In recent years, Korean fashion has been increasingly influencing global fashion trends. Known for its bold oversized streetwear pieces and unapologetic way of experimenting, this style has been gaining momentum both inside and outside of Korea. Fashion has always been a big part of Korean culture but it has never been as big as today, or as ingrained in people’s everyday lives. Spend any time in Seoul and you notice the unique fashion styling of its residents and find streets full of quirky designer boutiques and shopping malls. Looking for somewhere to shop? Gangnam, Seoul’s exclusive neighbourhood popularised by PSY, is worth a visit with its combination of well-dressed teens and superbrand stores. If you are shopping more on a budget, head to Itaewon or Hongdae to find local markets and thrift stores full of knockoffs - another street style trend popularised by Korean Millennials.
Photographed by Alex Finch
INTERNATIONAL CUSTOMERS SHAPING INDUSTRY
Established brands from abroad like Supreme and Vetements continue to have strong influence on the Korean market, accounting for c.70% of all luxury fashion sales. However, local emerging designers are gradually growing in stature and popularity and we expect they will claim a larger market share in the years to come. Part of this growth is due to popularity with Chinese tourists, who view Korea as a cool, hip place in terms of fashion, pop culture and music. Seoul’s bi-annual fashion week has become a key industry event, and the opportunity to showcase Korean fashion and street styles to the world. Looks are refreshingly different from what we see in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, with touches of personalisation and DIY detailing mixed with minimal outfits. Loose fit, oversized garments dominate outside the venue and fashion enthusiasts flock to the venue, using the opportunity to showcase their own individual styles and industry forge connections/
Photographed by Alex Finch
KOREAN STREETWEAR AESTHETICS EXPLAINED
“Korea is one of our fastest-growing Asia Pacific markets,” says Lisa Aiken, Net-a-Porter’s retail fashion director, who was one of 200 buyers from abroad present at Seoul Fashion Week. The market for designer apparel and accessories is approximately worth $5 billion and growing 7 percent on average each year, according to Euromonitor. K-pop and “Idol style” are well known influences, characterised by big logo’s, vibrant colours, unique accessories and unisex styling. These fashion trends highly popularised layering and maximalist dressing and became a signature look of Korea’s youth. The world has already heard of 'K-pop' and its many successful groups like BTS or BIG BANG, and now 'K-fashion' is becoming Korea’s next big export.
BTS in Vogue shoot
THE EMERGING KOREAN STREETWEAR BRANDS & DESIGNERS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Streetwear has been taking the world by storm, and Korea is no exception. When it comes to Seoul, global streetwear brands like Supreme, Balenciaga and Balmain have a dominant position, however, a few local champions are emerging. 99 percentis, founded by Seoul-born designer Bjowoo, is one of these champions. Attracting customers by his expressive visuals and abnormal silhouettes, Bjowoo established the brand and started designing outfits and artwork for rock bands. The designer was inspired after visiting cities like London, Paris, Tokyo and Bangkok and interacting with its underground punk scene. He founded the brand in 2012 during his second year of studying dressmaker fashion at a school in Tokyo. His work mixes refined street-wear and punk rock, and has already gained global attention from celebrities including Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Miquel and Big Bang.
IISE, which translates to 2nd generation, is another Korean champion, who is committed to designing products with a street interpretation of Korean heritage. The brand was established in 2015 by Korean-American brothers Terrence and Kevin Kim despite their lack of any formal design schooling (the two were already devoted sneakerheads and streetwear fans). The label doesn’t define itself as “just a fashion brand,” instead preferring to be called a design house, as the brothers’ visions go beyond simple garments. Each garment is made in Seoul, using a mixture of Korean fabrics, techniques and a combination of modern and traditional design aesthetics. Utilising high-quality materials and with a focus on craftsmanship, the unique and individual wardrobe staples which everyone should look to add to their collection.
