Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt
SEOUL--I didn’t know anything about Gayo or K-pop and their ancillary subcultures of style among young adults until two years ago. Singers like Jonghyun of the band Shinee, who is fond of adding punk rocks elements to his wardrobe on or offstage, are style icons and command huge followings. Many of the designers who showed at Seoul Fashion Week dress these pop stars, hoping to connect with a young generation obsessed with the smallest details of their idols’ fashion and hairstyle.
Male K-pop stars are objects of desire; in a way, they are more sexualized than women here. To wit, images of men selling products on billboards outnumbered women. On a visit to one of the pack of cosmetics stores in the shopping district Myeongdong, I found at least over 55 different types of hair gel products. At all these stores, pop stars like 2PM singer Nichkhun and singers Yunho, Changmin, Jaejong, Yoochun and Junsu of TVQX dominated the storefront displays.
"Korean pop-stars Big-Bang and 2NE1 have the ability to capture young people's wanting for individuality," male supermodel Kim Won Jung told me at a fitting for the G.I.L. Homme show. "They wear wild and crazy costumes that are impossible for people in real life to even imitate...they practically made Jeremy Scott for Adidas popular here."
In his review of 13-member K-pop band Super Junior's show at MSG, Times writer Jon Caramanica described K-Pop as "an environment of relentless newness, both in participants and in style.” Perhaps there is a correlation between the diversity in style at the men’s shows--more so than the women’s--and the ubiquity of male pop stars as the arbiters of style for the fashion consumer.
Click through for highlights, reflections and reviews from Seoul men's fashion week.
The Standout Mens Shows
Jehen Sheen is one of the few designers who prefers an intellectual approach to his presentations; this season his show was grounded in the serenity of Buddhism. You could hear the sound of the white round pebbles that comprised the runway, grinding against each other as the models stepped on them with leather open-toe lace up boots. To complete the look, a cotton cape shirt-jacket and charcoal linen pants. Han Sang Hyuk of MVIO incorporated sports elements in his Plasticman show. A fuchsia rubber tank was worn under a white double-breasted suit, topped off with a with plastic mask. When the actor Cha Seungwon opened the Songzio show in a ankle-length lean linen double-breasted coat and cuffed linen pants, he set the tones for Mr Songzio’s signature high-tech tailoring coupled with a romanticism of a bygone era.
And like their pop stars counterparts these men’s designers have also found a new export market: Japan, China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Many of the pop acts are releasing albums in Japanese and are now big in Japan as well. “Asia is now a biggest markets for these designers much more so than Europe because of the economic situations,” said Benoit Jutel of MC2 showroom, who represents Ji Choi, Cy Choi, Juun J, SongZio and Wooyoungmi worldwide. “There are fewer and fewer stores in Europe except for the big marquee stores."
Many of the designers who showed in Seoul have dispensed with the need to set trends. Instead, they are apt to work with their own vision. Choi Bum Suk incorporated casual street-wear and relaxed elegance into his ‘Boy on the Beach’ show; he paired a bright orange double-breasted jacket with matching beach shorts and showed various street style parkas in green and electric blues. Inspired by David Lynch’s Elephant Man, Laykuni of Unbound Awe stretched the proportion of his clothes; there was a white loose coat with lengthened sleeves and a grey collarless shirt-jacket with flared shorts. Lee Juyoung of Resurrection softened her affinity for hard rock-n-roll looks with looser fits and a mixture of fabrics. I liked Cy Choi’s inventive outwear jackets and coats with dyed trims, Beyond Closet’s blue collarless trenches, and Alani’s navy double-breasted patched pockets shorts suit.
“The collection is based on looking at an old photo album of my family," designer Seo Eun Gil told me at his showroom. "My father is now 85 years old and he has witnessed the history of modern Korea. I wanted to portray my father’s youthful days [in this collection].”
“I made a print of this photo on some of the tee-shirts,” he said, pointing to a group family picture now imprinted on a sweatshirt for his 13th collection.
“Men’s fashion has changed a great deal since I started in 1987,” said Chang Kwang Hyo of Caruso over rice cakes and corn tea at his studio. “There was not a great deal of focus here on designer men’s fashion then--clothes were more casual."
"I showed in Paris many times in the mid 1990’s but have since decided to concentrate on selling and expanding the business here," Kwang Hyo continued. "Nowadays, men are into buying both casual and more design driven clothes.” I examined a brown loose fitting cotton linen suit with knee length shorts and a leopard tank on a rack nearby, each look numbered for the show.
"Do you think young men are influenced by pop stars?" I asked. “Certainly more from music stars than actors but I think they incorporate what they see into their own wardrobe," Kwang Hyo said.
“This is the introduction of the Vandalist Collection which is more fashion forward and about two times more expensive than Vandalist which has more casual items,” designer Vandal told me. His collection, he said, was inspired by Franz Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist.’ "I wanted to do a more conceptual but wearable collection,” he said, holding up a long-sleeved tee-shirt dress paired with a double layered cropped pants and a wool lapel-less one button jacket.
“Who influences how young people dress?” I asked. “Surely a lot of the pop stars," Vandal said. "Particularly the guys who have a huge following are a big factor. I work with 2PM regularly."