A trendy end from two anglesYoung and stylish men in Korea have something fashionable to look forward to twice a year when the two men’s wear designers based in Seoul ― Choi Bum-suk and Suh Sang-young ― release their latest looks on runways.
On two separate occasions recently, about 1,000 spectators including industry professionals, local department store buyers and students anxiously lined up to see Mr. Choi’s fashion show at The Little Angels Arts Center in northeastern Seoul and Suh Sang-young’s show at the Yoo Theater in Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul.
Both Mr. Choi and Mr. Suh, who are considered rising young stars in the Korean fashion industry, refuse to be part of Korea’s semi-annual Seoul Collection and go their own way. Unlike Seoul Collection where all participating designers do their shows in one designated place every year, the designers choose different venues for their shows each season since they first debuted in late 2003.
The opera house where Mr. Choi held his recent show was gaudily decorated in red and gold French rococo and was located far from the capital’s fashion centers.
For last season’s fashion show, the 29-year-old Mr. Choi chose M2, a popular Hongdae techno club where he and his close friends party on the weekends. Regular revelers to Hongdae clubs, like Choi Jae-ho, had seen the designer and his club friends wear “General Idea” outfits, which Mr. Choi found a clever marketing strategy in promoting the brand among trendsetters.
Choi Jae-ho works for a fashion advertising company in downtown Seoul. After work, he often goes home to change his ordinary “salaryman suit” to a more fashionable outfit to meet his friends or go to fashion-related events. For after-hours or weekends, instead of a plain button-down shirt, he opts for a white V-neck cotton tunic adorned with geometric cuts and intricate stitches over a pair of extra-wide black pants and leather flats.
He has not only watched the two emerging designers closely through the local media and fashion shows but also occasionally purchased the clothes for himself over the past few seasons.
“In Korea, there are super-expensive high-end imports and then there are cheap market clothes,” he said. “The two designers fit right into a niche market with unique designer items at affordable prices that young and fashion-conscious men want.”
What distinguishes the clothing from ordinary designs for men are the color, cut and details reflecting the latest trend in international brands, and the prices are reasonable. A fleece top at Suh Sang-young’s boutique in Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul starts from around 100,000 won ($100).
A Tokyo-based model-turned-designer, Makoto, thought Choi Bum-suk’s brand “General Idea” would work for young Japanese men looking for fashionable yet affordable clothes from Korea. He also acknowledged the fact that Choi Bum-suk is criticized for being too commercial and that some of the items are copies of those on Paris and London runways, but is considering a collaboration with the Korean designer in the near future.
Both Mr. Choi and Mr. Suh may target a similar marketing zone by selling the attitude that the young generation seeks. But they approach the development of their brands and identity differently, as Mr. Suh places more importance on being conceptual while Mr. Choi’s focus is more commercial.
“The current generation cares more about attitude [in fashion] than the product itself,” Suh said after the show. “Rather than making just clothes, we try to create a mood and environment that can generate added value. For the new collection, I threw in some acidic colors in red, blue and green, a pretty risky attempt. For fall and winter 2005, the inspiration comes from the romantic punk from the early 80s, though some people think it’s too soon to bring back the fashion from that era.”
The theater was minimally decorated with a semi-transparent black curtain, and on a short, flat runway walked sultry models wearing Dr. Martens, boxy jackets, loose-fitting fleeces and stovepipe pants. The Duran Duran and Depeche Mode soundtrack reminded the audience that models were Korean versions of John Taylor and Nick Rhodes.
In Choi Bum-suk’s collection, the attitude was conveyed through theatrical productions, including heavy makeup, wild hair and strong themes rather than easy-to-wear casual separates.
For the recent show, the designer was inspired by the belligerent Warriors of the Cross from the Middle Ages. Loitering around the entrance of The Little Angels Arts Center were the grim reapers in dark robes; models in savage makeup and casual hair with trendy separates adorned with the theme of the runway: “The Dark Age” patches, crosses and gold emblems.
Choi Bum-suk, who has been in business for 10 years, feels as if he’s starting anew now. “I’d do my best. but after the season passed, I never used to like what I had done. I feel like my career as a designer is just beginning, and from now on, I’m going to make more easy-to-wear clothes that can work for many.”
The sentiment is similar in Mr. Suh’s world of fashion. “I know my fashion is about being casual and sporty, and there must be something else that completes ‘Suh Sang-young,’ and I’ve yet to find that out. Whatever I do doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
“Just keeping on doing what must be done is what the new-generation fashion designer has to do in Korea, he said.”
Suh Sang-young. The designer argues that Korean designers shouldn’t adopt new names for themselves. “Prada and Gucci are after all real names, aren’t they?”
Born in Korea. After graduating from Hanyang University as a French major, Suh went to Paris to study fashion in Studio Bercot in 1997.
On Garosu-gil in southern Seoul in 2002.
Simple, basic, almost anonymous without any signs. It’s a place where curious people look it up and meet with the designer.
Three including himself.
A store in southern Seoul. Sold in a multi-shop inside the Galleria Department Store.
Worked with a group of Japanese friends in France and sold samples to showrooms before returning to Korea in 2000. Also worked with friends in an officetel before opening a store in Seoul.
The debut collection was a film, not a fashion show, shown at a movie theater. The film titled “Twenty People Wear Twenty Casual Wears” starred 20 of the designer’s friends.
Korean singer Bi’s stylist asked to borrow clothes, but Mr. Suh turned him down.
LPs. Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Aha, the romantic punk of the early ’80s.
The designer watched a lot of music videos from the 1980s. Borrowed images included bold graphics, torsos painted in acidic colors, crystal balls. “I knew that doing the show out of that particular era was risky. When the models walked out, I felt the vibe from the audience that the show had some kind of impact.”
Just continue what he must do as a young Korean designer. Suh plans to sell his collection in Paris sometime when he’s ready.
“Just look at a lot of things,” he says. He wants to see his collection in Paris sometime.
A portrait of Van Gogh.
Born and raised in Korea. Loves to travel to Paris and Tokyo.
In the Dongdaemun market in the late 90s.
A recreated vintage store embellished with rusted wires.
Thirty including seven designers, nine salespeople, and five operation managers.
Two stores in Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul and near Hongik University in northern Seoul.
Began to sell clothes when he was a senior in high school. He repaired second-hand clothing and sold it in Hongdae. He also went south to sell clothes.
Dongdaemun stores sold pretty much the same clothes everywhere, mostly loose-fitting shirts and plain-looking pants. Mr. Choi started with unusual clothes. “If a regular shirt had two pockets in the front, mine had additional pockets on the side. Extra attention to packaging details became a big trend in the market as my clothes came with designer-style labels, tags and even plastic coverings.”
Hong Rok-gi, a well-known comedian, hangs around the office so often that he demands a desk. The entertainer wears General Idea clothes on national TV. He also offers clothes to most male entertainers. Other names endorsing General Idea are Cho In-sung and Bi.
The Middle Age warriors of the Cross.
Originally the designer had a plan to hire an older white-haired model as a muse in the show. He was supposed to play a returning warrior, all tired and weary from the war between each stage, but the deal fell through.
Plans to sell General Idea in Paris showrooms in the near future. Plans to expand his Dongdaemun label called “a.n.b” (an acronym for “A Nameless Brand”).
“Mental/psychological control is crucial. Business can go well and drop suddenly or go so slowly and pick up one day. Many new comers find it tough to endure such fluctuations and maintain the business in the long term.”
by Ines Cho
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