SEOUL — During Seoul Fashion Week, the city was abuzz — and with lots more than just fashion.
As the biannual event kicked off at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Dongdaemun, the historical garment manufacturing and wholesale clothing district in the nation’s capital, the city also saw visits by a slew of celebrities and dignitaries. They included Bella Hadid, who came to attend the Seoul leg of Dior’s Art of Color exhibition; rapper Tyler, the Creator, who was in town for the launch of his latest Golf le Fleur and Converse capsule collaboration, and Hillary Clinton, who criticized President Trump’s aggressive stance against North Korea in a speech during the 18th World Knowledge Forum at Jangchung Arena near Dongdaemun.
But back at fashion week, the event was in a world of its own as K-pop stars, local fashion followers, press and buyers filled the trade shows, main show venue and the event’s Generation Next halls, which featured the collections of up-and-coming designers.
Local celebrities attended many events, including Hyoyeon from Girls’ Generation, Key from boy band Shinee, actress Park Si-yeon, singer Geummi from girl group Crayon Pop, and others.
On the street style scene, Nineties K-pop-meets-street-style looks mixing plaid shirts, tinted sunglasses and baggy pants invoked nostalgia for a bygone era, while an assortment of punk looks ranging from David Bowie to tattooed skinhead summed up the emergence of what some view as a new “K-punk” movement.
While streetwear has been the dominant trend in South Korea over the past few years, this season also saw a resurgence of refined tailored looks, albeit done up in a reconstructed, often more casual way. Women’s wear brand Bourie presented a series of whimsically elegant dresses and blazers that highlighted hourglass silhouettes — a major departure from the boxy or flowing shapes that have dominated the runways over the past seasons.
Veteran men’s wear designer Caruso by Chang Kwang Hyo celebrated the brand’s 30th anniversary with signature classic suits featuring dramatically two-tone peak lapel jackets and brightly colored oversize pageboy caps.
Women’s wear brands FleaMadonna and The Centaur also presented their own versions of tailoring with collared button-up dresses and oversize blazers — a major women’s staple in South Korea.
“We’ve been showing a lot of streetwear and casualwear over past seasons, so maybe they’re turning back to tailored looks,” Seoul Fashion Week executive director and organizer Kuho Jung said about this season’s trends. “This season, 80 percent of our young designers at the Generation Next shows are doing formalwear….For me, it’s a very good sign.”
The Studio K’s high-energy event came with its own augmented reality app, which allowed viewers to watch the show on their phones with animated settings including a pool complete with giant pixelated flamingos and swimmers. It also featured a live performance by K-pop band N.Flying.
“I had three conceptual themes throughout this show,” said Studio K designer Hong Hyejin. “One was of classrooms with halls, one was a pool party, and one was a tennis court — all scenes that bring you back to memories from youth. I wanted to bring audiences back, to connect them via technology [the app] and present it as my show.”
The collection itself was both tailored and sporty in a preppy college way, featuring block colors in soft pink, black and white, and light blue.
Despite of the comeback of tailoring, K-pop-inspired streetwear was an enduring trend at several major shows.
A variety of 41 brightly colored oversize street style and ath-leisure looks were showcased by unisex brand Supercomma B, while celebrities including K-pop star Taemin, and veteran actress and singer Uhm Jung-hwa, who designer Lee Bo-hyun calls “Korea’s own Kylie Minogue,” walked the runway.
Asked about all the 41 different “personalities” and looks, Lee said the concept was about individuality and diversity. “Even though young Koreans really want to live their
own lives [without societal pressure], compared with places like Europe, we still tend to conform to certain identities. For example, we follow K-pop stars and copy their every look,” she said. “In Europe and other countries, young people are truly free compared with us [here]. I was inspired by that while traveling.”
“Gender fluid” men’s wear brand Blindness was cited by many as the most anticipated show during the week. Set against the music of Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die,” floppy hats and other headwear, including pearl-embellished SARS masks and mesh face masks, obscured models’ faces, while they walked in a variety of oversize coats, long dresses, skirts and frilly, ruffle tops. Even with all the media attention Blindness has received abroad, the married design team behind the brand, Park Ji-sun and Shin Kyu-yong, say they still have trouble establishing themselves in their native South Korea.
“We are doing well in Hong Kong, China, Japan right now. Everywhere except for Korea. Korean shops don’t want Korean designers,” explained Park, adding that many Koreans covet international brands over local designers. “We’re hoping that if we become more famous in the future, we’ll sell better in Korea in the future.”
Other Korean brands like Lee Bo-hyun from Supercomma B say China is a difficult market with ongoing political tensions due to that country’s objection over the deployment of South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system.
“Lots of Chinese tourists are not coming to Seoul these days, so duty-free sales and department stores are not doing well,” she said. “Supercomma B has been affected, but we only export to IT China, and then Harvey Nichols Hong Kong, and then Indonesia. We are focusing more on domestic sales so we haven’t been affected as much.”
“We doubled the number of buyers this season,” Jung said. “We invited more than 300. Sixty of them are from the European and U.S. market, and the rest of the buyers are local from all over. We were worried about THAAD, but the numbers still didn’t decrease with Chinese buyers this year. THAAD is not between us [Korea] and China, it’s between China and the U.S. and we are in the middle of it.”
Jung said it was the very near North Korean nuclear threat that had a greater impact on the number of buyers. “There were a few very important buyers who didn’t come because they were afraid of [North Korean] missiles,” he said. “When you see the news all over the world, it’s about war. But we are still alive, the economy is still functioning, it’s not as dangerous as they think.”
Attending buyers including Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-a-porter, who said South Korea continues to have a lot to offer global markets. “I think there are a lot of eyes on Korea and what it’s doing from a fashion perspective, what it’s doing from a cultural perspective, and so I think if you can export that, and do well — that’s amazing,” she said. “I’d encourage brands to focus on honing their DNA, doing a tighter edit of the collection itself. I want to know more about what your brand [identity] is, and I think with a tighter edit you can convey that in a much stronger way.”