6 korean brands to know from seoul fashion week

From newcomers like LLEE to classics like Demoo, here's the standout names from SS20.

by Ryan White
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22 October 2019, 8:49pm

There’s an unfortunate dichotomy to finding success at one of the global fashion weeks outside the big four. With a strong show comes acclaim amongst international buyers and press, and so follows the alluring invitation of a showroom in Paris or a slot elsewhere, instead of remaining on the local fashion week schedule. The greater spread of stockists certainly means the brand is disseminated further and wider, but back home the fashion week schedules can find themselves in need of constant reinvention.

Seoul Fashion Week is very much caught in this paradox. Some of South Korea’s biggest names, to a global audience at least -- Blindness, Ader Error, Low Classic -- are nowhere to be seen on the schedule for SS20. Looking to follow in the footsteps of New York, London, Milan and Paris, Seoul has built an impressively big conversation around itself over the past few seasons by introducing some of these brands onto the global fashion industry’s radar. But without enough staple brands returning to its schedule season after season, an internationally-renowned fashion week can be hard to maintain.

However, across a varied and dynamic six day-long schedule, you couldn’t accuse Seoul Fashion Week of not traversing a multitude of iterations of South Korean style. From high to low, young to old, smart to street. In fact, such is the diversity of its designers and their shows, at points the schedule feels a little bit like, on the contrary, an outright refusal to be defined by a handful of its better-known names. Yes, a few passing trends could be distilled from watching all of its 30 plus shows -- the silhouettes and references of certain brands certainly present -- but what felt most noticeable was the total eclecticism and variety of its offering.

To hold Seoul accountable for the current problem, rather than our Paris-centric system, is unfair. In order to see impeccable street style reflected on the catwalks, a framework needs to exist in which local designers can prosper across the world without leaving their home countries. After all, a cursory glance around the area of its venue -- the sprawling, futuristic Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza -- confirms just how much South Korean style is in a league of its own; heads and shoulders above the big fashion cities. Defined right now by louche, relaxed tailoring, thick-soled designer sneakers and eclectic, elaborate eyewear -- on men and women -- the biggest trend is simply authenticity and an impossibly high attention to detail (plus in some cases, near-perfect outfit coordination). This phenomenon, combined with the explosion in popularity of its two biggest cultural outputs, K-pop and K-beauty, gives Seoul Fashion Week its edge; the energy and promise of something on the cusp of global domination.

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Kye
If the presence of K-pop stars on the front row is a mark of brand’s success, Kye was certainly a show to take note of. Perhaps the biggest name outside of South Korea on the SS20 schedule, Kye was launched in 2011 and has since become a staple, as well as showing in New York. Founded by Korean-American Kathleen Kye, a graduate of Central Saint Martins, Kye has since been spotted on the likes of Rihanna, Kourtney Kardashian and CL. A blend of high fashion and casual, bright colours and distressed materials, it exemplifies the mix of references on the streets of Seoul. For SS20, Kye mixed neon hoodies, corset-cinched waists, leopard prints, ripped denim and cowboy hats. If you’re looking for high-end streetwear favoured by K-pop stars, look no further.

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LLEE
Showing for the first time on the Seoul Fashion Week schedule, LLEE is very new to the scene. But the designs have the confidence of a brand comfortable with what it's doing. Opening with tailoring of slight Balenciaga proportions, LLEE’s broad-shouldered suiting mirrored that of many of the street style stars outside. Following up a few looks later with slinky soft Sies Marjan-esque formalwear and a lilac two-piece that looked as though it’d be as comfortable in the bedroom as much as out on the town. The overall collection felt sharp but relaxed and wearable. Perfect Seoul attire.

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Münn
You might recognise the name Münn from London Fashion Week Men’s SS20. Showing as part of an exchange between Seoul and the British Fashion Council -- we swapped out Cottweiler for a season -- it turned heads at 180 The Strand in June. The creative director behind Münn, Hyun-min Han, graduated from Samsung Art and Design Institute and worked at Paris-based Korean brand Wooyoungmi before founding his label brand in 2013. Spotted numerous times on the pages of Vogue Korea, Münn has a “goal of minimalism and emotional honesty”, which manifests itself in modern, unfussy and versatile pieces. For SS20, Münn had a touch of modern armour. Elements of deconstructed tailoring met athleisure-esque cycle shorts, military vests and trousers made of netting. The colour-scheme was largely black with touches of neon pink, green and purple.

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Chance Chance
Launched in 2013 by Chan Kim, menswear brand Chance Chance has been sported on the holy grail of Korean influencers: BTS. For SS20 the brand presented a menswear collection full of subtle peach, lime and ochre two- and three-pieces. Elsewhere, gingham-print waistcoat and trousers, baggy, high-waisted trousers and oversized overcoats gave the collection a dandyish, almost Charles Jeffrey-esque feel, while leather-print trousers, sequinned jackets and sunglasses gave it moments of rock'n'roll.

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Demoo
Launched in 1988, at the beginning of Korea’s “modern avant-garde” era, Demoo Park Choon-moo’s eponymous brand is one of the oldest on the schedule, yet one of the most futuristic. Famed for its monochrome palette, minimalism and maturity, Demoo has shown across the world but remains a staple of the Seoul Fashion Week schedule too. For SS20, Gangnam met Calabasas. There was a Yeezy vibe about the sheer tops and capes over high-waisted lycra leggings and shorts. According to The Korea Times, in the 90s the trendy affluent neighbourhood of Apgujeong in Seoul was “crowded with people wearing striking all-black outfits from the collection of designer Park Choon-moo” and has since “established itself as iconic classic style”. Find it stocked in many boutiques across the world.

RE;CODE
Certainly the brand most concerned with sustainability, for SS20 RE;CODE took guests away from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and to their showroom, to talk through their approach to upcycling. Upon entering the showroom, the first rail guests were presented with was a long line of generic blue men’s suits, all of which will soon be completely deconstructed and reimagined into their own unique pieces. Using fabrics from textile group Kolon Industries FnC, where designer and founder Han Kyung-Ae is vice-president, RE;CODE does more than just make passing reference to sustainability. Everything is crafted into something new. Trousers are turned into dresses. A mixture of garments become one single piece. More than just a label, Re;code provides employment to North Korean asylum seekers, to ensure it isn’t simply the customer and the environment that benefit from their holistic approach to production.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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South Korea
SEOUL
K-Pop