We’re about a month past the curtain-close of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang — some 78 miles east of Seoul — and, frankly, it was still pretty wintry in South Korea last week. Unseasonably chilly, I was told. So chilly that on Wednesday it snowed. Hard. (Brief lament: so much for that waffle knit sweater I brought with me from Miami, which I thought would “suffice” as a “layer” in case things were not “spring-like.”)
But neither that gossamer-thin knit nor the winter-dragging-itself-over-the-finish-line cold halted Seoul Fashion Week, title sponsored by the local beauty company Hera, from beating on against the crisp. (This very much includes the absolutely riotous and fabulous street-style scene outside of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the Zaha Hadid-conceived venue where SFW occurs. I’d go so far as to say you haven’t really seen street style until you’ve seen Seoul street style.)
There was promise in much of what was on display. Bigger brands out of Seoul, like Juun.J and Wooyoungmi, have jetted westward to hold their runways or presentations at “mainline” fashion weeks. But the South Korean capital certainly has its fair share of labels to keep an eye on, including the LVMH-prize shortlisted Blindness, which, for spring, has been picked up by Barneys New York.
There’s a savviness in Seoul’s fashion community, both in terms of designers and consumers alike. It’s almost best described as this ability to hybridize trends, thus creating pseudo-super-trends, all unfolding in bolt-fast real-time. An influential buyer for a massive global e-commerce platform was overheard saying that, for the region’s market, everyone looks to Seoul for inspiration. And with that, here’s some of the best of what was on hand at the city’s Fall 2018 collections.
I came to Seoul for Blindness foremost, and Blindness was among the strongest shows here. To my point about trend-mixing, there were certainly glances to things we’ve seen elsewhere, namely all-over floral prints and scarf dresses/dressing, but designers Shin Kyu-yong and Park Ji-sun managed to avoid mostly anything that was Diet Prada-levels of call-out referential. What I love most about Blindness is its pearly embellishments of ubiquitous medical face-masks. That continued for Fall. The message this time around was “Peace in the Middle of War,” with the former being connoted by flowers, the latter being implied by parka-like layering and tiers, suggesting shielded protection. Rumor has it that Blindness is moving its show to London, but don’t call it an upgrade. Just expect to see more of it on the international fashion pulse.
Pushbutton, which is named after a lyric in Madonna’s song “Hollywood” and is designed by Park Seung-gun, is another highlight hailing out of Seoul at the moment (the label is stocked at Net-A-Porter, which, in and of itself, is considered by many to be a very large stamp of approval). Maximalism and minimalism went head-to-head for Fall, and some of the results were noteworthy. See: layered, belted blazers in steely gray, worn with pom-pom pointy-toed shoes with cut-out cowboy-boot shin-guards (weirdly workable!); a big old red-riding-hood coat but with black tartan lining and a surprisingly synchronous violet cinch; and a fringe-y scarf that I will, at a risk, call Cookie Monster couture. It’s not like there was an even balance between maximalism and minimalism, but rather, a clash, and it was enjoyable.
HETA was a pleasant surprise. I’ve been to Seoul Fashion Week before, but this label had not registered until now. It’s a “menswear” house, run by the female designer Ji Ho-young, but there were men’s and women’s looks in fall, plus a ton of unisexuality between them. She called it “Secret Sportism.” Sharp, severe tailoring let on a bit of that clandestine and tight-lipped wavelength. Most of note: great technical parkas with silk inlays. Those were the secret to her success, at least in the sportive vein.
NOHANT was another sleeper hit. I especially liked designer Nam Noah’s cyan color-play, seen on a nicely classical-meets-technical trench coat, a largely outsized corduroy button-down with a darker navy circular motif (favorite piece of the week), and a dress-length cardigan. A point: cardigans are so underrated. It will be interesting to see if this label lands on any western radars after this season. It wasn’t perfect, but there were, for sure, parts to be wanted.
The Centaur, by a designer named Yeranji, has been around for 10 years. But over that decade, it appears to have remained local. Yeranji’s theme for Fall orbited around the word “conspiracy,” which may have been implied by fashion oddities, like lace circling sunglass frames. But there was nothing conspiratorial about a pajama-big pink blazer, a minty flowery frilly dress styled with ribbons tied into pigtails, and another pajama-y crushed velvet top, wide-pant and winter sky-blue top-coat. I want to see more of The Centaur!
Which looks are your favorite?