Seoul fashion explodes as overseas buyers take cover

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Seoul fashion explodes as overseas buyers take cover

It was the best of shows under the worst of circumstances. The bombs that rained on Baghdad prompted skittish foreign buyers and journalists to cancel their trips to see the 2003/2004 Fall and Winter Seoul Collection Week, missing an outstanding show and scuttling local designers’ hopes of showcasing their collections to a global audience.
Korean fashionistas, however, were pleased by the creations introduced by the country’s 50 top designers and a handful of emerging talents during the March 26-April 3 event. Most designers adhered to the latest trends, adopting military and sports themes in bright tropical colors. With peace signs and explosively rich tones on parade, the designers staged their own anti-war demonstration.
The show opened with a big bang ― creativity, not bombs ― featuring designs that embraced vivid colors and natural themes. Spectators were wowed by the grand dame of the Korean fashion industry, Jin Tae-ok, better known by her brand Jinteok, who abandoned the neutral hues of her monotone clothes for refreshing splashes of color ― orange, red, green, pink ― that were paraded on a runway covered with salt-crystal snow.
The decision to restrict admission to her show ― only 400 invitation-clasping VIPs and members of the press could enter ― created a stir. (Normally, one-third of the seats are reserved for the general public.) But the limited seating and “no standing” rule had a purpose: models stepped from the runway and sashayed through the audience on salt-paved walkways.
Ms. Jin said her designs are meant to project optimism, adding she wants people to think about the coming peace after the Iraq war. Her collection, called “Blooming in the Aurora,” is a beautiful parade of fruity colors and floral motifs derived from Central Asia.
They’re innocent, romantic, sophisticated and modern; the straps, flats and utility bags hung on the shoulder are undeniably the trend of the moment. “I put all those ‘unmatching’ items together, because I want to show people that different things ― or people ―?can live in harmony” Ms. Jin said.
Popular designers, such as Park Youn-soo, played up the glam diva image with skin-tight leather pants and fox fur in killer red or jet black. Son Jung-wan updated 1960s pastels ― pink, powder blue and lime green ― to “bring different colors, times and concepts together.”
Established designers Rubina and Sul Yun-hyoung confidently displayed mature concepts. Rubina’s fur coat is hand-stitched with lambskin strips to give it a touch of high-class couture. Sul Yun-hyoung’s signature floral embroidery on leather over chiffon skirts, and her oyster-shell laces made from silk, chiffon and feathers, are true works of art.
Kang Hee-sook, Troa and Gee Choon-hee, Sarah Sim’s jackets, coats and dresses are defined by elegant, razor-sharp tailoring.
Lee Young-hee captured the essence of Korea’s ethnic costumes and made a sublimely aesthetic statement by transforming them into modern designs. Naturally soft and voluminous, but strategically tucked, gathered and tied ― like the way a hanbok is worn ― each dress, knicker and gown is remarkably sensual, subtly revealing various parts of the female body. Her pointed high-heeled mules, made to look like a cross between traditional Korean shoes and Manolo Blahnik stilettos, are sure to be much-coveted items.
While established designers are respected for their deep understanding of fabrics, movement and tailoring techniques, younger designers build their reputations by creating novel items, unusual styling or uncommon techniques.
Among the young designers, Hong Mi-wha, Lee Jeong-woo and Park Ji-won are standouts for the energy and excitement their designs exude. It’s perhaps their drive, ambition and search for identity that generated so much passion for their fashions among young attendees. The three designers showed their works in Paris and New York before arriving in Seoul.
Ms. Hong again demonstrated her rich fantasy. She combined men’s basic grey suits and glitzy Asian folklore motifs, fusing them like pieces of sculpture. Ms. Hong’s models strolled a runway littered with French newspapers. She presented some of her most daring works, including a deconstructed man’s jacket tied with a vest or scarf to fit on a woman’s body.
Ms. Lee’s new French collection, Sa Fille, paid homage to the designer Yves Saint Laurent. Using the French master’s signature colors, jet black and rose pink, Ms. Lee created a cabaret-goes-to-court concept. Intricate embroidery and elaborate patchwork were combined with see-through chiffon lingerie, and stiff evening gowns featured cascading lace, ruffles, tassels and chains.
If Ms. Lee’s clothes are beautiful and incredibly impractical ― like those seen in museums ― then Ms. Park’s can’t-get-any-shorter mini-dresses are the exact opposite. The mauve-pink silk chiffon bat-wing sleeves on the dresses are as light as air. They float like angel’s wings, caressing shoulders that are revealed by a deep plunging neckline. The nude-and-gold lace micro miniskirts are almost invisible, exposing the curve of legs perched on gold stilettos.
But fashion wouldn’t be fashion if it was all serious. Certainly the celebrity spectators at some of the sold-out shows, including Kang Hee-sook’s Lie Sang-bong’s and Miss Gee Collection, had being seen ― rather than seeing designs ― in mind. As the paparazzi snapped pics of the local stars, a question was overheard: “So whose show is this now?”


by Ines Cho
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