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True to the spirit of K-fashion, Seoul Fashion Week spring/summer 2018 showcased many signature looks on the catwalks this season. From K-pop-influenced street styles to tailored suits and cutely feminine womenswear, South Korean designers gave audiences what they expected – and then some.
Continuations and new iterations of themes from past seasons such as androgyny, preppy Ivy League college looks and a play on surgical masks were seen at several shows. Korea’s youthful spirit, whether channelled through K-pop and street style aesthetics or the angst of punk-influenced collections, was also on high display.
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This season notably saw the rise of “Blasian” (black Asian) Korean-Nigerian model Han Hyun-min, who was born and raised in Seoul. Until recently in South Korea, models have been mainly Korean or European. Han, who is often credited as “Korea’s first black model,” opened and closed many of the top shows this season alongside a few other black models.
“They don’t want to see the same pretty faces, pretty bodies,” said Seoul Fashion Week executive director and organiser Kuho Jung, remarking on the widening diversity on the catwalk. “They want to see the individual character in each model.”
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Aside from homogeneity, South Korean society and media have often been criticised for perpetuating very high and narrow standards of beauty. In a nation where up to 20 per cent of women were cited to have undergone some form of cosmetic enhancement in 2015, Jung added that there’s been a shift towards natural looks and perhaps even imperfection on the runways – an indication of broadening attitudes towards beauty and diversity.
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With a full front row of local celebrities, and appearances by K-pop star Taemin and veteran actress and singer, Uhm Jung-hwa, SupercommaB was the superstar of all shows. Taemin, also a member of boy band Shinee, who are often credited for popularising skinny jeans among younger Korean men, lit up the hall with an incendiary three-minute performance of his latest single.
As for the unisex collection, diversity was a major theme for designer Lee Bo-hyun’s “#current mood” concept.
Throughout the show, a myriad of different looks and “personalities” were showcased, ranging from “a David Bowie fan,” “a smartphone addict” to “the girl who wants to live in a natural paradise.” The clothing was loud and fun, with styles ranging from oversized street wear to athleisure and “health Goth”.
Lee says that the idea of having many characters came to mind when she noticed the rise of individualism among the younger generations in Korea. “We hired 41 models and we wanted them to be their own individual character, so we gave them each a different personality.”
“Nowadays in Korea, teenagers and those in their 20s, they live their own lives … They have their own character.”
This season saw the emergence of the “dragon lady” at Yoon Choon-ho’s show, which had a five-minute intro before the collection was shown. Vaguely Eastern music played while models wearing Asian conical hats were pulled into the hall via rickshaws manned by fellow models.
Female models wore “Gats”, Korean traditional sun hats normally worn by men in traditional dress (hanbok). Other hanbok-inspired looks including long skirts and tube tops resembling hanbok inner wear were also part of the colourful collection.
A stand-out look included a bright scarlet ensemble, complete with veiled red “gat” and thigh-high red boots with traditional gold patterns.
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Last season, Kim Hee-jin’s sea punk-influenced collection came in Lisa Frank-style neon greens and soft lavenders. this season it has shifted to darker tones of reds and violets. Kim’s range, which expanded from womenswear into unisex last season, also featured two-tone silk shirts, off-the-shoulder tops, ’80s cut jackets, and a colourful spin on a K-fashion staple – the boxy denim jacket.
Who would have thought that 1930s swimming bonnets and lacy Victorian-era dresses would make a good pairing? Choi Jin-woo and Koo Yeon-joo, the married duo behind JKoo, brought them together in a series of deconstructed looks. The mostly black-and-white collection was feminine and dainty, complete with ruffles, long billowing skirts and sashes, and touches of soft pink.
A major highlight was Blindness’ signature exercise in androgyny. Designed by couple Shin Kyu-yong and Park Ji-sun, the brand is best known for creating collections that explore gender fluidity.
Set against a soundtrack of Lana Del Rey songs (“her work is dark and moody like our brand,” says Shin), the show featured theatrical red capes, oversized ankle-length jackets with voluminous sleeves, and a series of surgical masks and full head masks that can only be described as knight-like in an Elizabethan lace-and-pearls way.
“Our focus was not to have a certain theme for the collection, we wanted to focus on strengthening our brand identity,” says Park. “We try to carry our brand concept through each collection, through each piece.”
When asked about any correlation between the dark, stormy mood of the latest collection and the “collective gloom” South Korea has experienced over the past year or so due to the Park Geun-hye presidential scandal, political tension with China over THAAD, and other issues the nation has faced, Park says they have thought about these things, but prefer to stay apolitical.
“We have thought about the political problems here in Korea, but we don’t explicitly try to express this through our collections,” she says.