A designer takes a local and global view of fashion

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A designer takes a local and global view of fashion

For a designer, nothing is more frustrating than having your own fashion show start an hour and a half late because confirmed guests didn’t show up on time.
At Hong Eun-jeong’s 2005 spring and summer collection earlier this month, it was particularly disheartening since the local press and senior designers once heralded her as “the talent to watch.” The front seats bearing guests’ names were empty until dozens eventually turned up. The same industry professionals, fellow designers and celebrities would have jam-packed the venue an hour early for Gucci, Chanel or Christian Dior.
It is precisely this local support issue that Ms. Hong must challenge in her future as a Korean designer. “It’s not that they [local industry professionals] are busy or lazy ―they are not interested in new ideas and works created by Korea’s own aspiring designers,” she says. “Even the most creative people in town don’t show an interest in stimulating events happening around them. I think it’s a big problem, but I’m too small and weak to change that.”
Still, she remains confident and optimistic. Ms. Hong even considers herself lucky to have gotten her collection going since her debut in the 2003 Fall and Winter Seoul Collection two years ago. Having won second prize in the prestigious JungAng Design Contest in 2001, Ms. Hong’s dramatically avant garde collection won critical acclaim at the semi-annual Seoul Collection in 2003. The designer, then 28, said that as the next step she would prepare to open her own boutique.
The small fashion show organized at a Gangnam restaurant was her first show since she opened her store, Hong Eun Jeong, a year ago.
Ms. Hong has made a refreshing turnaround from her first show, which was deemed bold, strong, even gothic. For the 2005 spring and summer collection, fresh-faced models, both men and women, displayed a total of 43 outfits. The number was considered small for a regular collection; items were mostly mix-and-match separates.
Color and form were most the visible elements. Refreshingly light hues, which were chemically enhanced and hand-dyed, ranged from acid green to fluorescent yellow, China red and French antique blue. A crisp white pique suit was worn with colorful Boho-chic tank tops adorned with crochet trimmings. A delicate angel print on solid fabric added a simple, poetic touch.
There were a lot of geometric cuts, pleats, drapery and exaggerated details, such as the inside of a pocket hanging loose on the outside. Also featured were bolero jackets, roomy pants and low-waisted tunic tops in lightweight Tencel and breathable cotton blends.
Vark Ji-won, a public relations official at Avista Inc., a Korean fashion firm, is one of the handful of true fashion enthusiasts in town. He had looked forward to seeing Ms. Hong’s show since he read about her in magazines. He was especially interested in the men’s line.
“In Korea, we often see large-scale fashion shows with a lot of surprises and entertainment. Hong Eun-jeong’s show was small, like a trunk show, but it showed the designer’s sensitivity and detail. And, the unusual location, which was a newly opened Belgian restaurant, intrigued me,” he said after the show.

It is this sheer enthusiasm that Ms. Hong has been waiting for. Her boutique, located in the heart of Apgujeong-dong, is where the designer has been working to make her dream come true. The sun-drenched, 230 square-meter (2,476 square foot) showroom is starkly minimalist in white and red, except for a grand chandelier in the center. Her own drawings, sketches and notes decorate the white walls, and clothes from past and present seasons hang from wave-like chrome beams.
Pointing at her favorite jacket with a lapel that looks like a belted loop, Ms. Hong admits that many people find her clothes unusual and too difficult to understand or wear.
“But, I also know that there are people who appreciate my work. Looking for those who think like me, not just me but others out there who love what I do, is a joyous experience,” she says. Her ultimate goal in having a store is to help customers better understand her concept.
Unlike most new designers who invest in dressing celebrities to promote brands, Ms. Hong prefers to first please the small number of private customers. “I don’t see any point in dressing actors on television shows, for example, because they end up wearing clothes that only fit the situation. I’d rather see a few good ‘maniacs’ really enjoy my clothes,” she says.
Cho Yong-moon, a gemologist in her 30s, is one of the designer’s 30 repeat customers. She prefers wearing Ms. Hong’s reasonably priced clothes to expensive local copies of imported brands. “I already own a lot of ‘normal’ clothes because I used to work in finance,” Ms. Cho says. “With my new job, I want to wear suits that are a little funky yet classy for my age and occupation. Hong Eun-jeong’s clothes have those unique details and they are really fun to wear.”
Ms. Hong began with an emphasis on her women’s collection, but she discovered that men also found her clothes appealing. If a minimalist coat with curved sleeves wasn’t feminine enough for women, stylish young men in the capital found her sharp suit with a “unfinished look” very wearable yet slightly edgy. Now, the men’s segment accounts for half of her collection.
She says her style is influenced by avant garde European designers, such as Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalahyan, as well as her time spent in London’s Central St. Martin College, where she earned a master’s degree in fashion design in 2002. She is grateful to Louise Wilson, her mentor for three years at St. Martin. “She accepted my individual style and saw the artistic potential in me. She said, ‘Our critical eyes can see and bring out the inner strength in you’ and she did,” Ms. Hong notes.
Putting aside the lack of local attention, Ms. Hong wastes no time in a project that crosses borders and boundaries. She will go to London in April to discuss a collaborative project with four of her former classmates from St. Martin: Bora Aksu from Turkey, Miki Fukai from Japan, Silja Mannimen from the United Kingdom and Jens Langesen from the Netherlands, who are currently the new, emerging force in the London Collection. Ms. Hong can’t wait to see their runway stretch out to the world.

by Ines Cho
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