Fashion Forward: Korea's Global Trek

Back in 2007, Seoul was designated 2010′s World Design Capital. While the honor was given in recognition of the city’s burgeoning industrial design scene, its fashion sector is currently primed to play an equally pivotal role in the near future. With Seoul Fashion Week quickly becoming a must for progressive editors and buyers alike, and events like last February’s NYFW Concept Korea: Fashion Collective 2010, the country’s next crop of rising stars is being groomed to compete not just with its peers, but with the world.

Industry insiders like New York-based Richard Chun, for one, are betting on the country’s viability. “There are so many talented designers in Korea,” the Idiel Showroom director explains, adding, “exposure is the most important thing right now for them.” To wit, Chun has made a concerted effort to get his labels serious visibility, attending trade shows like Capsule and Workroom, and, in the case of Gear3 by Saen, securing a slot at Seoul Fashion Week. The first accessories designer to show there, Saen has developed three lines using leather as well as more unorthodox materials like electrical wires and bicycle chains. The collection was subsequently picked up by Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s, Chun reports.

Beyond Closet and D.GNAK, meanwhile, offer subtly reconstructed takes on wardrobe staples like belted overcoats coats and double breasted blazers, aimed primarily at men in their 20s and 30s. Whereas the former culls from both preppy and military stylings, the latter has a decidely more urban sophisticate vibe, evident in long, suit-like vests paired with scarves and cropped khaki trousers. Given the interest from European media, Chun hopes to show D.GNAK at London Fashion Week next season.

More established labels like Zio Song’s Songzio (which debuted in Paris earlier this year following stints at SFW) and Bumsuk Choi’s General Idea are steadily gaining broader-based international audiences. Choi, who currently shows his edgy, streetwear-influenced collection in New York, plans to collaborate with Puma for their Black Station line, to be sold throughout Asia. On the female front, both SFW regulars and cult faves Johnny Hates Jazz and Jain Song have been picked up by Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como. Though offering distinctly different takes on feminine dressing–Johnny Hates Jazz is more trend- and youth-oriented while Jain Song is quietly provocative–both are widely regarded as two of Korea’s most promising womenswear labels.

Chun himself sees unlimited potential for growth, particularly among more affordable labels like those he manages. The key to success, he says, necessarily entails switching gears and thinking outside the often limited confines of Seoul and its environs. Securing placement in stores and boutiques abroad, as well as showing in cities like New York and Paris are essential. “Buyers and press are looking for new and unique brands, and Korean designers are the main target these days,” he notes. “I think Korean fashion is the next big thing.”

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