Italian Fashion Arbiter Surveys Korean Hemlines at Show

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Italian Fashion Arbiter Surveys Korean Hemlines at Show

Among the spectators at the Seoul Collection this year, a foreign buyer was persuaded to share an objective take on the parade of domestic designers who pinned their hopes on those of his ilk. The following are excerpts from an impromptu interview with Andrea Panconesi, owner and buyer for Luisa Via Roma in Florence, Italy:

IHT-JAI: First, how would you describe your business in Italy, Luisa Via Roma?

Andrea Panconesi: It's a large, reputable fashion multi-shop in Florence, which carries world-famous brand names, both men's and women's, such as Yoji Yamamoto, Gucci, Prada, Kenzo, you name it. Luisa is favored and frequented by fashionable shoppers living in Italy and travelers who come to Italy; 50 percent of our customers are foreign, and of those 30 percent are American. Fashion directors in Europe come to our shop to get inspiration from our arrangement before the season. For those who are less engaged in the fashion business, they can benefit from a personal service to find what they look best in. Because of this special personal service, we have customers who have been coming into my shop for generations. My grandmother, Luisa, built the company, and my mother took care of the business until I took over at 19. In the beginning I knew nothing of fashion, but my eventual passion for it got me where I am today. Unlike department store buyers who are paid a fixed salary, the survival of my business entirely depends on my buying - I learned the hard way through continual trial and error. It is my job to thoroughly review both the creativity in and market for fashion of the moment, to predict and present a carefully arranged selection to satisfy our loyal customers who range from cutting-edge to more downbeat. Having been to Luisa Via Roma, you will never end up looking like someone out of an uncreative brand name catalogue or find someone down the road wearing exactly the same thing.

IHT-JAI: Did you get to look around the Seoul shops?

AP: I did in my spare time. Everywhere I go in the world, I always observe the fashion of the city. Women in Seoul, to my surprise, were very chic and elegant, but after a while, I noticed everyone had the same style. So I asked myself: Is that the look of the moment or do they lack creativity? I soon got my answer when looking around shopping malls and department stores. They all carried the same thing - cashmere sweaters, fall coats, simple dresses. The entire city looked like an airport duty-free store! Korea needs a select multi-shop where shoppers can get creative ideas for individual styles.

IHT-JAI: How would you place fashion in a personal context?

AP: You are what you wear: you make a very personal statement by wearing a certain wardrobe. Look at me (wearing pin-stripe suit with navy blue power tie and a white linen handkerchief), look at you (wearing a black vintage knit and leather pants). Fashion with a capital 'F' means art. Just like a fine painting, it has a story, philosophy, interpretation; you can go on debating it. I get so much inspiration by observing fashion. Look at Galliano, I know he is not well reviewed in America, but to me or to most Europeans, he is the visionary of fashion. What he does every season is scandalous, even blasphemous, but he shocks us by breaking all the conventional thinking. If a scandal is made for the sake of only being scandalous, that's nothing, but if there's a meaning and philosophy behind that scandal, that's a sensation.

IHT-JAI: What are your ideas on what a fashion show should convey?

AP: A fashion show epitomizes everything the designer has ever done in his or her life. It's the ultimate way to really get to know his or her work, dedication and future. The worst show would be models walking in and out with no concept, like the ones you see in department stores. I was at first embarrassed looking at the Seoul Collection, but found several designers worthy of observance. I never imagined Seoul would have interesting designs.

IHT-JAI: Are you familiar with Asian designers?

AP: Oh, yes. As for me, when Yoji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and Kenzo were virtually unknown in Europe, I traveled to Tokyo, bought their work, and introduced them to Italy. That was in 1979. They were copied all over Europe, a clear sign of commercial success, and by the early 80s they had started their own collections in Paris. This is actually the first time I've been back to Asia to buy in years. Designer Gee Choon-hee made a good impression on me; she really tries hard to look for an opportunity to make it outside Korea. Her evening dresses are reasonably priced, and I have a feeling they will do well in Europe, as Asian inspiration is popular in Europe. What I've done in the Seoul Collection will, I hope, turn out to be a great success. Seoul has, I found out, a great potential. I'd definitely come back to do more buying. I heard there were more fashion groups doing their own fashion shows. I wish all designers in Korea would get together so that we buyers could get a thorough review of Seoul design. I also heard there would be a Seoul-Tokyo joint collection in year 2002. I'll definitely be back for that!

by Ines Cho

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