At Seoul Fashion Week, North Korea and Politics Come Into Play – Vogue.com
In South Korea, as elsewhere, fashion and politics are deeply intertwined. And so, Seoul Fashion Week found itself in a strange place this season as the region’s escalating political situation has made a direct impact on the local industry, rippling through it in ways large and small.
To start, there were fewer Chinese editors and buyers, the result of ongoing tensions between the two countries due to the THAAD missile defense system deployed by the U.S. The lack of Chinese shoppers is affecting the market, too, and so some designers were seen reusing fabrics, or cutting into old samples as needed. Rumors went up and down the front row that certain foreign editors and celebrities had declined to come to Seoul out of fear. On the whole, the mood felt tense and more restrained than in the past, and several international guests wondered whether it was due to the North Korea problem. But ask any local and you’ll know that it is rarely on the mind—only when a curious foreigner inquires do they remember the hostile neighbor just 35 miles from Seoul.
The truth is that the constant stress of its existence has crept into daily life and been internalized. Koreans are often criticized for wanting everything fast and more of it (hence why most of the industry trades in fast fashion). Part of this is due to pride, the desire to catch up to the rest of the world after the Korean War. It also may be that the entire city is standing on the edge of a knife—the focus stays on the here and now when the future remains so uncertain. For Seoul fashion to thrive, Koreans need to somehow set that aside, slow down, and take a longer view. Creativity is born from freedom and time to explore, from introspection. That is one reason why designers who go abroad and shake off those tensions are often the ones who stumble upon something new. This season, those who took their experiences and wove them in with their culture broke away from the pack.
Münn designer Hyun-min Han was inspired by the public installations of British artist Alex Chinneck, discovered on his travels to London. Yet he brought it back to Korea with little details—petal-shaped norigae, a traditional good luck charm, made from parachute cord and left swinging from belt loops. Myoung-sin Lee of Low Classic was also influenced by her travels abroad, and wove her culture throughout her nomadic collection—in swirling fan and goblin prints and leather bags shaped like traditional earthenware jars that jangled as the models walked. What stood out more was the fact that Lee framed her pieces as less distinctly Korean, more Asian—the region coming together in a way, which has become more important than ever.
It is a concept put into real-world practice by Bajowoo of 99%IS-, whose off-site show was a definite highlight. Held in the basement of an international high-end boutique, it was a beautiful lineup of sleek rainwear and elevated punk separates, taken in by friends from Japan, China, Thailand, England, the U.S. Bajowoo is smart—he knows exactly what steps to take to move 99%IS- to the next level. He also knows that by taking a more global perspective—expanding overseas and having a diverse group surround him—he will help Korean fashion grow by association. It’s important to remember that Korea is not an island by any definition; it’s only by working together that these issues can be overcome.