In recent years, we've seen a surge in Korean fashion influencing global trends. Known for its bold oversized streetwear pieces and unapologetic experimentation, 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 super brand stores. If you are shopping 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 a 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 them to claim a larger market share in the years to come. Part of this growth is due to its popularity with Chinese tourists, who look to Korea for 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 venues, and fashion enthusiasts flock to Seoul during this period jumping on the opportunity to showcase their own individual styles and forge industry 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 worth approximately $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 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.
THE 10 EMERGING KOREAN STREETWEAR BRANDS & DESIGNERS YOU SHOULD KNOW
XIDOZU is a designer brand of Shindongju and is based in Seoul. Under the slogan "Menswear for Minority," the brand create poetic themes for every season. The design process begins with the birth of a fantastical person and they explore every corner of that persona, unravelling them in a bold atmosphere. At the end, XIDOZU present unique and attractive images of the muse. Their strange, surreal, lyrical, maniacal and poetic designs will send you a message - one suggesting a new human image whilst also expressing the delicate emotions we feel inside. Their streetwear is technical, high-quality and fresh. Utilitarian elements and unique materials stand together with contemporary themes.
Images Courtesy of XIDOZU
99 Percentis, founded by Seoul-born designer Bjowoo, is a local champion when it comes to streetwear. Attracting customers by his expressive visuals and abnormal silhouettes, Bjowoo established the brand and started designing outfits and artwork for rock bands. The designer found inspiration after visiting cities like London, Paris, Tokyo and Bangkok, and interacting with the underground punk scenes. 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.
Images 99 Percentis
IISE, which translates to 2nd generation, is another Korean champion 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’ vision goes 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 with a focus on craftsmanship, the pair create unique and individual wardrobe staples.
“SOUTH KOREA'S STREETWEAR HAS GROWN STRONGER AND STRONGER 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. 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 streetwear.
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're minimal, colourful and have a 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 wear, but instead 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, allowing the brand to provide an even broader range of Korean styling to the rest of the world.
Established in 2014 by Hwansung Park, D-ANTIDOTE is a designer label which has seen rapid success, becoming a cult hit with K-pop stars and fashion lovers the world over. D-ANTIDOTE is technically a menswear label, but the clothing is designed in a gender-fluid style. 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, creating something standing between the two.
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, and 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. The brand produces unisex fashion, there are no gender distinctions (a similar theme with a lot 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 a 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 with powerhouses like Eastpak, Maison Kitsune, G-SHOCK and Puma, showing the reach and fast growing success of the brand and its aesthetics.
“The 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
An exclusively womenswear focused streetwear brand, Hyein SEO was founded in 2014 after Hyein graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. Her bachelor collection was shown during New York Fashion Week which caught the attention of the British Fashion Council winning her Best Emerging Designer in 2014. Hyein SEO has risen quickly on the global scene with interest from celebrities and streetwear fans alike - not to mention Rihanna being spotted in the brands "FEAR" stole. Hyein's clothing mixes luxury chic and relaxed styling, with recent collections showing a strong trend towards oversized fits and neutral colour tones. 'Twisted Beauty' is at the core of the brand - placing beautiful girls in non-traditional clothing, often with punk and skate culture references.
PUSHBUTTON's founding story is one that puts a smile on your face. Founder Seung Gun Park had no formal fashion education and helms from a musical background. At the age of 19 he enrolled in a fashion design course in Seoul, but quickly dropped out to become a singer. He then spent several years pursuing a music career and it wasn't until he was mid-way through his second album that he felt a pull back to fashion, leading him to create his signature brand in 2010. His love for music continues to be a creative influence, with the brand name itself a call back to Madonna's song "Hollywood". Park has always been inspired by styles from the '70s and '90s, with elements from these eras commonly seen throughout his collections. He also strives to highlight the beauty in opposites, with most of his collections showing clear contrast between thematic areas, such as the feminine juxtaposed with masculine styling. As one of the more established brands on this list, PUSHBUTTON is already widely distributed globally, with a strong fan base in Korea (and unsurprisingly in the K-POP community), as well as the rest of the world.
Founded in 2013 by Woo Joong Kim and Jiwoon Park, 87MM is a Korean streetwear brand known for its '80s themed staple items and clean minimalist aesthetic. Both designers share the same birth year (1987) which was the inspiration for the name, and both work closely together, sharing creative duties and input into the brands direction. 87MM is based in Seoul (their store in Seogyo-dong includes a cafe worth a visit) and has become a cult hit due to the unique combination of bold colours, graphic prints and clean styling. Kim and Park are trying to create a "new wave street culture" movement, with many of their pieces having already become must-haves for the Korean youth.
KYE is a Korean streetwear brand focusing on designing innovative and extraordinary pieces representing the emotions of the new generation. Designer Kathleen Kye wants to ensure all her collections are fun, with a sense of humour and optimism. The brand is known for its strong statement pieces combining bold colours and patterns with elaborate luxury detailing, all the while staying true to an underlying theme of contemporary casual wear. Kathleen started her fashion journey by studying at Central Saint Martins, and upon graduation she returned to Seoul to found her brand. She has always wanted her brand to represent Korean youth, so her departure from Europe made perfect sense. Since then, she has gone on to win multiple prizes and her pieces have been worn by Kourtney Kardashian, Ireme Kim, G-Dragon, and many others. Perhaps one of her most endearing attributes, Kathleen is known for her drive and work ethic, often working well into the morning hours in her pursuit of perfection.
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.
Text: Neri Dijokaite