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Seoul Fashion Week: A vision of Korean designers’ creative future

Korean culture has spread across the world like wildfire in recent years, with the hugely successful K-pop, K-film and K-beauty sectors attracting insatiable interest. Now, South Korea is looking to take its fashion industry to the next level, too.

Korean culture has spread across the world like wildfire in recent years, with the hugely successful K-pop, K-film and K-beauty sectors attracting insatiable interest. Now, South Korea is looking to take its fashion industry to the next level, too.

The drive is being led by the biannual Seoul Fashion Week (SFW), which, according to the city’s government, aspires to become the “fifth significant fashion week in the world” after the “Big Four” of New York, London, Milan and Paris.

The schedule of events, which concluded Wednesday, spotlighted local talent through a mix of live-streamed runways and some of the first in-person shows since 2019. “Squid Game” star and menswear style icon Lee Jung-jae acted as a “global ambassador,” while four designers debuted their collections in Paris during Paris Fashion Week earlier in the month — part of efforts to attract more international attention and buyers.

Below are some of the key takeaways from the week-long event.

Models walk the runway during rehearsal for the BONBOM show as a part of Seoul Fashion Week 2022 AW on March 18, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. Credit: Justin Shin/Getty Images

The Seoul Museum of Craft Art held in-person shows.

The Seoul Museum of Craft Art held in-person shows. Credit: Justin Shin/Getty Images

C-ZANN E is a brand inspired by minimalism and traditional Korean hanbok. Models wore ornate headpieces down the runway.

C-ZANN E is a brand inspired by minimalism and traditional Korean hanbok. Models wore ornate headpieces down the runway. Credit: Justin Shin/Getty Images

BIG PARK's AW 2022 collection included floral prints inspired by camellia flowers.

BIG PARK’s AW 2022 collection included floral prints inspired by camellia flowers. Credit: BIG PARK

New formats unleash creativity

Due to Covid-19, the majority of brands again showed virtually, filming their Autumn-Winter 2022 creations with varied approaches — some to the point of distraction, and others in ways that felt almost superior to physical runway shows.

Seokwoon Yoon, whose eponymous label’s new collection is informed by “future species, AI robots and extraterrestrial beings” chose the architecturally striking Busan Cinema Center as his backdrop. Models dressed in colorful garments and puffy outerwear stood out among the clean, gray aesthetic of the building’s outdoor seating. Yoon said that while he missed the energy of physical shows, the format allowed him to zero in on certain clothing details.
The film for Busan-based label SEOKWOON YOON 
opened with a model wearing this look, with patterns informed by the juxtaposition of industrial materials and flowers. Yoon said he felt young Korean designers have a lot of potential in the global fashion industry. "They have their own process and ideas."

The film for Busan-based label SEOKWOON YOON
opened with a model wearing this look, with patterns informed by the juxtaposition of industrial materials and flowers. Yoon said he felt young Korean designers have a lot of potential in the global fashion industry. “They have their own process and ideas.”
Credit: Seokwoon Yoon

Elsewhere, emerging label Comspace Not Enof Words’ runway appeared as a retro-style music video with energetic choreography, Hanacha Studio’s show opened with a lilting piano track and moody lighting, driving home the collection’s focus on art and abstraction.
Models dance in COMSPACE NOT ENOF WORDS's Autumn-Winter show.

Models dance in COMSPACE NOT ENOF WORDS’s Autumn-Winter show. Credit: Justin Shin/Getty Images

COMESPACE NOT ENOF WORDS' collection comprised of monochrome looks.

COMESPACE NOT ENOF WORDS’ collection comprised of monochrome looks. Credit: COMSPACE NOT ENOF WORDS

Theories by artists Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint informed HANACHA STUDIO's approach this season.

Theories by artists Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint informed HANACHA STUDIO’s approach this season. Credit: HANACHA STUDIO

Miss Gee Collection was staged in both outdoor and indoor film locations.

Miss Gee Collection was staged in both outdoor and indoor film locations. Credit: Justin Shin/Getty Images

Korean fashion on the global stage

Hyejeong Cho, a director in charge of Seoul Fashion Week, said interest in Korean fashion is growing, and that the city’s government is “actively supporting Korea’s leading designers and brands to enter the European market.” For the first time, four Korean designers including Eenk and Doucan represented SFW at Paris Fashion Week — a time when the world’s most important buyers and influential editors descend on the fashion capital.

