exclusive: hyein seo unveils an all-conquering girl gang for her lfw debut

Move over M. Bison, it’s time to submit Sagat and capitulate Kazumi Mishima because Hyein Seo unleashes the baddest bosses of any classic video game for autumn/winter 17. Follow Alec McLeish’s lens as we discuss fighting feelings of fear, channelling...

by Steve Salter
20 February 2017, 9:15pm

Following her Best Emerging Designer win at the International Fashion Showcase, the South Korean born designer leaps onto the London Fashion Week stage with a kick-ass debut. Ever since her accomplished graduate collection from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts caught the eye in 2014, Hyein Seo has pushed the boundaries of contemporary urban sportswear, infusing her designs with comic text and slogans, and exploring irreverent counterculture. Whilst fearful of today's turbulent reality of alternative facts and the rise of populism, Hyein looks to the dystopian daydreams of arcades and anime for autumn/winter 17. However, before losing herself in the fantasy characters of Akira, Street Fighter, Tekken and Dragon Girls, Hyein was inspired by the sight of a girl walking to her Jiu-Jitsu class. Her attitude of empowerment and her pristine badge adorned uniform ignited the designer's imagination to create her own, all conquering Final Boss, Amrita.

Who run the world? Dressed in everything from Judo style dresses, silk prints, leather motorbike suits, boiler suits, oversized puffer jackets, hoodies and sweaters whilst balanced with more feminine cuts dresses, oversized tailoring emblazoned with in-house graphic prints, badges and pins, Hyein's girls could rule over us all. Mirroring the strength and grace of her favourite fighter's heel hooks, hadoukens, classic combos and spinning bird kicks, Hyein's twenty incarnations of Amrita didn't pull any punches inside the BFC Presentation space which saw the emerging talent join forces with MACHINE-A and Nike. Styled by Anna Trevelyan, the battle scene of the autumn/winter battle ground was designed by Thomas Petherick and not only introduced Hyein to London but showcased the Nike Air VaporMax, ahead of its launch next month. As her bosses defeat all before them, Hyein invites us deeper into her world.

What was the catalyst for Final Boss? Where did you spot the girl going to her Jiu-Jitsu class?
I saw this little girl in Seoul. Swinging her ponytail, walking bravely in front of me in an interesting outfit. It had embroideries all over it. I had to go and ask her what it is and it was a Jiu-jitsu uniform. That image of her got stuck with me and I started my research from there.

What then drew you to the characters of Street Fighter and Tekken? Did you/do you have particular favourite characters?
My all time favourite is Chun-Li of Street Fighter. But mostly, I wanted to focus on all girl characters that were introduced back in Y2K. I think that's the time when so many great video games were made too.

What was it about the dystopian worlds of Akira, anime and video games that felt so right for now?
I feel doomed with the way this world is going. The dystopian world of Akira, which was introduced almost 30 years ago, doesn't really feel that different from the real world of today. Everything in it almost feels poetic. So I wanted to take those distorted aesthetics and have them projected into year 2017.

When did you watch Inigo Westmeier's Dragon Girls? What was it about the story of the three girls that inspired you here?
It was only couple years ago. I came across it when I was digging deeper into women in the world of martial arts. The story focuses on three girls who are still very young but have a strong mind, body, and skills. They were so determined that I was so drawn into them.

Having presented in New York, Eindhoven, Finland, and now London, where would you say Hyein Seo feels most at home, is it anywhere and everywhere?
Yes, it could be really anywhere and everywhere. I would definitely go to another place if it feels right for the collection. For instance, we shot our spring/summer 17 lookbook in LA. But to name one place, I feel most at home in Antwerp.

What drew you London for autumn/winter 17?
London always invited me to awards and events. London is full of opportunities and is very open to new emerging designers. I'm always surprised by the chances they are offering to even non-London based designers including myself. London Fashion Week is where all young and creative designers are born. And I'm just happy that I can be a part of this event and interact with them.

What specifically brought you together with MACHINE-A and Nike for this presentation? Could you tell us about your relationship with MACHINE-A and Nike? Both feel a natural fit for Hyein Seo, why do you think these worlds orbit one another so well?
MACHINE-A is our best supporter. For VFILES Made Fashion, I've had a chance to work with Anna Trevelyan who co-founded MACHINE-A four years ago. Ever since then, Anna and Stavros have always reached out to us, giving advice. Nike has always been one of my favourite brands and getting support from them is probably every designer's dream. Stavros was the one who connected us and I was screaming that night when I got their first email.

Could we talk a little about the Nike VaporMax? Now, the Air Max 97 was my first experience with that revolutionary bubble, what was yours? Can you remember your first pair and how they made you feel?
My first pair of Air Max was a 95 model. I was only in elementary school but remember that Air Max 95 & 97 were on every kid's wish list. Kids were really crazy about the idea Nike shoes having air in their soles. But having this air visible along the midsole was the most crazy idea and it really was a game changer.

What were your thoughts when you first saw the Nike VaporMax? Specifically, how did the design inspire you within Final Boss?
Nike has taken this onto another level and made the entire sole a big air bubble. Seeing the image of new VaporMax, which looked like no sole existed and the shoe itself was floating on air - it was really mind-blowing. My team used this as inspiration for the colourway of the collection. New ideas and details were brought up everyday after seeing the shoes. So basically, I started designing from the tip of the foot and went on from there.

If people take one thing away from this project, what do you hope it is?
Even though the concept and the story are clear and vivid, I want people to have their own interpretation about the collection. Understanding my part of the concept could be one thing but I'd really hope people to have a personal connection to the collection based on their own experiences.

What advice would you give anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
I've seen many people who start it alone and quit all alone. You can't do everything by yourself so finding the right partner is very important to keep things going.

Finally, what excites you most about Sunday's presentation? And beyond?
My first two collections were made while I was still in school and the other three collections were done off the schedules of the fashion weeks. For the first time, we really planned to be in London from the beginning of the collection. We have so many great people involved, who spent months discussing all the details for this presentation. The presentation is about finally meeting all those people in one place. And it's going to be a big leap forward for us.

Nike Air VaporMax will be available on March 26 - Nike.com


Text Steve Salter
Photography Alec McLeish

Street Fighter
autumn/winter 17
akira tekken