SETSETSET

A Time for Play

This designer’s vision of Korean culture is a montage of vivid colors, fun prints, and the unbridled joy of life

Story: Dianne Pineda-Kim

Photos: Manon Thore

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For its 2019 Spring/Summer collection, Korean designer brand SETSETSET sent models down the runway holding fresh cabbages and green onion leeks peeking from trendy net bags, while others wore neon rubber gloves as though they were about to wash the dishes as soon as they stepped off the stage. In a previous collection shown during Vancouver Fashion Week, the models sashayed in bright colors, mismatched prints, and outfits with interesting cuts. While in its latest Fall/Winter show in Seoul for Generation Next—a showcase of young designers with only five years of experience—the brand once again showed its propensity for the unexpected. This time, the new collection featured models in colorful double bun hairstyles, jewel-toned tights, and a full spectrum of floral palettes and loud patterns as they struck cutesy poses at the beginning of their walk. 

Designer Yoonkyung Jang thrives on this quirkiness, playfulness, and element of surprise, which are also reflective of her personality. But while Jang’s designs are conspicuously lighthearted and fun, she weaves Korean culture into every print and concept behind each piece of clothing, with her desire to convey a powerful message to anyone who wears her clothes and to those who see them.

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Rooted in culture

Naming a brand with both three syllables and three words is quite a clever strategy for easy recall, but the meaning behind it runs deep. Not only does it refer to clothes as in a “set,” it also pertains to the Korean singsong clapping game “쎄쎄쎄,” with the intonation “sesese.” It has been a popular form of child’s play for Korean kids for generations. “How can I express Korean culture interestingly?” Jang explains. “I want to express it in a way that makes it unique and stand out. I want to make the scope for expressing this culture much wider.”

For such a young brand with a young designer, SETSETSET carries contemporary clothing that is steeped in old stories, memories, and idiosyncrasies of Korea. 

Jang’s debut at Seoul Fashion Week in 2016 was as Korean as it could be. “I wanted to make a strong impression, so I did a fashion show with the concept of kimchi,” she shares. She reinforced the idea even further by gifting the show attendees with kimchi and suyuk (boiled pork belly wrap). She adds, “There were lots of things I wish I could’ve done, but it’s definitely one of my most fun memories as a designer.” 

In the three years since her label’s inception, Jang continues to share her vision and love of Korean culture with her signature vivid shades and storied pieces. 

Her recent collection revolved around the hibiscus flower or mugunghwa, the national flower of Korea. Again, the theme of play is evident. The designer describes her inspiration as, “a metaphor for the Korean game Mugunghwa Ggotchi Piossumnida” (a game similar to Red Light, Green Light). She also emphasizes that mugunghwa is an important image of Korean culture, “a symbol of purity and patriotism, as the word hibiscus appears in the national anthem.” 

There are small yet significant details in her designs that aim to start a conversation about the enchanting beauty of the flower and how it was creatively translated into modern clothing. “The placket details symbolize the five petals of the hibiscus and one of the pieces have a wide hood in the shape of the flower. I hope people can get the sense of purity and elegance that the flower evokes through my collection,” Jang explains.

Ethical fashion

Not only does SETSETSET advocate a love for Korean culture, it also has a heart for the environment. According to the designer, the team that makes up the label has an eco-conscious approach to fashion, and subscribes to a philosophy of "비건 패션" or literally “vegan fashion.” This means that they don’t use fur or animal products and that they always keep sustainability in mind when it comes to the production of their clothes. “I want to make the kind of clothes that live harmoniously with our ecosystem through ethical fashion,” the designer says.

With every color, pattern or detail, the designer continues to move forward by looking back—through clothing that dances within the intersection of history and modernity, light and heaviness, the beautiful and the practical. This sense of playfulness and duality will always be at the core of SETSETSET’s design philosophy: to always remember and see things with fresh new eyes. 

Sean Choi