In the matrix of couture,Korea seeks “The One”Ten days of blaring music, flashy runways, front row celebrities and 100,000 spectators ― that was the 2007 spring and summer Seoul Collections at the Seoul Trade Exhibition & Convention Center in southern Seoul. And they seemed to pass by like dreams that leave a headache in their wake.
After six years of sleep-walking, since Korea’s official international collection kicked off in 2000, it’s time for everybody involved ― organizers, sponsors and designers alike ― to wake up and smell the coffee. The cold reality is that the Seoul Collections are desperately in need of a real star ― “The One” who can take Korea and its people to the center of the world stage. The One who will give hope and inspiration, the Creatore.
Korea has believed and still believes that The One exists somewhere and will lead the country’s fashion industry to a front-rank place among advanced nations. They also hope The One will help Korea shed its image as a copycat of other nation’s fashions and a country where infighting among designers undermines their creativity. Too many still remember that when the Korean government began to finance the country’s first international fashion collections and sought a few chosen ones to represent Korean design abroad; those involved fought like cats and dogs, some from jealousy, some from greed and all from a thirst for power.
The search for The One has become more urgent, now that the Korean government has announced it will increase its support of the Seoul Collections from 1.4 billion won ($1.3 million) to 2.6 billion won, starting next year. With this new money in mind, Won Dae-yeon, the president of the Korea Fashion Association, sat in the front row for many of this year’s shows and issued a chilling edict.
“The success of Seoul does not lie in the quantity but the quality of the collections,” he said. “However few they may be in numbers.”
Realistically, what the Seoul Collections have become is glitz and glitter plus an increasing numbers of celebrities and foreigners who are paid to sit through 60 shows ― while those who actually pay for admission stand up.
Moreover, timing has become more unfavorable to the official Korean collections. Preceding Seoul is the annual Busan Pret-a-Porter fashion show featuring star designers from London, Paris and New York. Many press and industry professionals now say they may stay longer in Busan and only attend part of the Seoul Collections. In other words, after years of attending collections, the media are getting harder to impress and the competition from other shows has become more intense.
The current situation is grave for Korean designers, some of whom won their initial fame in a closed market. Some industry professionals cheered when the venerable fashion designer, Icinoo, decided to show at the Seoul Collections this year. But fashion is very quick to decide what’s in ― and out. Icinoo’s newly launched label, Cinu, showed the designer’s well-known signature look. And she embraced the new market for fashion-conscious males by adding a tasteful men’s collection. But it was hard to tell if her new brand would be competitive enough to win the hearts ― and open the wallets ― of young fashionistas, who will go mad online shopping for a discount suit, so long as the label is Italian.
Along with Icinoo were Korea’s first-generation designers, including Jinteok, Lie Sang Bong and Rubina, who have thrived upon their reputations as pioneers of Korean fashion. They are indispensable to the Seoul Collections, but it seemed that in a fashion world where Louis Vuitton is worn with Gap and vintage Dior is paired with Puma sneakers, the aging designers are far from being effective contenders.
This is largely because most designers in Korea rarely develop a proper foundation for their designs, namely innovative pattern-making and cutting-edge sewing techniques. So fashion design is often limited to creating a “look” rather than developing qualities that flow through the whole garment. And then they end up working with manufacturers who stubbornly apply jaded Japanese-style techniques in implementing these so-called “looks.”
Korean designers must keep in mind that designers at major international runway shows compete not just in a garment’s appearance but also in categories such as textile design, craftsmanship and construction.
Up until the late 1990s, Korean designers and brands were able to impress Korean consumers, who paid a premium for copies of famous works by top European and American designers. Korean companies even named their brands so they sounded like European fashion houses, as if to justify their steep price tags.
The advancement of digital technology, abundance of information and more frequent travel has allowed Korean consumers to realize fashion is a global market, and their preferences in fashion are now borderless. And Korean fashions are too expensive.
“I’ve met buyers from the Middle East and Europe, who were at first interested in buying some Korean clothes, but they were shocked by the ridiculously high prices,” said Yoo Jae-bu, chief editor of Fashion Insight magazine. “We should get rid of all the inflated prices in order to become more competitive.”
There were collections this year that inspired some optimism. Among younger designers, Park Choon-moo, for Demoo, staged a well-executed show, presenting her signature look employing the “deconstructed aesthetics of draping.”
With shades of monochrome, the collection’s theme was layers of semi-transparent materials, including gauze, knits and plastic. She showed blouson tops, balloon dresses, puffy shorts and leggings. Wearing glass necklaces and extra-wide plastic hats, the models walked through thin strips of white plastic, suggesting rain. Although it was reminiscent of ’90s Japanese avant garde, the show was among the most memorable.
Increased demand by fashion-conscious Korean men was also evident. The number of men’s collections rose to 17 this year. It is now de riguer for Korean women’s brands to include at least a few men’s pieces.
At Bon’s show, preppy outfits were refreshingly updated to suit urban youths with attitude. A lot of people loved Bon’s topsiders embellished with florescent plastic sheets. Also popular were his androgynous models in bermuda shorts or capris and gingham check trench coats in pastel colors.
The real champion of the Seoul Collections was men’s wear designer Jung Wook-jun. He sent out a parade of stick-thin men and women with shockingly pale, platinum blond hair. While the hair suggested many painful hours spent at the hair salon, the clothes brought immeasurable pleasure through contrasts: fitted versus loose, matte versus shimmering, short versus long, stiff versus flowing.
On a minimal runway, Mr. Jung, who is a master of impeccable tailoring, got playful with models and clothes, by modifying his signature razor-sharp suits. Preppy-style suits were meticulously deconstructed with optically illusive double sleeves and jersey tops sewn onto the jacket. The audience fell into a blissful state, under a spell only a genius of fashion could cast. Mr. Jung had given Seoul the moment of serious fashion everyone had been waiting for ― maybe he is The One?
by Ines Cho