Fresh Talents

The future of South Korean fashion is emerging with Generation Next designers

Story: Lorena Jiménez and Dianne Pineda-Kim

Photos: Seoul Fashion Week Organization and Manon Thore

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“How nice it would be if we could only get through the looking-glass house! I’m sure it’s got, oh! Such beautiful things in it!” This is one of the memorable lines spoken by the famous character Alice in Lewis Carroll’s novel, Through the Looking-Glass. This same sentiment and intense curiosity can be felt outside the curved entrapments of the modern Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), the usual site of Seoul Fashion Week, where a makeshift, rectangular looking glass room is located within walking distance from the main shows. From both in and outside the “glasshouse,” audiences can view the runways of “Generation Next,” a government-supported fashion showcase that aims to provide a stage for new designers free of charge, as opposed to the on-schedule shows by more established and well-heeled brands that are able to pay premium venue fees.

This “new talent” segment of Seoul Fashion Week features more than 20 Korean designers that have only one to five years of experience. Last year, Vogue extolled the power and fresh perspective of these emerging talents, comparing them to the oftentimes trend-obsessed and “stagnant” designers with more clout, writing, “It is a smart move on Seoul Fashion Week’s part to accommodate them. If the city is to become a true incubator, its Fashion Week must find, cultivate, and support new talent, especially as the first wave of rising Koreans heads overseas.”

Just by entering the Generation Next venue, you could already feel the excitement and freshness in the atmosphere, something quickly overtaken by the admiration of the pieces presented on the runway. The venue was home to competing emotions; on the one hand due to the space you realized that you were not in the presence of the main star designers leading the Korean Fashion Wave, but on the other, the strong designs and collections left more than one questioning whether the collections were really from new designers and not more experienced and renowned fashion houses.

Fashion was definitely not stagnant this season. The Generation Next designers brought in a lot of colors, not only in terms of their chosen fabrics, but also in the way each and every one of them interpreted fashion with their collections. Their pieces radiated strength, elegance, and freshness, giving the attendees a peek into new fashion currents, new stories, and new sources of inspiration. This was a pleasant surprise that had more than one professional in the field like us comment on the strength and positive feelings emitted from the Generation Next designers.

At the recent 2019 Fall/Winter fashion spectacle, one thing was certain—the changing of seasons also signals the beginning of a new era in Korean fashion. The collections of the Generation Next designers proved that innovation and taste in style know no age, background, length of experience, or state of fame. Of course, the young designers still have a lot of things to learn from their predecessors who have mastered the art of impeccable craftsmanship and business savviness that helped propel their brands to global success—but their presence is an indication that fashion always finds new faces and new ways to play.


Generation Next is coming on strong, full of energy and the desire to make an impact. And among all their amazing stories, collections, and sources of inspiration, these were some of our most evident designer choices.



IKE

Unlike the loud, colorful and attention-grabbing collections of other designers, IKE chose to take the quiet, subtle route with its soft palettes, feminine silhouettes, and understated elegance. With designer Park Ik Je at the helm, IKE is the calmer second label to Teethoffice, a collection known for its de-constructive, streetwear styles. But while Teethoffice revelled in experimentation with cuts and colors, IKE was a lesson in restraint and simplicity with its theme “Nichts,” a German word that roughly translates to “nothingness.” According to the designer, the collection depicts the “feeling of emptiness caused by our attachment to outward beauty.” True enough, some of the dominating colors of the clothes were nude, neutrals, and pale pastels, which almost allude to the sensation of numbness and the image of disappearance or fading. As the models progressed from barely-there colors and loose cuts to more pronounced details like the multi-cut brown leather dress and slightly elaborate trench coats, the designer’s message became clearer. Some of the pieces seemed to reference undergarments, perhaps as a resounding statement that emphasizes one sentiment: beauty is only skin deep. — Dianne


MOON J

Art inspires art, and this is true for designer Moon Jin Hee of Moon J, whose creative juices got tickled by the art film Microhabitat, which won the CGV Arthouse Award at the 22nd Busan Film Festival. The movie tells the misery and eccentricities of Miso, a thirty-year-old woman whose name in Korean means both “smile” and “micro.” After the price of her rent increases and she can no longer afford to stay in her place, she becomes homeless, flitting from one friend’s house to another. She takes on odd housekeeping jobs in order to enjoy “luxuries” in life she simply cannot let go of: cigarettes, whiskey, and her boyfriend. The collection featured a harmonious mix of modern structured suits and feminine looks that are a far cry from Miso’s disheveled, homeless state. But rather than the literal inspiration, perhaps Moon J chose to highlight the expensive, ideal world that only a privileged few can afford and a lot could only dream of. The overall impression that the collection gave was the positive image of a woman who is well-traveled, dressed, and ready to conquer the world. — D.


