A gloomy fashion forecast
After dropping out of the 2008 Spring/Summer Seoul Collections at the end of October, the 35-year-old SFAA held its own event last week at the National Theater of Korea, but the event only served to prove that its fabric was wearing thin.
Gone were the posh carpeted facilities where top models once strutted. Instead, guests huddled around heaters because the venue lacked proper heating. Unfortunately, that day was one of the coldest so far this winter.
The Seoul Collections still claims to be the largest event in scale in Korea, with 35 designers, 39 reporters and 93 buyers from about 20 countries.
But fashion is not a numbers game. Dissatisfied with the lack of support from the government-backed Seoul Collections, which began in 2000, a few strong designers quit the semi-annual event. And to make matters worse, the SFAA pulled out, smothering the fashion industry with uncertainty.
Where is the Seoul Collections headed? When will Korean designers agree to collaborate in harmony?
When Korean officials and reporters asked them if they planned to buy Korean clothes, they were noncommittal, pointing out that it normally takes a few years for buyers to decide whether a new designer is ready for a runway show.
To them, almost every designer from Korea, regardless of age or reputation, is new, and their critique covers everything from cut and choice of fabric to the silhouette and overall execution of the production.
Olivier Bouche, publisher of the Paris-based fashion magazine Dedicate, said he didn’t understand the big rush at the show put on by Andy & Debb, the Korean husband and wife team that made up one of 35 designers at the Seoul Collections. After seeing the colorful mini-dresses inspired by 1960s vogue, Bouche’s colleague and fashion editor, Karim Zehouane, said, “The clothes are cute and they may work for princesses and actresses here, but we don’t find the collection to be original or creative.”
For Ulrike Molinger, the marketing director of Berlin’s Galeries Lafayette department store, the trip to Seoul was useful, not because of the Korean designers showcased during fashion week by Seoul Collections, but because she discovered a new luxury market in Asia.
The runway shows that drew the most attention in the local press ―such as those by Choi Bum-suk, Han Sang-hyeok, Park Choon-moo, Andy & Debb and Kang Hee-sook ― failed to inspire most Europe-based professionals. Many ended up skipping the show by Lee Young-hee, who pioneered modern dress inspired by Korean hanbok.
Molinger says such popular designers in Korea are important as they are the “local heroes who translate international fashion to local customers.
Molinger gave some advice to Korean designers: “To survive, designers must have their own uniqueness, which can translate to people around the world.”
These same experts tend to think that most Korean fashion reflects general fashion rather than cutting-edge trends. They also said that because well-known local designers tend to target high-end customers and celebrities, the clothes are too expensive for European buyers, who can buy similarly fashionable products for less back home. Without specially added value or an international reputation, the prices are hard to justify, they said.
Every year the Seoul Fashion Center, which was set up in 2000 by the government to make Korean fashions competitive on the global stage, claims that there’s a steady increase in exports following the Seoul Collections, which are held twice a year.
But the bulk of the orders go to regular malls in China and the Middle East, whereas designers want their work to be presented as high end.
It’s no wonder that many talented Korean designers are either based, or aspire to work, outside Korea. Take the works presented at the SFAA last week. The babydoll dresses by Jinteok and the African-inspired resort wear by Rubina were exceptionally well made, but are they enticing enough for increasingly sharp-tongued international critics and value-conscious consumers alike?
This event marks the end of the Korean fashion season.
By Ines Cho Contributing Writer [email@example.com]