Designers see a bright tomorrow

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Designers see a bright tomorrow

Korea’s economic indicators might not be encouraging right now, but you couldn’t tell that to some of the nation’s leading fashion designers at Seoul Trade Exhibition Center earlier this month, who seemed to be forecasting a complete turnaround for the coming year.
At the 2004 spring-summer collection show organized by the Seoul Fashion Artists Association, 14 designers presented delectable arrays of party costumes as though money weren’t an issue. “Party on” seemed to be the theme, with goddess dresses ubiquitous. The designers didn’t forget to include a few business suits, but they seemed anachronistic and un-creative on this runway, which mostly staged convivial promises for the future.
This reflects a lifestyle change in Korea. More working women these days prefer versatile dresses to suits, both for daytime and evening functions, and they’re dressing up more on weekends. And non-working women want to look better for everyday activities like shopping or lunching. Now the choices are broader, and these pretty dresses were irresistible.
The three-day event kicked off with a ’50s rock-and-roll theme by designer Park Yoon-soo, the association’s president. Girly pink blouses over capri pants bearing Pucci-esque motifs were perfect for shopping, luncheons or perhaps gallery openings. Backless, bias and halter dresses, adorned with soft ruffles, were made of silk chiffon and jersey in lovely pastel colors. These ultra-feminine dresses were perfect for vacationing in Maldives or Palm Beach, while the ’80s blousons and the ’50s jackets made the collection suitable for professionals.
Designers Son Jung-wan and Han Hye-ja (better known by her brand name, Haneza) knew exactly for whom they were making their clothes. Ms. Son presented a highly commercial line consisting of flared skirts, baby doll dresses and ’70s disco dresses. Bursting primary colors and mod elements ― PVC, miniskirts, loop belts, polka dots ― were mixed and matched for her long-term customers. Haneza, who has exported exquisite garments to New York boutiques, began the show with tennis-inspired white dresses, followed by luxurious summer leather and furs, next year’s new items. Her fluid jersey separates, adorned with glittering bugle beads, were refined and elegant. Ms. Han knew that her slinky outfits would be loved by both Korean department store buyers and jet-set socialites, whose fashion range extends from outdoors to indoors, from day to evening, but not to red-carpet-style events. Sparkling black camisoles over slim white pants were chic enough to excite a few sophisticated front-seaters at the show.
Rubina, famous for opulent colors and luxurious designs, suggested a sportive new direction. Wearing sun visors, models paraded in intricately cut and reassembled fitted jackets, coat dresses, short shorts and body suits. Vivid resort colors ― orange, electric blue, cherry pink, kelly green ― and body-conscious fits shrank to every female curve.
“Women today have leaped boundaries of age by engaging in sports and keeping themselves healthy and fit. Such confident women shouldn’t be afraid to wear gorgeous designs that show off their great figures,” said Rubina, a model-turned-designer.
On the event’s third day, Chang Kwang-hyo’s men’s collection offered excitement for metrosexuals. His oriental motif from last season was present, but the point was to express the designer’s free spirit. He came up with truly varied ways to wear ensembles and separates: cropped jackets over long shirts, formal jackets with loose pants, cotton chaps over knickers, short vests over Henley neck shirts, tuxedo jackets with cotton T-shirts and semi-formal jackets with pants that draped like women’s sarongs. Fabric was made to look aged, but not necessarily used. “Fashion in general has become natural, easygoing and casual,” he said after the show.
Jin Tae-ok, better known as Jinteok, Korea’s fashion leader since the 1960s, also wound her clock back to another era, dressing models as though they were ’30s patrons of the Cotton Club. Flapper dresses, tunics and sheaths in chiffon, satin and velvet were poetically matched with delicate crocheted caps, lace leggings and supple oxfords.
Even Jinteok’s signature white shirt was loose, long and tied at the hip. Shimmering satin, flowing silk and burned-out velvet were pre-washed to look aged, and some were twisted and stirred as if struck by a whirlwind. These were romantic, modern versions of the Greek goddess look.
“I was inspired by La Belle Epoque, a very fashionable period from the end of the 19th century to the brink of the first World War,” Ms. Jin said. “Women in those days wore the most feminine dresses, and they were innocent yet passionate. My dresses were made as if they were taken out of an antique closet,” Ms. Jin said.
A poetically beautiful collection was one thing; the real surprise came at the very end. At the finale, Ms. Jin bowed and went backstage, as usual. Then the white backdrop behind the runway dropped to the floor. There stood all 20 members of Jinteok’s staff, dressed exactly like her. Stirred by the unexpected scene, the dumbstruck audience paused, then broke into generous applause.
Her message was clear and powerful: Jinteok wanted to present, for the first time, the passion and hard work of the dedicated souls behind the scenes of the fashion world. “They have been with me for the past 30 years. During those years, they have worked harder than me, and they even identified themselves with Jinteok. Five people who had not known about my plan resigned on Nov. 30. I wish they were here with me to share this,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears.

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Highlights of the coming season in Korean fashion

Bag Ladies on Runways
Utility shoulder bags and carry-alls are coming out in fruity sorbet colors. Thanks to these designers’ suggestions, fashionistas and editors alike can better understand what to carry for the coming season. Chang Kwang-hyo’s weekend bags and Rubina’s colorful handbags are expected to be must-have items even after the resort season.

All That Glitters Isn’t Gold
Who says you can’t wear party outfits before 6 p.m.? Glittering numbers adorned with sequins, bugle beads and crystal studs can work around the clock: at lunch, while shopping, at cocktail receptions and at late-night functions. Haneza has created a winning look with her exquisitely detailed camisoles, pants, separates and dresses.

Pretty Woman Meets Sexy Goddess
Celebrate femininity with pretty, delicate embellishments ― frills, ruffles, bows, corsages, tassels. Even the minimalist Jinteok put ribbon corsages on her flapper dresses and shirts. Feminine curves are appreciated in the age of the goddess. Harisu, the curvy transsexual Korean singer, has the perfect body for Park Yoon-soo’s ultra-feminine dresses. Sexier than miniskirts next season are short shorts, baby doll dresses and knee-length flared skirts that split to reveal legs all the way up.

Summer Leather, Furs and Trench Coats
A new way to go discreet in the streets. Classic, light trench coats are worn over a body that’s barely covered. Throw furry shrugs or coats over skimpy sportswear or flimsy tunics. At air-conditioned functions, leather jackets, skirts or pants, or furs, can add a protective, luxurious mood to light spring and summer clothes.

The ’50s Collar, the ’60s PVC
Trendy ladies’ jackets have wide notched collars and 7/8 sleeves, evocative of the ’50s movie star look (think Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”). Most designers have moved away from mod fashion, except for glossy and youthful PVC.

Utility and Comfort in the Works
Don’t throw away your cargo pants yet. To meet the continuing demand for practical and comfortable clothes, designers still endorse various utility details. Multiple pockets for phones, PDAs, movie tickets, lipstick, credit cards, etc. are still going strong. Forget your bow tie: comfortable Henley neck cotton shirts were matched with tuxedo jackets at Chang Kwang-hyo’s show.


by Ines Cho

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