“SOUTH KOREA'S STREETWEAR HAS GROWN STRONGER AND STONGER TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL STREETWEAR CULTURES IN THE WORLD"
The playful experimentation that pushed Berlin-based DJ, producer and fashion icon Peggy Gou, into the spotlight of modern electronic music, also helped her launch women’s streetwear label, Kirin. After performing at an Off-White event, Gou was approached by industry powerhouse New Guards Group to take her creativity into fashion design. Named after Gou’s most-loved animal—the giraffe—in her Korean mother tongue, Kirin is largely a reflection of the multi-talented artist’s vibrant personal style and energetic personality. Kirin is known for its colour-blocking, easy-to-pair two-piece sets, and irreverent faux-fur and vinyl constructions, which gives customers confidence. Kirin’s signature graphics are a representation of Gou’s life - Korean mythological motifs (including the lion-like beast ‘Haetae’) reflect her heritage, while club culture graphics illustrate her deep love for nightlife. Kirin is a fashion icon and stands out as another great example of women’s wear streetwear fashion.
Stepping away from streetwear brands, OiOi studio, established in 2011 and owned by the designer Ye-Seul Jung, is focusing on representing the possessive spirit of many people. Their designs are witty, new, and refreshing, bringing unique and novel elements to the Korean fashion scene. If you have ever seen any of the Wes Anderson movies you will probably recognise the inspiration behind the designs - they are minimal, colourful and have a cool school girl vibe. In an interview with K-style magazine, Jung highlighted that they do not focus on specific styles such as streetwear, luxury or office look. But instead, they create various styles for each season. Recently the brand started gaining popularity amongst European clients and opened their first brick and mortar store in Spain. They also launched a casual brand named ‘5252’ last year, and can now provide an even broader range of Korean styling to the rest of the world.
Established in 2014 by Hwansung Park, D-ANTIDOTE is K-Fashion designer label which has seen rapid success and become a cult hit with K-pop stars and fashion-conscious people the world over. D-ANTIDOTE is technically a menswear label, but they are designed in a gender-fluid style which blurs the lines between standard gender defined clothing. The brand often mixes themes from London, where Park has lived and studied for many years, and Seoul, the place he calls home. Because of his love for these two cities, you can always see the slogan ‘SEOULONDON’ on his clothes. Park’s major goal is to blur the lines between Luxury and Fast Fashion, and create something standing between the two. You can be the judge… but we think he is doing a pretty awesome job!
Another Seoul-based brand, ADER Error was founded in 2014 by a collective of designers who like to keep their identities secret. The brand name is just one example of their creative direction - A = Aesthetic, D = Drawing, ER transforms these first two letters into a verb meaning "people who draw on aesthetics". The second part, Error, represents the designers pull towards imperfections and how they can turn negatives into positives and sources of creative inspiration. Alot to take in, just from their name! The brand produces unisex fashion, there are no gender distinctions (a similar theme with alot of Korean Streetwear) as they cater to the self-expressive youth of Korea. Mixing retro, contemporary and futuristic concepts, the brand is known for vibrant colours, oversized fits and clever use of materials. At the heart of the brand is a strong focus on design and a desire to create quality products for their customers. There is no influencer or celebrity marketing (they actually have three different Instagram profiles), the items speak for themselves. ADER has already collaborated on the global scene with the likes of Eastpak, Maison Kitsune, G-SHOCK and Puma, showing the reach and fast growing success of the brand and its aesthetics.
“As a brand’s slogan and philosophy, ‘but near missed things’ expresses how we want to focus on the things that people regularly miss in their daily lives. Our creations then express everyday ideas” - ADER spokesman
A FASHION SCENE WITH AN EXCITING FUTURE
Korean fashion has grown and evolved in recent years, learning from Western markets, but also developing its own unique style and ethos. Despite the country’s relatively small size (only 51 million people), Korea is punching above its weight and producing many exciting and new emerging designers who will undoubtedly shape the fashion industry of the future. Korean consumers are fashion-forward and quick to pick-up on trends (when they aren’t setting trends themselves) and will also play a growing role in shaping the future. As Guram Gvasalia (chief executive of Vetements) said “Korea is now what Japan used to be in the ‘90s” From refined minimalism to expressive maximalism the future looks bright.
“KOREA IS NOW WHAT JAPAN USED TO BE IN THE 90's”
by Neri Dijokaite