UXION

The name of the brand Uxion is derived from the name of its designer, Yoo Ji-on. And it’s only very apt since the collection embodied her own personal style, as it was apparent when she walked out of the runway to greet the audience at the finale. One could see the woman she was trying to depict: strong, empowered, and emancipated from stereotypes, yet still in touch with her feminine, nurturing side. The 2019 F/W is a continuation of her previous S/S collection, which was entitled, “The story of a woman exploring the Vanilla City.” With a combination of salmon pinks, blacks, brown plaid suits, striking red coordinates, and pinstriped pants, the collections embodied a woman who is modern and thrives in the urban world. It’s easy to say that almost every type of woman will be able to find themselves in several of Uxion’s designs: the classic, the adventurous, professional, simple, or the sexy woman who is confident with every stride. — D.

EXYAI.W

Exyai W means “a man who makes women's clothing” and this season designer Kim Hak Sun presented a new angle for his usual minimal yet feminine concept with a sober and almost dark aesthetic. A collection in which male and female lines intertwined more times than not, but in which all pieces and styles still emanated the beauty and strength of femininity. Fitted patterns that hugged the natural shape of the female body in outfits that also accentuated the dark side of womanhood, through pieces clearly meant to bring us back to the past. I would not say that the collection was minimal per se, but what I definitely could feel was the intention of the designer to captivate the essence and “scent of a woman,” the multiple shades of femininity, not only in the cuteness and brightness that this concept is usually associated with in a country like Korea, but in a much rawer, darker and more mature way than the common representation. A mix between a dark femme fatale from the Victorian era and the career woman of today, in which Exyai W. brought us the image of fierce ladies wearing at times the outfits of their male counterparts, masculine lines yet always tamed with a dose of femininity. Feminine and masculine sparks, but always formal in a collection that, as with women themselves, was subversive, strong, and almost dangerous — yet beautiful. — Lorena

NAVY STUDIO

A brand that I could quickly describe as “the clothes the ideal boyfriend would wear”, all the way stylish but restrained, Navy Studio presented a collection marked by sophisticated yet simple designs. These are the kind of pieces that I like to call scene-stealers, minimalist yet making a statement that, without going overboard, manages to steal all the looks. These are designs that held a sense of reliability, elegance, strength and delicacy at the same time. This is not an easy combination to achieve in menswear, a field in which achieving this perfect point of bliss in between manly and delicate is not always so simple. The collection was  mainly based on navy, blue, and the occasional white, mostly present as the statement point of design. White linings, double-sided rolled cuffs, layering, and the occasional classic print together with the smart use of buttons completed the looks without the need of any extra accessorization. The pattern work of the designs filled with delicate lines created an effortless and smart dandy look that gave the pieces their timeless aesthetic. Navy studio brought us delicate menswear done right, with designer Moon Chang Sung´s signature all over it. His personal style and imprint was represented in each one of the pieces, and to which he was still carefully putting his final touches on until the last second before hitting the runway. — L.


LONGPLAYINGRECORD

Longplayingrecord, under designer Kwon Oh Seung, follows the philosophy of “simple but not simple.” Participating for the first time in Seoul Fashion Week with this Fall Winter 2019 collection, what used to be a brand focused on “classic elegance and contemporary menswear” surprised us this season with female-worn designs. The collection was the perfect mix of formal with a spark of athleisure, in which classic items had a twist with details that incorporated a dark street vibe. The powerful outerwear pieces definitely stood out through their androgynous patterns; in a beautiful menswear collection that could easily have doubled up as womenswear with an elegance in design that seemed to adapt perfectly to the person wearing it. Each item had its own personality in a collection in which both past and future seemed to be represented. Items that emanated a strong vintage military vibe had been clearly reinterpreted by the designer's style in a way that, through the different lines and materials, also took  you a couple of years into the unknown. Sober color palettes and prints created a solid collection in which out of the ordinary classical touches kept sprucing the designs. — L.

fashionSean Choi