Here are our favorites from Seoul Fashion Week.
Here are our favorites from Seoul Fashion Week.
Text: Liam Hess
It’s safe to say that no international fashion week is quite like Seoul’s. Sitting at the cutting edge of the relentlessly spinning East Asian trend cycle, the biannual showcase of South Korea’s booming fashion industry has something for everyone, whether you’re in the market for show-stopping gowns or cutting-edge streetwear.
Once again based within the awe-inspiring setting of Zaha Hadid’s Dongademun Design Plaza - a futuristic silver colossus known locally as the DDP - 2019’s autumn-winter season saw a refinement of the codes that have come to typify the Seoulite aesthetic. It was only a year ago, after all, that the crowds of street style fanatics gathering outside the DDP were universally decked out in Vetements or Balenciaga. In true Korean style, it seems the city’s inhabitants have already moved on - this time to something altogether more eclectic, thanks to a new crop of ambitious brands out to prove the city has plenty more to offer than just Western trend-chasing, or the flashy, eye-popping visuals of K-pop and K-beauty.
It also marked the full fruition of Seoul Fashion Week’s ongoing designer exchange program with the British Fashion Council. Following debuts by the LVMH Prize-nominated Blindness and PushBUTTON at the men’s and women’s shows in London earlier this year, cult British label Cottweiler became the first to hop over to the Seoul schedule for a season. The designer duo showed their autumn-winter collection to a packed audience in the basement of a DDP car park on Friday night - albeit with a Seoul-inspired twist, thanks to the line-up of Korean models they street cast in the week leading up to the show.
Even with this evolving conversation between Korean fashion and brands from the West, there was plenty of homegrown talent to keep your eye on. Here, we round up the names that set the agenda this season with their future-facing take on Korean style.
It might have been the opening show - debuting bright and early on Wednesday morning - but amid the noise of the Seoul Fashion Week’s packed schedule, designer Minju Kim’s namesake label managed to remain one of the most memorable. Inspired by Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 horror classic Let The Right One In, an eerie tale of a 12-year-old boy who falls in love with a vampire, it had all of the film’s ethereal beauty and subversive bite, marking a newly ambitious chapter for a designer whose talents have grown with every season.
The cutesy, feminine details Kim has become known for were all present - delicate floral embroidery, peter pan collars and smocked tulle - but the real winners were the looks crafted from padded satin, first in white and powder pink, and finally in a deliciously glossy shade of black. Velvet bows were tied into harnesses and laser-cut leather outerwear was punched with gold rings - think Simone Rocha, but with a gothic, lightly fetishistic twist. Having worked her way up slowly from a series of off-site presentations, it felt like Kim’s now fully-realised vision was ready to launch this season, and that patience has been her greatest virtue: this was a smart and sellable collection that placed her firmly on the map as one of Seoul’s most compelling designers.
All eyes were on MOHO this season, whose rapid ascent saw them longlisted for the LVMH Prize earlier this year after having shown just three collections - a world away from Minjukim’s slow-paced rise. With their dark and dangerous design approach - blending runway spectacle with beautifully made wardrobe staples - comparisons to everyone from Rick Owens to Craig Green have seen them stake their claim as one of the city’s most dynamic young brands.
Showing in one of the cavernous central halls of the DDP, a smoke-filled runway served as a suitably post-apocalyptic setting for clothes of jaw-dropping proportions, in a brilliant showcase for the technical wizardry of the label’s designer, Lee Kyu Ho. A highlight was a black velvet bomber woven with black cable ties, springing out of the model’s back like a porcupine, as well as jackets crafted from layers of grey padding that bore more than a passing resemblance to the traditional robes of Korean Buddhist monks. Amid all of the theatrics, however, there were more wearable items too - it’s this savvy balance of avant-garde maximalism and commercial appeal that proves MOHO is in it for the long run.
To get to grips the chopped-and-screwed aesthetic of underground label The Gang, there are worse places to start than the opening look: an otherwise simple A-line mini dress, but here with arm-warmer sleeves cut from puffa material hanging from the shoulders. It’s this mix-and-match, alchemical touch that allows designers Crayon Lee and Coco.J Lee - formerly of buzzy Korean brand Kiok - to transform everyday garments into something both entirely new and entirely desirable. A particular standout were the white denim dresses and bustiers with inside-out corset seams, as well as spliced jeans with the reverse pockets on the front - a perfectly topsy-turvy introduction to The Gang’s design universe.
Also worth noting is the standout model of the week - Lee Ji Hye, better known as simply EZ - who walked The Gang in a sheer pantsuit accompanied by the aforementioned puffa sleeves. Following her debut at Alexander Wang last season, she went on to stomp the runway for everyone from Balenciaga to Miu Miu, but was back on home turf for a select number of shows this week: remember her name (and her peroxide blonde mullet) because come next season, there’s every chance she will be going stratospheric.
Designer Hyun-min Han - who launched his cult label Münn in 2013 after a stint working under the fairy godmother of Korean fashion, Madame Woo of Wooyoungmi - has spent the last five years building a brand known for down-to-earth tailoring crafted from palpably luxurious fabrics. This season, he turned things up a notch, moving away from his staples of wools, tweeds and selvedge denim to a richer, more decadent spectrum of tassels, silks and embroidered lace.
For men, there were an immediately desirable series of chinoiserie silk bomber jackets - a sure-fire hit for any Haider Ackermann fans out there - as well as an eclectic range of outerwear that won’t disappoint his female acolytes, from impeccably-cut suit jackets to floaty pinstripe coats that spoke of Han’s effortless way with tailoring. It might have lacked some of the more theatrical trappings of the other shows this season, but, in its place, it offered something no amount of spectacle can: beautiful, well-made clothes for an impressively broad clientele.
Among all the showboating of Seoul Fashion Week (shows variously included breakdancers, K-pop stars and a performance from Korea’s version of Power Rangers), there’s something to be said for the admirable confidence of the city’s still, small voices. And designer Yoon Chun Ho of YCH embodies this better than anyone, going from strength to strength with his case studies in low-key refinement, offering classically Korean riffs on the architectural shapes of Loewe and Phoebe Philo-era Celine.
This season, he showed his strongest collection yet, stuffed to the brim with desirable pieces from super-chic pleated skirts to cosy woollen capes. Tiered, floaty shirting came in prints inspired by marble intarsia floors, while asymmetric jackets were nipped in at the waist and decorated with oversized mother of pearl buttons - a muted decadence that had much in common with some of the biggest hitters from this season’s European fashion weeks, notably Daniel Lee’s debut at Bottega Veneta. It was a perfect summary of Seoulite style in 2019: clothes for a city with an increasingly global outlook, with a generation of designers that are more than ready to move beyond its clichés.