Grand Dames vs. Grand Kids

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Grand Dames vs. Grand Kids

A nagging question kept popping up during the 2003 spring/summer Seoul Collection, a parade that featured the latest works by 22 Korean designers.

Where, many people there wondered, was the enthusiasm?

For the past two years, the organizers of the Seoul Collection have promoted Korean fashion designers and their collections abroad, figuring it would expand in step with the globalization of Korean economy. Supporting the fashion collection have been the central and municipal governments, the media, and ambitious designers such as, including Park Ji-won, Lee Jung-woo and Sara Sim. Tellingly, those local fashion luminaries have left the Seoul Collection in search of The Big Dream, and are now based in New York or Paris.

Designers who do stay home ultimately have to make that choice -- to take on the foreign markets or settle for prosperity at home, shooting for the position of the Grande Dame.

Such a choice, it seems, causes sizzles rather than flames.

So who are the Grandes Dames? Gee Choon-hee, for one. She has formulated the Ultimate Korean Princess look. This season her designs were reminiscent of what you would see on Barbie dolls from the 1960s. Her models wore plastic smiles of tomato- red lipstick, aqua-blue eye shadow and full-swing skirts matched with dainty polka-dot scarves. Celebrities and the well-off adore Ms. Gee's feminine dresses.

Troa Cho worked from an African safari theme. Her models' faces shone as if kissed by a golden sun. With their heads covered by white lace veils, they looked like earthly saints done up as Indian princesses. The details -- cargo pant pockets, ethnic motifs, pleated rims, ruffled pockets -- and materials -- silk, organza and taffeta -- gave her collection the look of old-money luxury.

Lee Young-hee, famous for hanbok-inspired dresses, presented wrap-around hanbok skirts worn as dresses. The layerings were sheer silk, linen and chiffon in rich earth tones such as mustard, beige, burgundy and deep purple matched with antique accessories made of beads and macrame. The designs were original, but strangely enough the collection didn't seem, well, enthusiastic.

If there were any drama in the Seoul Collection, it came in works by new designers, those not yet willing to settle for Grande Dame status, or even Grandes Dames in waiting, but instead a step or two away from taking off in pursuit of The Big Dream.

Lee Kyung-won's Agasi was refreshingly entertaining. Young models dressed in half-pajama, half-prisoner's garb walked trancelike before a projection screen that showed a haunted house. Ms. Lee's childlike imagination never came off as immature. She aimed at the vintage look scalloped skirts, crochet dresses and tattered sweaters. The results were both conceptually correct and commercially workable.

Lee Jung-eun's Lava Women reflected the designer's personality: racy drama queens desperate for attention. Her wearable numbers were in sync with trends. Pants were skin-tight, lace-up or low-slung, and tops were perforated with metal studs -- all with attitude befitting the designer who's considered something of a maverick.

At the conclusion of the show, Ms. Lee showed she was no spotlight-shunning designer; she came out in a bright pink corset, PVC pants and drag queen boots and marched onstage with her models.

Perhaps the most noteworthy show was Miwha Hong's, which delivered a series of barefoot nymphs from fairy tales. The eclectic mixture of Eastern cultures was expressed through meticulous, complex layerings and matchings of flimsy delicate separates in earthy colors. Her skills and her gifts were manifested in the thoroughly explored application of her concept, such as the simple Bengalese and minimal stage, consisting of straw and linen sheets hanging in mid-air.

by Inēs Cho

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