Maybe it was the basket of radiance-promising snail sheet masks I found upon arrival to my hotel room, or the instant the mother of sustainable brand Saint Mill’s designer Myoung Yoo Suk made a beeline for me moments before her son’s show was set to begin, cheerfully offering up a Ziploc bag filled with homemade seaweed dumplings. Whatever it was, consider me thoroughly charmed by Seoul.
After four plus weeks scurrying around and digesting the collections of an ever-bloated fashion calendar, the furthest thing from my mind was enduring a 14-hour flight. Nevertheless, with the allure of new talent and the current fascination with everything from K-Beauty to K-Pop (FYI: BTS makes their SNL debut this Saturday), how could I possibly say no?
“I wish there had been this much interest when I was growing up in the Midwest,” says Korean-born co-founder of CoPR -- https://www.thisiscopr.com/-- (and unsung K-Beauty guru) Yeana Ahn. “My classmates had no understanding of where I was from; they only knew China and Japan.” There’s certainly no shortage of local pride in Seoul and while there was excitement for the presence of international press—and of course the blue carpeted staircase which ferried the line of pop star-packed minivans to their front row seats— it is the hometown crowd for which Korean designers most cater to and rightfully so, as the shows I attended were predominately populated by actual paying customers.
That same pride was evident on the runway, with brands such as Moho offering modern riffs on traditional dress in a dramatic, smoke-filled presentation. The outerwear-heavy collection explored the greyscale and featured artfully layered, channel-quilted wrap coats that called to mind hanboks and monks’ robes. I gained a better sense of their origins while wandering through the Insa-dong neighborhood. There, among the rounded shapes of the beautiful, hand-forged rice bowls at Napcheong Bronzewear and the equally rotund pottery, it became clear that there is a strong aesthetic appreciation for volume.
A more whimsical approach to this element was seen at Besfxxk, where it was clear that designers Bona Kim and Jae Hyuk Lim must have a ball experimenting in the studio. Several of the techniques, such as the zip puffer pockets on classic blazers and the basket-woven down coat were quite inventive and unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere.
Another favorite was Minjukim, who successfully channeled the Swedish cinematic references that inspired her collection without being too literal. Her just-left-of-center designs were experimental while still maintaining wearability and I was particularly impressed with her attention to detail with the leatherwork, into which she carved illustrations that were then rubbed with white paint, creating the illusion of embroidery.
On the accessories front, Son of Love stood out with their refined, minimalist (read: less hippy) take on the canteen bag in an array of beautiful, vegetable-dyed leather. And one of the chicest accessory of all couldn’t have been farther from the runway: The sleek, starched ribbon barrettes worn by Korean Air flight attendants. Turns out they’re a twist on the binyeo and were designed by Gianfranco Ferre’. How do I get my hands on one @koreanair?!
As remarkable as the designs was the incredible coordination of Seoul Fashion Week in general. With shows running on-time (!), and all housed within one venue (the stunning Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza), the experience could not have been more civilized when measured against the chaos of New York. The best bit: a hall of booths set up to give press and buyers the opportunity to have face time with designers and view their collections a mere 24 hours after they’ve been shown. The ball’s in your court, NYC.