl collars, and loose pants--the designer demonstrates his masterful command of skills, cutting his clothes to the precision so that they are infused with the fluidity of Eastern lyricism. A black wool single-breasted jacket has a double thin lapel underneath the lapel-less front, giving a sculptural shape when closed from the inside. Outstanding is the charcoal hand knit long sweater that huggs the contour of the body. Song Zio started his menswear in 1999 and has been showing his collection in Paris since 2007.
“What are your favorite shows for men?” I asked one of the students I had spoken to the day before. “Song Zio for sure because of its masculinity and manliness,’ said Cha Do Ri, with his Mohawk hair and wearing a black side buttoning coat, grey long t-shirt , black slim jeans, leather lace up boots and a leather handbag strapped to his shoulders.
“Definitely General Idea and Song Zio. It’s a mixed of vintage and classic reworked,” said Kim Yang Hoon who was wearing a black tailored jacket-coat, a black boat neck t-shirt, a brown leather belt, dark blue slim jeans, and black leather boots.
“What about you? Who would you wear?” I asked Lee Ji Hoon, who was in a blue wool jacket, a brownish red sweater, a brown and light blue plaid button down shirt, black slim pants, khaki Timberland boots, and a black leather messenger bag. “General Idea of course. It’s neat and slim fit.”
“What did you order?” I asked Michael Dovan from the Traffic store in Los Angeles. “We are looking at three lines, including CY Choi. We have an appointment to see what prices the goods will be.” Prices seemed to be an obstacle to sell these collections abroad, as they have to compete with the other international designer collections, at least at the retail level where they should hang together. “The profiles of the designers here have to be raised on par with other international designer so that the prices can be comparable,” I said. The designers who have invested in taking their collections abroad to Paris or New York--like Song Zio, Choi Bum Suk of General Idea, and Juun.J--have benefited from the exposure to fashion on an international level where they have to compete with other designer brands small or large. Maybe that’s why all the modeling students only mentioned their brands when I asked them about their favorite collections this week.
“Sales of Juun.J and Song Zio have increased a great deal over the past year since they have done their fashion show in Paris,” said Imad Fradj from the MC2 showroom in Paris one morning over breakfast of oyster noodles and beef mushroom soup. Mr. Fradj has represented both collections since their arrival to Paris: “It makes a huge difference to get people familiar with your name and your collection and this does not happen overnight.” Raising these designers’ profiles abroad is a long-term commitment for the few collections that can actually compete in the global arena.