Karl Lagerfeld can always be relied upon to sniff out a global zeitgeist. Last May, the Chanel creative director intuited that South Korea is set to become the destination of choice for luxury fashion; hence his decision to stage the brand’s 2015 Cruise Collection in Seoul.
In under a year, we’re back in the country’s capital city to check out its budding bi-annual fashion week, and much-hyped ‘k-fashion’ offering. And we’re in very good company with top editors and buyers from London, Paris, Milan and New York all making the long haul trip to suss out SFW.
Super-blogger and street style star Susie Bubble is here for her second season: ‘I think Seoul Fashion Week is interesting because there's such a frenetic energy around it. It's not just about the shows, it's the whole package: the designers, the fans, the public participating outside and the front rows full of K-pop stars.'
Though already in its 16th year, Seoul Fashion Week remains relatively unknown outside of in-the-know fashion circles. But tame beginnings aside; it has become a hotbed of promising new design talent. Its turnaround has been pinned to the guidance of new executive director, Kuho Jung—the former creative director of Samsung’s fashion division—who has steered it in a more contemporary direction over the past two seasons.
South Korea is making a strong case to claim the coveted spot as the world’s fifth fashion capital with its six-day feast of future-facing fashion. To keep you ahead of the curve, here's everything you need to know about this up-and-coming fashion capital.
A colossal, silver, spacey-looking building called the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (commonly referred to as DDP) plays host to almost all of the 41 shows that make up Seoul Fashion Week. Designed by the legendary architect, Zaha Hadid (who is of no relation to Bella and Gigi), DDP is the world’s largest nonconforming piece of architecture and the most iconic landmark of the Korean design industry. It is here that the aforementioned Chanel Cruise show took place. As opposed to the pretty but faff-inducing hard copy invitations used at London Fashion Week, show attendees are emailed a jpeg with a unique barcode that is simply scanned supermarket-style to gain entry to each show.
(L-R: South Korean actor and model Lee Soo-Hyuk, G-Dragon of South Korean boy band Bigbang and Lee Chae-Rin (CL) of South Korean girl group 2NE1)
The Front Row
To say that South Korean pop culture is hot right now would be an understatement. ‘K-pop is bigger than Justin Bieber,’ one British buyer who was born in South Korea told me as we observed K-pop starlet CL of Korea’s biggest girl group, 2NE1, causing pandemonium as she arrived on the front row at the Kye show in a flurry of flashing camera bulbs. Alongside Korean music royalty and domestic soap stars, sat a flock of international editors and tastemakers. Alongside Susie Bubble, were Tank magazine’s Caroline Issa, Editor-in-Chief of Dazed & Confused, Isabella Burley and top buyers from Matches, Harrods, Selfridges and Barneys New York making for a trendy assemblage and a true testament to the increasing curiosity around what SFW has to offer.
The Street Style
We’ve already explained the trendy toddler phenomenon at SFW. The next group taking center stage outside the shows are the photographers themselves. Hordes of street style snappers move in mosh pits outside the DDP. Street style is such a big business in Seoul that it spawned a dedicated reality TV show. We recommend you follow @halopeoplekr, @solsolstreet and @wanshiki for an insight into what cool Koreans wear. We should note twinning is big here too, especially for couples, but we’re on the fence about that sort of thing.
The pushBUTTON Catwalk
It’s hard to wrap your head around some of the names at first. Uniquely christened hot tickets include pushBUTTON, Blindness, Sewing Boundaries, Surreal But Nice and Rocket x Lunch. Overall, we fell in love with Kye, a velvet-heavy streetwear label designed by Central Saint Martin’s graduate Kathleen Kye, who also shows in New York and counts Rihanna as a fan. Nohke, one of the more established labels from designer Jung Mi Sun for her impressive tailoring. And the aforementioned pushBUTTON, for its Jean Paul Gaultier-esqe oversized proportions and kitschy illustrations drawn by Korean artist, Nanan.
