A Clothes EncounterAt eight o'clock on a recent Thursday, bigwigs, movie stars and fashion shakers and bakers in black Equuses and red, ragtop Firebirds arrived at the COEX Convention Center in southern Seoul.
Inside the glass and steel structure, the entire reception area was black, with pink accents. Gucci's female staff, all dressed in black leather skirts, lined up on the black marble stairs to receive guests and press. Most of guests similarly were dressed in black, the signature "bondage" color of Gucci at the moment － a clear sign of the brand's success at making its customers give in.
How did the Gucci brand become associated with such glamour?
Fashion experts agree that by the early 1990s, Gucci's staid image was growing increasingly stale and dull. But in 1994, the American designer Tom Ford took over as Gucci's creative director, and totally retooled the brand in the process. Ford has never been to Korea, and he didn't come to this show, yet from his London office, he makes sure every Gucci store in the world stays hip and sexy and his touch was everywhere for Gucci's 2001/2002 fall/winter collection fashion show in Korea.
When the black doors opened at 8:30 p.m., the 500 or so guests entered, eyes wide. Behind a black wall stood an interior hall that was completely covered in snow-white felt. The lounge chairs were white, the bar was white, the stage was white.
Under pink lights, guests were offered Dom Perignon and chardonnay while they waited for the show to begin. Gossiping, they chatted about whether Ha Ri-su looked better as a man or a woman.
The music began thumping an '80s funk beat, and one by one, male models walked out mostly wearing, no surprise, black. Black leather bomber jackets complete with black leather driving caps.
That biker look and the music then shifted from the 1980s dandy － double-breasted over- coats, shawl collared jackets and peacoats. The men wore black tasseled loafers. Shades of a casual Michael Jackson. Jeans were loose and made to look worn and typically bore a "G" logo on the back pocket.
The outfits were not the usually sexually provocative Gucci; it was as if Ford had finally decided to bring his clothes to the street. Take-a-break fashion. Cashmere and angora sweaters, jean jackets lined with fur, and leather dominated.
For Gucci men, the decorations went on and on: caps, scarves, necklaces and the like this year. For Gucci women, simplicity ruled, right down to the H-line outfits. Coats were minimal and bore geometric details. Skirts were knee-length, while dresses were halfway up the thigh and matched with strappy high heels.
Gucci shows are usually accentuated with this year's white-hot shoes and matching handbag; however, the focus of this collection seemed to be more on the details of menswear, rather than the shoes and bags that catch the fashion-minded's fancy. The perilously high (15 centimeter) heels made of satin and the 1970s-inspired slouchy shoulder bags were the only noteworthy items shown for the upcoming season.
For women, Gucci added a twist of romanticism, with pastel pink chiffon blouses, silk grosgrain ribbon dresses, baby-doll dresses and long-haired fur coats. Super-sexy make-up emphasized femininity: smoky eye shadow, nude lipstick and sultry facial expressions.
The show continued into the morning. The runway turned into a dance floor: The Sea of Gucci. Techno and house music filled the air.
So Gucci － or at least Tom Ford and his crew － knows how to party.
Mingling, dancing, Ralph Polese, the managing director of Gucci Group Korea paused and said, "In Korea, over 70 percent of Gucci's sales comes from domestic consumers, unlike other foreign brands that sell big in duty-free shops." And, there is the "best-selling" handbag that flies out of the shop almost before it's put on display.
Every season, fashion trend observers wonder which one of those fancy Gucci shoes will turn out to be the "it" item of the year.
On this night, everyone watched what other people wore and what they were doing as they wore it. While other businessmen in Korea might be wearing worried looks, Ralph Polese never wore anything except a smile.
And why not? After all, Gucci is in the black. The very black.