K-fashion can go global with K-pop

nana_in_2011_seoul_fashion_weekGlobal fashion houses have one thing in common ― they do have an identity. This critical element is missing in Korean fashion, an overseas fashion insider laments.  However, time is on local fashion designers’ side because there’s a Korean culture boom overseas which was sparked by K-pop’s global expansion. If the local designers want to ride the boom, Vogue’s fashion critic Anders Christian Madsen says they should do more and work harder to find their own identity and build their own strength that can differentiate themselves from Western fashion houses just as K-pop successfully did for its global expansion. “Korea needs to do with fashion what it did with the K-pop,” Madsen told The Korea Times during his recent visit to Seoul, for 2019 Spring/Summer Hera Seoul Fashion Week (SFW). The 31-year-old fashion expert has visited Korea every year for the past four years with hopes to find “diamonds in the rough.” His efforts, however, have so far been in vain.

Madsen said he tried hard to find the unique identity of Korean fashion culture, but he still thinks he does not know enough. He urged Korean designers to focus more on building their “own fashion identity” to compete against influential Western fashion houses. There’s no doubt that Seoul is emerging as Asia’s fashion hub following the rise of hallyu, or the Korean Wave. But Madsen says Korean designers in general have yet to live up to such hype due to a lack of originality. Madsen shares his fashion insight across the globe, so it was necessary for him to learn Korea’s cultural context upon his visits here. But it took “a considerable amount of time” for him to come up with a clear image representing the local fashion. Chances are that “K-fashion” can win a reputation and fame on the global stage by following in the footsteps of the success of K-pop, as Korean fashion has in recent years received more attention across the globe thanks to hallyu, according to Madsen. Backed by the government’s support of the local fashion industry, many will agree SFW is one of the most powerful fashion platforms in Asia, he said, adding the local fashion show is on industry insiders’ “radar” and fashion critics in non-Korean territories talk a lot about it.

Even if the SFW successfully becomes a key fashion event in Asia, he said it would be extremely hard for SFW to build up its identity to compete against the so-called “big four” fashion weeks_ namely Milan, London, New York and Paris. “Especially because of all the money that’s obviously being put into by the city, (SFW) got a massive part,” he said. He underlined the need for Korean brands to keep enhancing their originality with a focus on the cultural background, rather than trying to making changes.”We (fashion industry insiders) want a new perspective specialist. We are in desperate need of this, always,” he said. It was when he found the brand Blindness in Seoul that he saw the possibility of a breakthrough here in the near future.

After discovering them, he did in-depth research about the brand’s context to understand where their inspirations came from. He ended up learning their cultural backgrounds, including designer Shin Kyu-yong and Park Ji-sun’s life behind the scenes. Both based in Korea, lived a normal life just like other ordinary people here.
“They’ve had one season in London, which is really important,” he added. The brand, with its leading designer duo, has successfully taken its first important footstep, showcasing their work in London. Nominated for the LVMH Prize, the designer duo successfully made an international debut through their cross-cultural and hyper-historicist work. Madsen “witnessed firsthand” the rise of the brand from the 2016 Spring/Summer show in Seoul.”It’s statements like these that make us understand the bigger picture of K-fashion in terms of South Korean culture, tradition and mentality, and that is key if the nation wants a major stake in the international fashion industry,” he explained. According to Madsen, so many brands in Korea have no “unique point of view.” He said he was sad to see derivative designs during everywhere the SFW, which he thinks is a “shame.”


“Like they did with K-pop, South Korea’s challenge is to steer its designers in a direction sufficiently original for a global audience now more focused on authenticity than ever,” he added. Attending the latest SFW, Madsen said it is neither hard to catch the overall idea of South Korea’s fashion identity, nor how it’s cultural codes and conduct are expressed creatively through K-Fashion. “Going forward, this is where Seoul Fashion Week needs to focus its efforts.” he said. Another industry insider, who visited SFW for the third consecutive time, also shared similar view on Seoul being a perfect platform for promoting its designers, though missing its originality. Opening Ceremony menswear buyer, Alex Chirgadze, 30, said the platform has “good selling techniques,” but failed in showcasing original content. Opening Ceremony, an American clothing brand and retailer, has been involved with the Korean fashion week from the beginning, since its first season. And there’s a huge change from season one to the current season, he said.  According to Chirgadze, it is definitely one of the major fashion shows around the globe, attracting a growing number of international buyers like him. Traveling around the world, he aware unique differences that each big four cities hold. “Seoul designers should stick to themselves and stick to what they feel is right for their brands and try to not listen to the noise around them that much. They need to try to focus on what they’re good at,” he added. He was wowed by a lot of elements like traditional heritage and history that made him consider Seoul as “a special place” however, didn’t find that much in the showcases. “I feel like there’s a lot of Korean brands are getting bigger and in western culture but they need to keep their originality,” he added.


By Kang Aa-young

(Korea Times)

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