Jung Ho Yeon
Korea’s answer to Cara Delevingne is red-haired beauty Jung Ho Yeon. The 23 year-old may have came in second on Korea's Next Top Model in 2013, but she was a regular on the SFW catwalk, and is the top bet to cross over to New York and Europe. Add to her sizeable Instagram following (260k and counting) by checking out @hoooooyeony; expect goofy selfies and enviable street style. Rainbow-haired model, Irene Kim, who you might already recognise for her street style stardom, also dominated the catwalk. More commonly found on the front row than the catwalk, the neon-tressed It girl hosts two fashion and beauty television shows in Korea. Find her @ireneisgood.
The Dress Code
If you’re not wearing Vetements you’re not getting in. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but elevated streetwear is the definite look du jour in Seoul, so we’re blaming Demna Gvasalia for the current obsession with hoodies and rainmacs with hefty price tags. The hoodie, Gvasalia recently told the New York Times, is ‘a very complex garment’. If you’re not wearing one, you’d better have a logo emblazoned across whatever you do have on. Ranging from irreverent to profound, making a literal fashion statement is a common thread in Korea, and the plethora of messages printed across bombers, t-shirts and even skirt hemlines is impossible to ignore. The designers are feeding this missive obsession and you’d struggle to find a show that didn’t involve some sartorial script. One of the biggest talking points was the finale of grunge brand Vlades, for which designer Moo Yeol Choi sent his entire troupe of teen-angst models out in hoodies that declared ‘High Fashion is Dead’.
Korea is obsessed with youth-culture. From a show-stopping twerking dance performance at the Kiok show, to models riding the catwalk on hoverboards at Heich Es Heich, there was no shortage of Instagrammable moments. Models smeared their faces with lipstick at Yohanix and swaggered about with bottles of Jay Z’s ‘Ace of Spades’ champagne on a runway trussed up as a private member’s club at Beyond Closet. pushBUTTON's models kept mobile phones tucked into their belts for ease of access should they be overcome by an urge to Snapchat. Talented menswear designer Munsoo Kwon’s collection took inspiration from early 90s Korean boy bands and came complete with a group of screaming ‘fans’.
Seoul designers are very much geared towards the everyday over the avant-garde. It may be the side effect of an inferiority complex to established luxury labels or a savvy selling strategy; instead of trying to compete with mega-brands like Balenciaga or Christopher Kane, they’re aiming to entice a younger customer with their lower-priced, cool-casual clothes. Traditional Korean garments such as the ‘Hambok’ (kimono), ‘Cheogori’ (bolero) and ‘Chima’ (a strapless dress with a full skirt), were replaced by the ubiquitous hoodie, ripped baggy jeans and Stan Smiths.
There are two Seoul outposts of the Milanese concept store, 10 Corso Como, in the trendy Myeongdong and Cheongdam neighborhoods. If the price tags have one too many zeroes for your liking, browsing is free and definitely worth it in this eclectic haven of art, design, fashion and food. For a more affordable, but equally as varied shopping experience, head to the Doosan building (locally known as Doota) that is conveniently (a little too much so in fact) located opposite the DDP, where you’ll find the concessions of many of the on-schedule designers at reasonable price points (think Topshop Unique) and Seoul’s answer to highstreet shopping. Chanel is set to open a Seoul flagship in 2017.
Seoul was a hotbed of fashionable activity off the catwalk too. London’s king of quirky shoes, Nicholas Kirkwood, kicked off SFW with a presentation of his cosmetics collaboration with Hera (the event sponsors). Victoria Beckham rolled into town to launch her latest capsule collection with MyTheresa, pulling in an a-list crowd including Justin O’Shea, whose arrival coincided with the buzzy breaking news of his appointment as the new creative director of Brioni. Russian fashion editor and street style regular, Miroslava Duma stopped off in Seoul after attending a digital start up conference in Tokyo (or so our Insta-stalking would suggest). And fashion royalty, Jean Paul Gaultier, presented a special haute couture fashion show in the DDP (his first in Seoul) to mark the opening of the nomadic exhibition of his career highlights (including that Madonna conical corset).
So there you have it: SFW in a nutshell. The only question that remains is if K-Pop stars really are bigger than Bieber, are K-Fashion brands set to eclipse Balenciaga? Watch this space.
Images: @gillianbrett and Getty