The West has long governed fashion. While the industry has been impacted by the genius of designers like Yhoji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and Guo Pei, a fashion capital has never truly established itself in the East. Successful designers from Asia have typically opted to show their collections in New York, London, Milan, or Paris. Yet, something needs to be said of the rising attention South Korea and its capital Seoul is generating in the fashion industry. Here we take a closer look at what’s going on style-wise in South Korea and why Seoul might be the next fashion capital.
Seoul’s fashion scene began in the late ‘90s as a rebellion against widespread conservatism. Those who didn’t wish to conform to the humdrum of socially acceptable attire wore leather jackets to foster individualism and self-expression. The scene snowballed from there. Two decades on, the street style of Seoul is rivaling that of Pitti Uomo’s in terms of sheer spectacle. It’s consistently being reinvigorated by an obsession the Korean people have with being on-trend.
Trend culture is huge in Seoul and moves at a ferocious pace. As a result the city is all about fast fashion. Whatever’s in style one day quickly moves to being out the next; it’s all about keeping up. This is a key reason why some of the world’s biggest brands are attracted to the South Korean market; its trend-hopping and money-spending nature makes it the perfect environment for brands to profit from trend cycles and materialistic attitudes.
The attention from the West has also worked wonders to generate hype for the city’s fashion week. In recent years Seoul Fashion Week has undergone a major rebranding, transforming itself from a little-known local fashion week to a globally renowned industry showcase. Within the industry at large it’s now a go-to event and attracts elite press and important buyers from Europe and America. All this publicity has also influenced Western brands to showcase their products within the style-conscious city, as an exercise in branding. Most noteworthy of late, Vetements chose Seoul as the location to unveil their first sneaker collaboration with Reebok. The launch was a major success and largely due to the fixation Seoul has on trend.
Even if those from the West aren’t travelling to Seoul to be a part of the action, South Korean fashion is simultaneously infiltrating the rest of the world. In the last decade, the country has produced world-class designers in Juun.J, D.Gnak by Kang.D, Liful, and Wooyoungmi. These designers are twisting the blueprint of Western fashion into something completely unique while still maintaining an urban and uniquely Asian sensibility. Some Korean designers, such as Blindness, are challenging South Korea’s conservatism, gaining international acclaim in the process. Blindness was a semi-finalist for this year’s LVMH prize, a tremendous feat that had a lot to do with not only their innovative and New Romantic looks but also their experimentation with deconstructing traditional gender roles.
As Korean menswear comes to the fore, so do the men who wear it best. In the past year, major fashion houses have employed the good looks of South Korea’s biggest male stars to front their campaigns. In doing so, these brands have provided themselves with immense promotional reach into Asia. In the past year, Chanel appointed rapper G-Dragon as the face of their Gabrielle bag campaign (their previous male ambassador for the bag was Pharrell). Meanwhile Fendi collaborated with singer Tae Yang on a collection that encapsulated the essence of K-Pop. For Chanel and Fendi to use these Korean stars in their campaigns is marketing acumen at its finest. Both G-Dragon and Tae Yang are legends in the K-Pop movement and followed by millions of fans across Asia and beyond on social media. Any clothing they’re seen wearing earns instant recognition among their vast fandoms and is discussed at great length on dozens of websites dedicated to the fashions of K-Pop artists.
However, it’s not only the K-Pop stars receiving all the attention. Use of Korean male models by Western fashion labels is also on the rise. Western designers and casting agents are casting Koreans for their strong knowledge of fashion, giving them an innate ability to wear clothes better than other models. Models such as Ryu Wankyu walk as many as 12 shows a season, and are a refreshing sight on runways that shamefully under-represents Asian people.
As Seoul develops as a fashion capital, so will a network in which self-expression, gender, and sexuality can be further discoursed, bringing about an even brighter future for the creative city. With its trend-chasing population, array of upcoming designers, and ample supply of homegrown talent to look good in the clothing it creates, Seoul cultivates all the necessary parts to establish itself as a major fashion capital, one that will perhaps one day rival that of Paris or Milan.
- by: Matthew Harden