DOUCAN showed at Paris' Palais Brongniart.

DOUCAN showed at Paris’ Palais Brongniart. Credit: DOUCAN

Choi said his approach is to make clothing that makes you feel "happy the moment you put them on."

Choi said his approach is to make clothing that makes you feel “happy the moment you put them on.” Credit: DOUCAN

At the historical Palais Brongniart, Doucan wove floral and geometrical tie-dye prints, mainly in the red, blue and white of the Korean flag, into beautiful silhouettes — some curvier, others more structured — in a very wearable collection that paid tribute to Seoul. “Seoul is a city of night,” said the label’s creative director Chung-Hoon Choi. “I wanted to show the splendid yet dynamic energy felt through this collection.”

Eenk, another brand to debut in Paris, presented a collection that drew on 1980s fashion editorials with strong, vintage-inspired pieces that at once evoke glamour and power. “(The brand’s) identity is to seek the balance of classic but unique, familiar but contemporary and novel at the same time,” Eenk designer Hyemee Lee said.

EENK designer Hyemee Lee said the rising popularity of K-culture worldwide has given designers more confidence.

EENK designer Hyemee Lee said the rising popularity of K-culture worldwide has given designers more confidence. Credit: EENK

"More brands in South Korea have their own firm identity now and consumers are also pursuing their own tastes and senses rather than just following the trends. I think it's the beginning of building Seoul's unique story and culture," said Lee.

“More brands in South Korea have their own firm identity now and consumers are also pursuing their own tastes and senses rather than just following the trends. I think it’s the beginning of building Seoul’s unique story and culture,” said Lee. Credit: EENK

Embracing identity, taking risks

Seoul-based brand Painters was one of the labels exhibiting more experimental creations. Founder Won Jeon said young designers often chase hot new trends for their ready-to-wear collections in order to grow businesses. With a focus on couture, Won included sculptural, handmade pieces among the mix of commercially-friendly outfits in his new collection. One of these looks, a voluminous handstitched gown made of black deadstock fabric from the designer’s studio, was worn by a model posing in a steel-like “frame.” Other conceptual works that appeared in the frame reflected a desire “to express how (young designers) can do more,” Won explained.

“I want to put my own culture through my collection,” he explained. “I think it should represent where I live and what I’m working on.”

Painters' Autumn-Winter collection mixes the conceptual with ready-to-wear.

Painters’ Autumn-Winter collection mixes the conceptual with ready-to-wear. Credit: Painters

A model poses in one of Painters' gowns -- this one made entirely of deadstock.

A model poses in one of Painters’ gowns — this one made entirely of deadstock. Credit: Painters

Mina Chung’s ethereal Autumn-Winter 2022 collection meanwhile embraced the east Asian art theory of “Light and Shade,” a concept that, she said, “describes an aesthetic which is a combination of simpleness and fullness.” Soft, flowy fabrics contrasted with structure and pops of color. In one look, a model was seen draped with various fabrics, a silhouette inspired by an ancient Chinese landscape painting.
"The mountains in the painting have bold, energetic lines, which can be translated into a 3D silhouette," said Chung, adding that layering the silhouette with fabrics created more drama.

“The mountains in the painting have bold, energetic lines, which can be translated into a 3D silhouette,” said Chung, adding that layering the silhouette with fabrics created more drama. Credit: MINA CHUNG

"I wanted one part of the collection to be very bold yet simple, and another part to be more direct and eye-catching, more loud," she said.

“I wanted one part of the collection to be very bold yet simple, and another part to be more direct and eye-catching, more loud,” she said. Credit: MINA CHUNG

Chung said that young Korean designers are increasingly searching for what makes them unique at a time when K-fashion is in high demand. “I think that if Korean designers don’t try harder, the little fame we have will disappear very soon and this whole industry will fall back. We need to push ourselves harder to encourage more experimental designs that can represent Korea, and try to make more brands that can (match) the international standard of designer brands.”

Top image captioin: A model poses for Miss Gee Collection.



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