Following last season’s announcement that its long-term director Jung Kuho would be stepping down, the future of Seoul Fashion Week felt somewhat in flux. Initially, there was concern that Jung’s blueprint to establish Seoul as a serious player in the global fashion scene (see: the success of brands like Blindness and pushBUTTON) would be replaced with something more consumer-facing. But this season it seemed, reassuringly, to be business as usual.
One change was the growing sense that many of the highlights were taking place outside of the colossal central exhibition hall of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza—the futuristic, Zaha Hadid-designed Möbius strip of steel and concrete that plays host to the majority of Seoul Fashion Week’s shows and events. In the DDP’s basement car park, which mostly accommodates emerging brands, a more modest scale allowed designers to express their vision holistically; meanwhile, the inclusion of a handful of off-site presentations also gave the schedule a much-needed sense of variety.
If Seoul Fashion Week has one challenge on its hands, it will be wooing back some of the designers who—perhaps put off by the more bombastic, commercial shows that tend to headline here—have chosen to move off-schedule. To solve this, offering a greater range of formats and show spaces and a more edited timetable wouldn’t be a bad place to start; but in the meantime, there was still plenty on the main itinerary to keep editors and buyers making the biannual trip to this style capital. Here, the designers to know from Seoul Fashion Week Spring 2020.
One of the topics that the East Asian market is beginning to grapple with is sustainability. Ever the pioneer, Seoul placed itself at the forefront of this conversation by hosting the city’s first Sustainable Fashion Summit as one of the week’s banner events. It isn’t just about good intentions, though, and thankfully one of the most compelling brands on the schedule had ethical production as its central tenet. The appropriately named designer collective RE;CODE provided a fresh take on the issue of responsible design with a distinctly Korean, mix-and-match spirit.
At an off-site exhibition-cum-presentation on an island in the center of Seoul’s Han River, visitors were guided through rails of deadstock suiting and office wear, and invited to watch seamstresses refashion the garments into new pieces, the results of which hung on rails as one-offs. There was a strong aesthetic vision here too, with the patch-worked shirting recalling the appeal of the reconstituted wardrobe staples sold by Comme des Garçons under their SHIRT diffusion. A particularly novel service offered by RE;CODE is the ability to bring in old garments of your own and have them remade into new pieces under its RE;COLLECTION initiative. It was this balance of elegance and intelligence that made the label one of the week’s highlights.
With her emphasis on delicate, romantic craftsmanship, designer Minju Kim’s collections tend to stand out among the eye-popping streetwear that dominates Seoul Fashion Week. Often utilizing smocking, heavy embroidery, and shades of Victoriana, Kim has spent the five years since launching her label establishing herself as something close to Seoul’s own Simone Rocha. This season, she took things in a new, sleeker direction, retaining her trademark silhouettes while simultaneously paring back the more frou-frou embellishments she’s become known for.
This newly minimalistic approach made the collection a buyer’s favorite. Here, her taste for theatricality came via the gothic, lightly fetishistic thread she picked up via her previous, Fall 2019 collection, most notably in a series of black and white leg-of-mutton sleeved gowns with a dark glamor that wouldn’t look out of place on a Daphne du Maurier heroine. It was a smart and sellable pivot that upheld Kim’s reputation as one of Seoul’s most exciting design talents.
While Lee Mooyeol’s collections for his label Youser have sometimes been a little incoherent, this collection felt like something of a breakthrough for the designer, who earlier this year began showing his menswear in Milan. Under ultraviolet light, Lee presented a series of futuristic, hybridized looks including lycra tops with neon accents that nodded at the work of Marine Serre, hoodies printed with certificates of authenticity that echoed the ready-made spirit of DIY New York labels from Miguel Adrover to Vaquera, and cowboy hats with long fringes that recalled the signature mask of this year’s breakout country star Orville Peck.
At points, Lee’s eclecticism still ended up feeling a little busy, but there were plenty of moments—such as a two-piece bodysuit in a bandana print, joined at the waist by carabiners—where his magpie eye hit the mark. These are clothes that you can see going straight off the runway and onto the backs of the style-obsessed Seoulites who parade the ramps and staircases of the DDP throughout the week, hoping to get snapped in their latest cutting-edge look. And for a Korean designer, what better seal of approval could there be?
Dew E Dew E
An area in which a small, but significant handful of Seoul designers have quietly excelled is in the crafting of clothes for Phoebe Philo acolytes at more accessible price points; among them are Low Classic, who, while remaining based in Seoul, now present their collections in Paris. Stepping up to the mark this season were Jinyoung Kim and Suyeon Lee of Dew E Dew E, whose collection balanced refinement and eclecticism with élan.
Individual highlights included a delightful plaid prairie dress with an oversized peter pan collar and a single-sleeved yellow and black floral print top with pleated palazzo pants in emerald green, neatly tied at the ankle by a pair of strappy sandals. The peasant blouses and silk babushka scarves veered slightly into the realm of costume, while the nods to Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe in the topsy-turvy proportions and craft-inflected details felt a little on the nose. But with a more judicious edit, Dew E Dew E could easily be on its way to filling the Low Classic gap with international buyers eager to see what Seoul has to offer.
With manicured K-pop stars serving as a paradigm of masculinity to younger generations, Seoul’s menswear scene is one of the most dynamic in East Asia: the city’s male population is unafraid to embrace androgyny, and to experiment with cutting-edge trends that Western fashion followers might be a little more reluctant to try. Appropriately, a fresh take on Korean men’s dressing came courtesy of the amusingly named label ChanceChance by Chan Kim, whose kaleidoscopic color palette and lightness of touch made it stand out among the strong roster of menswear labels this season.
A particular highlight was the knitwear: namely, a striped angora sweater in candy-colored blue and pink stripes, and a similarly fluffy cardigan in a tasty shade of lime green. A series of sequined looks proved to be an unexpected delight, including a layered long-sleeve polo in a pastel ombré that had a gentle whimsy recalling Sander Lak’s menswear for Sies Marjan. Like many of the shows this season, this one had a tendency to pinball around a little, but when it hit the mark, it did so with offbeat charm. The show’s popularity with the Korean press suggested that the tide is turning on streetwear—not just in Western menswear, it seems, but now in East Asia too.