Monochrome tracksuits are elongated by heeled sock-fit boots. Blazers and dress pants are paired with chunky sneakers. Socks and sandals are a statement of the compatibility between comfort and style. Men sport heeled metallic clogs. This is a place where rules are broken; this is Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the street style hotspot of Seoul Fashion Week.
Unfolding over the course of five days, from March 19 to 24, the biannual celebration of both experienced and up-and-coming Korean designers is setting global trends and buoying Seoul to the surface as a fashion capital soon to be on par with the likes of New York, London, Milan and Paris. The engagement and demand for high quality fashion in Seoul is unprecedented.
According to Jay Lim, an experienced Korean street-style photographer who has shot fashion week attendees’ unique outfits from Seoul to London to Paris, South Korea has developed a unique culture around fashion.
“Korea is very sensitive about fashion trends,” Lim said. “People take lot of notes when looking at the street style pictures.”
Because Korea has many online magazines which actually buy photos from famous street photographers like himself, Lim said that his street-style snapshots are able to gain salience within formal, fashion publications.
Lim also acknowledged the strong relationships that blossom between brands and celebrities — “the street advertising effect affects brand promotion.”
It’s no joke — the press that street fashion generated during Seoul Fashion Week in the recent Fall/Winter shows covered fashion bloggers, models and K-pop idols such as Jamie Chung, Irene Kim, SHINee’s Key, Lee Hi, Jessi and NCT 127.
A major up-and-coming brand to watch from Seoul Fashion Week is HuPot. A menswear focused brand based in Seoul, it was created by two alumni from Parsons School of Design in New York — DO and YK.
According to YK, the decision to move back to Seoul after graduating from Parsons was due to SFW’s explosive growth.
“Culturally, Seoul has become a big force in Asia, and it’s been inspirational to see if [it] grows and grow with it,” YK said.
HuPot’s latest Fall/Winter collection “Exodus” was modeled in both New York and Seoul, a first for the brand. The brand’s target market is definitely expanding globally, bridging language and culture gaps with ease.
Other notable shows included BESFXXK by Bona Kim and Jae Lim, in which models rocked the runway with their heads completely masked by silk scarves. Lee Kyuho’s MOHO had a concept of “Stability from Instability,” which brought attention to the environmental concern of radioactive decay.
Seoul Fashion Week has a long way to go before joining the “big four” fashion capitals. As fashion is an extremely Western-centric industry, Asian representation rides on a tough road to success which growing fashion capitals such as Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo are fighting to pave. Seoul Fashion Week, being largely sponsored by the government, may have different end goals than simply inspiring fashion innovation and creativity. The government may be motivated to use Seoul Fashion Week to export Korean culture as a product since commercially, there is a huge pressure to sell and make money. As a result, the well established “big four” fashion weeks may have greater freedom in creating out of the ordinary, standard-challenging collections. Whether Seoul Fashion Week fits in with that is questionable. However, Seoul Fashion Week has a unique street-style phenomenon that seems to be key in propelling and situating it on the global radar of fashion capitals. Global interest in the styles of influencers is growing and, refreshingly, Asian representation in fashion is as well.
If anything, Lim’s optimistic view is heartening.
“I think Seoul Fashion Week is the best fashion week in Asia, and there is going to be bright future for it,” Lim said.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 9 print edition. Email Shannon Hu at [email protected]