Korean fashion should look to HK, Singapore: McDowell

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Korean fashion should look to HK, Singapore: McDowell


Colin McDowell

For anyone who studied at a fashion school in the West, Colin McDowell’s book of modern fashion, “McDowell’s Directory of 20th Century Fashion,” should ring a bell.

Before cable television and reality shows began giving authority to often misinformed, pseudo-“experts” on fashion, McDowell served, and still stands, as one of the fashion world’s top commentators.

Besides being the senior fashion writer for The Sunday Times and authoring over 20 books on fashion and design, McDowell is the founder and creative director of Fashion Fringe, a London-based design competition.

Serving as creative director of the Audi Fashion Festival, McDowell said he has his eyes on Asia, particularly Singapore and Hong Kong, as the most likely leaders of the continent’s fast-growing fashion market.

Along with his role at Singapore’s fashion week, he has also visited Seoul during the Seoul Fashion Week in 2010. The Korea JoongAng Daily caught up with McDowell during the Audi Fashion Festival in Singapore this month and discussed Seoul’s potential in the international fashion industry and the rapidly rising presence of Asia in the creative sector.

Q. How has the Audi Fashion Festival grown since its beginning three years ago?

A. I think that each year, the festival gets a little bit stronger and the reason for that is that it is getting better known in the area. I think it’s a very good idea that the countries in Asia all get together and work together to find young talent. I think it’s very impressive that there were four [finalists] from Korea.

What were your thoughts on the four Korean finalists at this year’s Audi Star Creation competition?

I think they have a very high standard of make and also a good take on what Western fashion is about. Korea has a strong culture, a very ancient culture, and the important thing is to take that and modernize it so that the West can understand it. The four designers impressed me because they understand Western fashion quite well. What they didn’t do so well in my opinion was to keep the Korean aesthetic.

You attended Seoul Fashion Week in 2010. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle for Korea in terms of globalizing its fashion industry?

The problem I found when I was in Seoul for the fashion week was that there are not enough people who speak English well. I remember talking to the mayor of Seoul and saying that the talent is there - there is plenty of creativity in Korea, there is no doubt about that. But English is the language of fashion and that is not going to change because it is also the language of the Internet and it’s vital.

How do you feel about the Singaporean government being one of the main sponsors of the Audi Fashion Week?

I have no problem with that. The British government sponsors London Fashion Week, the French government sponsors Paris Fashion Week. The only problem is if governments are volatile, they tend to change policy. And government money has to be channeled through a path that will continue no matter how the government will change.

Fashion brings huge amounts of money into a country, so of course the government must take it seriously. Fashion in the U.K. is the second biggest generator of income in the country. Hundreds of billions of pounds are made in fashion. So it would be a very foolish government that didn’t take notice of that.

Do you have any advice for fashion students in Korea?

Know everything about the West, not just clothes but the way Western people live. Never forget their own culture - they are Koreans. They are not Americans, English, Italians nor French. And if they want to get into those markets, they have to give us something that is Korean.

You have four seasons in Korea and so there are two fashion weeks in Korea unlike in Singapore and Hong Kong. I think what you should do is look to the others who are doing very well, particularly Hong Kong and Singapore. And you have to measure what you have compared to what they have.

By Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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