Seoul Dreaming: A Menswear Roundup

You’ll find them in cafes, cinemas and the audience at Seoul Fashion Week—men with boyish haircuts of the young Paul McCartney variety, the longish fringe brushing, perhaps, and a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. It is a style that evokes both a nostalgic mid-20th century image of the modern man and the dreamy romanticism of the current reigning camp of pop idols and actors. It is also a theme that key designers liberally played with on the runway last week, as the spring/summer ’09 Seoul collections kicked off with two solid days—and then some—of menswear.

Song Zio capped off the first day with “Blackout,” a collection that at first glance would seem to be the anecdote for modern romanticism. As the name suggests, the collection was mostly black and drew inspiration from classic sci-fi animations such as Akira (1988). Song, Korea’s foremost avant-garde designer, used clean lines and a slim silhouette in accordance with his signature chic urbanism. Yet for spring the seasoned designer demonstrated a surprising new sensuality and vulnerability by deepening necklines, making wisps out of sweaters, taking a chance on short jumpsuits and adding protective cocoon jackets.

On the other end of the spectrum, second-day headliner Chang Kwang Ho, arguably the country’s leading menswear designer, showed neat and tidy figures in pale pastels and dandy candy colors under the banner “Utopia.” With a blend of classic pieces and contemporary fluidness, Chang’s vision of a perfect world evinced a smooth finish and a cool mod vibe.

Meanwhile, Seo Eun Gil of G.I.L Homme evoked the hazy lens of memory with “Island I Forgot,” a collection most notable for its reinterpretation of the traditional Hanbok into slouchy, slightly shiny trousers. In shades of sand, driftwood and kelp, unbuttoned jackets paired with loose-necked knits completed the look for this pensive band of linen and cotton-clad castaways. To get a more fleshed out idea of Seoul’s particular style, picture the tunics and tweed of Kim Seo Ryong’s poetic “Pipe Dreamers” and newcomer Ko Tae Yong’s doe-eyed school boys in trim plaid pants, varsity sweaters and even chemistry goggles.

Of course the hottest ticket of the week was the Woo Young Mi show, a much-fëted homecoming that simultaneously marked the designer’s first show in her native Korea in six years as well as the 20th anniversary of her label Solid Homme. Declaring “Blur is the new black!” Woo layered translucent materials in a neutral palette (save for that slash of pagoda red), which variously concealed and revealed at whim. The show was set against a backstage veiled only by a semi-transparent curtain.

This recreation of her earlier Paris show drew more than 3,000 fans—including local and international fashion royalty—to pay their respects to a designer who is rare as much for her overseas success as for being a woman heading a menswear brand. More than one third of the designers at Seoul Fashion Week showed exclusively menswear, demonstrating the strong presence and unique face of menswear design in Korea—and, with Woo as an exemplary indication, some serious ambitions for the global stage.

—Rebecca Milner

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