Fashion is on Plate At Seoul CollectionThe darkness is broken by a spotlight darting about the runway. The anticipation is tangible, as throbbing dance music seems to emanate from the floor below and work its way up your sacroiliac. Then, the lead model - appearing like a deus ex machina - slithers out onto the catwalk, the personification of all that is Seoul Fashion.
The Seoul Collection, which ran for four days from Monday through Thursday at the Central City Millennium Hall of the Marriott Hotel, featured the 2001 spring-summer collections of Korea's top 12 fashion designers. For celebrities, VIPs, fashion editors and aspiring young designers eagerly awaiting the arrival of up-and-coming fashion, the show was a resounding success. More importantly though, it brought a new kind of excitement and promise to the domestic fashion industry.
The 2001 spring-summer Seoul Collection is the first of its kind in Korea and was organized and sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy and the Seoul Metropolitan Government. An effort was made to give the Seoul Collection the chance to compete against established international collections in New York, Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo.
This first attempt was meant to correct a popular notion held by fashion insiders, and summarized by the director of the Seoul Collection, Hahn Young-ah, that "in Korea there are fashion shows but no collections." There have been numerous small and big fashion shows, regularly held by private labels and groups in Korea ever since fashion boutiques in Myong-dong opened in the 1960s. Yet there had been no organized movement within the industry to promote Korean fashion as a market worthy of investment and growth on a global scale. Korea has so far held fashion shows simply to satisfy local tastes.
Fashion shows differ from collection. Fashion shows are held primarily for potential buyers, and are therefore filled with drama, artistic displays of clothes with a certain motif running throughout the program. A collection, on the other hand, is an official presentation of works representing a select group of design houses, supported and commercially organized by the country's garment industry. Prestige in the valuable fashion industry is won with the collection's commercial success, and propels the fashion houses to new pinnacles of recognition.
On the world market, Korea stood as one of the major Original Equipment Manufacturer, countries that produce garments for famous brand names since the late 1970s. The economic crisis in the late 90s drastically changed this system.
Labor costs increased after the crisis. Idling factories turned to the domestic market, betting on a fashion renaissance among the younger generation. Concurrently, the influx of foreign mass media along with the advent of the Information Age acted as catalysts, accelerating the emergence of new fashion standards.
Fashion designers, once considered humble tailors or low-paid seamstresses, attained an overnight, near-celebrity status. To become a "fashion designer" became a major aspiration among university design students and others on the fringes of the design and textile worlds. Glamor became infectious. In the past few years, a handful of ambitious Korean designers have taken the plunge to show their creations in the overseas markets.
A few seasons passed by with little hope of expanding on a global scale. The label "Made in Korea" seemed to carry with it an unjustified negative connotation. But that was not enough to dissuade dedicated Korean fashion designers from persisting in their quest for a larger audience.
One of 12 designers featured in the Seoul Collection, Hong Mi-wha, was enthusiastic about the reception her line received at the show. "I only know how to make clothes. Designers need organized management to make their collections commercially successful,'' said Ms. Hong. "By collectively promoting the Seoul Collection, we can let Korean design become recognizable on the world stage, shoulder to shoulder with collections from abroad. I look forward to that."
The Korean government has belatedly discovered a potential source of clout, currency and recognition in the domestic fashion industry. It now recognizes Korean fashion as an important means of globalizing its national assets and has assumed a more active role in promoting and supporting this national resource. It seems that business too, will take a more active interest in this growing sector. But Korean designers may still have a long way to walk - down the runway of great uncertainty.
by Ines Cho