seoul’s emerging designers go global
At Seoul Fashion Week, South Korea put its emerging designers on the global fashion map, starting with Blindness and The-sirius.
blindness autumn/winter 17
It's been four seasons since Seoul Fashion Week rebranded itself, going from just another local fashion week into a globally focused and internationally attended industry showcase. The transition - orchestrated by its organiser, the designer Jung Kuho - is still in its early stages, but in just two years the South Korean fashion platform has already managed to put two of its emerging designers on the big map. As the autumn/winter 17 shows kicked off in Seoul last week, there was ground for celebration: Blindness, the three-year-old glam rock brand founded by Shin Kyu Yong and Ji Sun, had just returned from the LVMH Prize presentation at Paris Fashion Week where they competed to get into the finals alongside more established young designers such as Molly Goddard, Atlein, and Martine Rose. At the London men's shows in January, Younchan Chung, whose two-year-old label The-sirius has never even made it past the collective emerging designer show at Seoul Fashion Week, was awarded the British Fashion Council's International Fashion Showcase prize.
Selected as winner out of 75 finalists boiled down from hundreds of entries from around the world, The-sirius won a standalone show to take place at Milan Fashion Week next September, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. Both accolades bear witness of the fabulous potential of emerging Korean fashion and the goldmine that is Seoul Fashion Week, provided you find a way to navigate it. In its impressive push for international attention over the past four seasons, Seoul Fashion Week is slowly but surely reaching its goals. Every season the organisers have flown in press and buyers from Europe and America for a weeklong Korean fashion experience. Not all of the around eighty shows that fill the schedule are runway-worthy, but going through the extensive offerings guests have eventually found their favourites: brands like Blindness or R.Shemiste, who understand the art of identity, continuity and a strict edit. This season, the oddly named Rocket x Lunch (not 'launch') garnered attention with its eclectic fusion of glam rock and futurism—interestingly, the two main components embodied by Blindness and The-sirius, respectively.
Emerging Korean fashion is yet to find its thing - established international players such as Wooyoungmi and Solid Homme lean towards Parisian elegance while Juun.J masters a kind of urban Asian attitude - but in experimenting with sexual identity and western rebels such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger through Korean eyes, they're on to something. Young hopeful D-Antidote, for instance, tackled punk through the luxe sportswear Seoul seems to love, a clever effort that didn't go unnoticed. On the Parisian elegance front in which Korea has already proven its capability, Kimseoryong put on a beautiful show that evoked the intricate sartorial air of Haider Ackermann and Dries Van Noten. Set in one of the dystopian presentation halls of Zaha Hadid's spaceship-like conference centre, the Dongdaemon Design Plaza - where all the shows take place - the designer's sumptuous menswear provided a nice contrast to the barren space, which doesn't always serve to illuminate its shows.
That's why it was so refreshing when the global-minded Younchan Chung chose a retro gallery in the young and vibrant Itaewon area and staged a presentation for his brand, The-sirius, instead of a show. For Seoul Fashion Week, it's just as important to showcase its city as its designers, and the great venues that must exist all over the massive South Korean capital should be used as show venues to give Hadid's Design Plaza a little breathing space. The-sirius, of course, didn't show on-schedule but the international hordes soon found their way to his presentation where Korea's finest male models (one of the country's strongest exports) lined the walls of the four-storey gallery like futuristic pieces of furniture in Chung's sci-fi minimalism. Sculptural sportswear represented the shapes of the galaxy, adorned in embroidery reminiscent of star maps. It was terrific and a fitting prelude to his international debut show in Milan come September.
For Seoul Fashion Week, it is imperative their vast selection of designers are targeted towards the right guests. With such a extensive line-up, between the many brands - most unknown to the international spectator - you sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. The great potential is there—only Seoul's challenge is to curate it to the individual press and buyer markets. Blindness, for instance, doesn't attract the preened and powdered K-Pop stars that brands like Beyond Closet or Kye do, but their international appeal by far overshadows that of any other Korean brand showing on-schedule. Every single European and American guest attended their show, which elaborated on the princely, fetishised fusion of Renaissance court dress and 70s' glam rock they showed at the LVMH Prize presentation in Paris—only this time with the advantage of the cast of Korean cool kids, who inspire them.
One is Na (@na___c), a long-locked Korean modern-day apparition of Ziggy Stardust, who managed to completely magnetise the foreign press. Shin Kyu Yong and Ji Sun urgently deserve a platform at one of the four main fashion weeks, and if Seoul Fashion Week wants to sustain a dialogue between the local Korean fashion scene and the big business of Paris, Milan, New York and London, its backers would do well to come up with a financial support scheme to fund Blindness' next move. The brand sadly didn't make it to the LVMH Prize finals, but because of the exposure that came with the prestigious outing, it's experiencing a kind international momentum the Korean fashion industry would be wise to act on. With the mentoring seminars Seoul Fashion Week has established for Korean fashion students, chaired by international mentors, the course is already set for global exchange.
Kimseoryong autumn/winter 17
Text Anders Christian Madsen