Season of contrasts at Seoul Collection

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Season of contrasts at Seoul Collection

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The contradictions and complexities of the fashion world have driven its already short-lived fashion cycle to shrink-fit multiple trends and styles into what is now a single season. Themes of creative production might have varied on runways in the two halls inside the Seoul Trade & Exhibition Center in southern Seoul, however, in presenting their individual collections, many of the 64 designers who participated in the semi-annual Seoul Collection displayed their fashionable ideas on a swinging pendulum.
On April 20, the Seoul Collection kicked off with a conceptually and visually strong show by Jinteok, whose blank-faced schoolgirls promenaded in cropped khaki-green coat dresses, box-pleat skirts and knickers. What started with eerily dark and heavy outfits with over-size buttons ended with a parade of angelic white ensembles in sheer silk, displaying the designer’s usual message of hope.
The equally well-executed show by another veteran designer, Haneza, featured, under the theme of 19th-century-Victorian-meets-21st-century-modern, a contrast that could satisfy the ever-capricious taste of contemporary consumers with an insatiable lust for fashion. On a lavish runway featuring an actual 19th century-style fountain, models presented an office look of a chiffon blouse embellished with distressed ruffles, detachable diamante collars and a conservative knee-grazing skirt. That look was quickly replaced by suggestions for weekends (a slim-fitting velvet jacket with bermuda shorts over opaque legs) and red carpet nights (a series of ethereal light gowns made with a cloud of shimmering gold lace and organza).
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On the sixth day of the Seoul Collection came Park Choon-moo’s fashion forte with a capital “F” bursting like fireworks. The show, which followed her first show last year after a few seasons in hiatus, was considered a “real” come-back for her loyal supporters and fans, who were disappointed with last year’s much-anticipated outing. This time, the designer, who is known for her bold fashion through the Demoo brand in Korea, presented, with bravura, a collection that showed off her inner strength as a serious fashion designer with a long, long career ahead in Korean fashion.
The show started with a battalion of lean, leggy models wrapped head-to-toe in gorgeous layers and strips of jersey tube and tops and bottoms. The same models paraded in snow-white wraps in some of the most intricate crochet, knit and fur and when, to a nostalgic “Love Story” soundtrack, white confetti bombs turned the entire hall into a snow storm, press and industry professionals agreed the effect couldn’t have been more perfect and that they would take home a memorably romantic feeling from a truly excellent show. The designer proved that, even without elaborate stage production, the sheer power of a designer’s creative work makes all present live for that glorious moment.
Duality as the current fashion fad extended to increasingly more trend-sensitive Korean men’s fashion as well. At the pinnacle of Korean men’s sophistication stands Jung Wook-jun with his brand Lone Costume. His show on April 26 caused a major deluge of about 2,000 spectators. Jung’s shows never seem to fail to wow the crowd with the designer’s famously immaculate production.
The show, titled “The Fraternal,” perfectly captured fashion’s split personality, as two somewhat similarly dressed models presented completely different silhouettes and items. Like amicable brothers, two strikingly different ideas co-existed side by side ― whether they were skinny jeans and wide-cut dress pants, a slim-fitting single-breasted morning coat and a boxy double-breasted jacket, or a cropped manteau and a mid-calf duffel coat.
Throughout the 10-day Seoul Collection, the co-existence of trends that are often separated by a few seasons or more was evident in most shows: All-black is chic all over again, but don’t forget the stand-out effect of attractive bright colors. Solid colors are great, but plaids and polka dots are in the picture too. Work with over-the-top Victorian ruffles one day and feel free to go bare minimal the next. Depending on the occasion and mood, skirts, pants and jackets can cover any desirable length of women’s and men’s shapely limbs. Who would have guessed the latest fashion trick would be to look a winner one day in a glossy suit and the next day sport baggy bermuda shorts and nerdy horn-rimmed glasses?
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Such fashionable multiple choices on fashion runways can at least spur the evolution of Korean fashion, and maximize overall consumption.
However, ongoing diversities in organizing and operating South Korea’s largest fashion event have become an annoying and embarrassing hindrance to the country’s ― and designers ― hopes of one day attaining crowning glory in the international fashion industry.
For season after season since the Collection’s inception in 2000, when the Korean government began subsidizing the Seoul Collection, the Korean fashion industry has been embroiled in disputes involving virtually everyone who thinks they should rightfully take the helm ― namely, the Korean government representatives and their agencies against key members of several associations of older-generation designers, who before the Collection came along ― and before the Korean market opened ― regularly held their own fashion shows and had amassed fortunes. It took several seasons for the Korea Fashion Association to bring everyone together for one unified Collection, yet problems of politics still choke communication channels, becoming an obstacle to important decision-making.
Key officials directly involved with the day-to-day operation of the Seoul Collection lament such wasteful loss, slowing down the development of the Seoul Collection, and their feelings became more bitter when Korea’s neighbor Japan celebrated its grand come-back on the international runway last year.
“The success formula for Japan Fashion Week in Tokyo was simple ― the government paid for half of its total budget and the rest was covered by Japanese corporations that came together to support the resurrection of their own fashion industry,” said an organizer of the Korea Fashion Association. “For us to receive such national-scale support, the Korean fashion industry people first should unite as one force.”
In the meantime, though, it is the gifted new-generation designers who are draining their painstakingly earned resources only to be left in the wilderness in competition with international behemoths like Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
“Really, where does that leave us?” asks the men’s wear designer Jung Wook-jun, who is ready to challenge Paris. “Each and every season, I witness a lot of money being wasted on the Seoul Collection. If the Korean government says it wants to place Korea in the global fashion market, then they should be realistic ― one fashion show in Paris costs 150 billion won [$150 million]. If Korea’s giant corporates, like Samsung, don’t bother supporting Korean talent overseas, then who will?”


by Ines Cho
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