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

<i>Justin Shin/Getty Images</i><br/>In this image released on March 23
Getty Images
Justin Shin/Getty Images
In this image released on March 23

Stephy Chung, CNN

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. I think it should represent where I live and what I’m working on.”

Mina Chung’s ethereal Autumn-Winter 2022 collection meanwhile embraced the east Asian art concepts of “light and shade,” which she said, “describes an aesthetic which is a combination of simpleness and fullness.” Soft, flowy materials 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.

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 caption: A model poses for Miss Gee Collection.

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