‘Wild and maximal’ dictates mostly dull Seoul CollectionSeoul Collection’s usual flare ― embodied by its young, up-and-coming designers and established ones eager to pilfer attention from each other with highly entertaining productions ― seemed to wane this year into a bland mimicking of a department store trunk show.
Conceptually forward or off-beat productions were absent by the 60 Korean designers showcasing their work during Korean Fashion Week. Seoul Collection’s runways clearly reflected the business-oriented minds of participating designers but at the unfortunate expense of creativity.
William G. Kapler, a Los Angeles-based consultant, epitomized the mood when he said, “Fashion is not fine art but business. It has to sell.”
The notion of sales has never been out of mind when Seoul Collection kicked off in October 2000. It had important goals: to pave roads for Korean designers to sell their collections overseas and improve the image of Korean design.
“With all of the local fashion associations and designers coming together in one place at one time, this is just a beginning for Seoul Collection,” said Won Dae-yun, chairman of the Korea Fashion Association. Mr. Won invited more than 100 foreign buyers, mostly from China and Japan. “The focus from now on has to be business.”
One of the features added to the collection was a spacious business center. But Mr. Won said designers are not ready to deal with the demands of overseas marketing. “Many designers don’t know how to deal with foreign buyers; they don’t have the ‘mind’ or capacity to do business,” he said. “Selling clothes overseas requires separate business sectors.”
Young designers are keen on doing business overseas, yet their newly set up companies lack systematic support and financing. Conversely, some established designers are so successful in Korea that they don’t feel the immediate need to sell their clothes overseas, according to the organizers.
In perhaps one of the sharper dissenting voices for Seoul Collection’s theme, Mr. Kapler said, “Korean designers are not quite aware of the fact that doing business overseas involves a totally different system as well as items, and they weren’t thinking of the global market and competition.”
Considering the absence of leading designers such as Jinteoc, Park Choon-moo and Lee Kyung-won, it didn’t help that Seoul Collection on the whole appeared backward, outdated and uninspiring. Despite being highly commercial, Han Song and C-Concept, a new brand consisting of six emerging designers, offered refreshingly creative items for the colder season, including wool bermuda shorts, bolero jackets, jumpers and short, balloon-shaped skirts.
But despite the overall lack of attitude, trend watchers spotted a few styles ― however decadent ― that may dominate Seoul streets this fall. The loudest message from major designers such as Park Yoon-soo, Lie Sang Bong and Nosungun was to “go wild and maximal” even if the look may be considered a bit gaudy by today’s standards.
Nothing is too strange, fashionably speaking this season, even if you’re considering tacky gold lion belts from the 1980s. If you already own a full skirt circa the 1950s, match it with a double-breasted military jacket like the one Michael Jackson wore in the “Thriller” video, along with a pair of clunky riding boots with shiny faux crocodile skin.
Larger is better for buttons, pockets, collars and sleeves. And on top of bright red, emerald green and sky blue, don’t forget to add glittering appliques of flowers and butterflies everywhere.
Gerard Roudine, the former president of the French pret-a-porter association, lectured a group of young Korean designers that knowledge and information can enhance chances for success overseas. “Designers can show their clothes in trade shows, which are designed to sell clothes; designers just pay to rent out the booth, that’s all,” Mr. Roudine said, “Doing a show sells an image. Paris is a unique place where a designer’s ability to make clothes is evaluated by the professional press from around the world.”
How far away is Seoul Collection from being evaluated by international press?
For the past few years, press converage has been minimal due to the lack of distribution of Korean garments in overseas markets, according to Mr. Kapler, a former retailer.
“The Korean government is making all the right moves, but is still behind the curve,” he said. “To catch up with the global industry, they need to leap forward.
“Companies around the world are now making adjustments as they embrace a new kind of market on a global scale,” he said. “Korean designers lack connections to the global industry and confidence as designers.
Yesterday, doing business was about having factories; today, you need good ideas, marketing and advertising skills,” Mr. Kapler said. “This may not seem ‘substantial’ to old-style businessmen. The key to success is to be able to convince your customers that they can make money by doing business with you.”
by Ines Cho