K-fashion: reaching new horizons

Starting from the traditional clothing culture, Korean fashion business is now expanding overseas breaking the stereotypes of Asian fashion and melding with Western apparel standards.

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‘I think Korean fashion possesses exquisite cuts, superior quality, sophisticated colour sense, and restrained details that avoid excessiveness. These strengths are found not just in the collections created by the Korean designers, but begin in Korean’s ways of life and attitudes. So while Korea may be relatively less known for fashion, I’m certain the country soon will attain great global popularity for its attractive designs marrying Eastern and Western styles.’

– Gerald Tesson, buyer for Parisian department store Le Bon Marché

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Walking the world’s runways

February 2016 market the 13th season of Concept Korea – an effort launched in 2010 to raise global awareness of Korean fashion. Held at The Stage in New York’s Lincoln Centre, the event expresses the power of the Korean fashion industry with a performance accompanied by traditional Korean dancers and musicians. Journalists from such publications as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar came out in force to cover the proceedings. That was definitely a sign of how strong New York’s interest in Korean fashion has become.

[붙임 2]컨셉코리아 FW 2013 참가 디자이너 사진자료

Five Korea’s top designers tackled the Concept Korea challenge. Each of them – Lie Sang Bong, Choi Bo Ko, Song Jung Wan, Kathleen Hanhee Kye, and Kim Hongbum and others – presented stand-out pieces developed specially for the fashion show around a given theme. As stated by the major fashion magazines in the reviews that followed, Concept Korea had earned a reputation with a fashion’s elite as ‘a place where designers took exciting risks’.

Concept Korea, Details, Ken Courtney, Korea, menswear, New York, NYFWM, runway, S:S 16

Korean designers first started presenting overseas in the early 1990’s, but they often found themselves vulnerable by universal views of the country’s “brand”. Fashion depends highly on the images that the country of its origin presents to the public eye, and that has always been one of the major challenges for Korean designers overseas. In the major fashion markets, such as Europe and United States, the designs coming from Korea were relegated to the periphery.14-seoul-fashion-week-street-style

“In January 2012, the Korean International Style Show (KISS) was staged in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Daiichi Taiikukan. Jointly organized by Japan and Korea, it presented the trend that has been under the way in recent years: a mix of the famous K-Pop music and fashion drew an audience of more than 33.000 people over three days”.

– ‘K-Fashion: Wearing a new future’, Korean Culture and Information Service

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Lately different aspects of Korean culture have been adapted to the global fashion industry. As a form of pop culture, fashion now has a confident foundation in the European market based on the links with universally popular K-Pop performers. These include big names like Girls’ Generation, Kara, and Sistar. Local Korean entertainment agencies are developing ideas to combine fashion with the market-opening opportunities, such as music and dance.

Girls’ Generation

Girls’ Generation

Beyond Asia

“Korea’s big fashion businesses have adopted a new strategy for expansion. They are working to establish their own distinctive identity and characteristics, either by absorbing existing designer brands or developing their own”.

– ‘K-Fashion: Wearing a new future’, Korean Culture and Information Service

Choi Bo Ko

Choi Bo Ko

One key example of such brand is Youngdo Velvet. The company’s thrive for craftsmanship helped it to undertake an innovative approach and develop a brand new product: micro-velvet, which ‘blends the beauty and softness of the fabric with more practical design elements like strong friction and washability’.

The DNA of Korean fashion

“In Korea, the traditional clothing culture began to break down in the period after the 1984 Gabo Reforms, assaulted by a combination of reformist and modernist ideas and an influx of foreign culture”.

– ‘K-Fashion: Wearing a new future’, Korean Culture and Information Service

Concept Korea SS 2016

Concept Korea SS 2016

Western fashions came to symbolize modernization in Korea. Over the past century the traditional outfits, which represented the culmination of five thousand years of history, were mixed with Western clothing culture. This led to major cultural assimilation. In the process, the traditional ‘hanbok’ styles have taken roots as a form of ceremonial dress in Korea, while Western fashions have become the norm for everyday life throughout the country.

Kim Hongbum

Kim Hongbum

“A number of historical factors should be taken into account when looking for the Korean clothing authentic. The combination of Japanese colonial rule and cultural occupation in the early 20th century led Koreans to voluntarily adopt Western styles – thus missing out on the opportunity to shape their own fashion culture”.

– ‘K-Fashion: Wearing a new future’, Korean Culture and Information Service

In the post-World War II years the country was struggling with poverty and lack of economical stability, wracked by political problems. However, Korean fashion made stable, step-by-step improvements, as the import of materials and clothing came from the United States, which had a major impact on the everyday styles of Koreans. This is when interest in fashion design appeared and a few designers began to emerge on the Korean stage.

Kathleen Hanhee Kye

Kathleen Hanhee Kye

Around the 1980s the country’s fashion industry really began to thrive and grow steadily. By the 1990s, its reach extended outside the peninsula. Styles based in Korean motifs were hitting the major markets such as Paris, London and New York.

In 2000s graduates from overseas fashion universities began making bolder appearances abroad than ever before. Today, Korea’s fashion designers – the initial explorers and the newer generation – are working together to develop new ideas in clothing culture.

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What is your opinion on Korean fashion? Let us know in the comment section below!


Text: Irina Gorskaia

Images: Concept Korea, Tommy Ton, WWD, Vogue Korea

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