K-Fashion Odyssey: On Board with the South Korean Designers

The London Fashion Week approaches, and the most appropriate way to prepare for it is with the International Fashion Showcase (IFS). This being the second exhibition for the Korean Cultural Centre, it is another ambitious and successful year for the young and emerging Korean designers to showcase their very best. It goes without saying that in the near future, most of the international students in London are looking to go back to their motherlands. Whatever the reason may be, the round journey between London and their home is a laborious change, especially for the South Koreans as they are extremely patriotic. This is the reasoning behind the two Guest Curators, Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov’s decision on the ‘boat’ theme for the exhibition, ‘K-Fashion Odyssey’, with an emphasis on the figurative ‘wave’ of young designers. It’s clear through the exhibition that when they say ‘boat’ and ‘wave’, it’s not a canoe on a subtle river, but a lone man boat on a sublime and violent ocean.

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The Central Saint Martins (CSM) graduate and now a freelance designer Chloe HeeJin Kim has floated back on the British shores from Korea just for this exhibition. She’s quiet, but her ideas are bold. She is constantly inspired by the image of a girl, the nature, and dreams, but far from the context of fairy tales. ‘The “girl” that I envision is an abnormal and disturbed one that lives in a dream. Not a dream full of hopes or happiness, but a haunting and mysterious one’, she said. She makes a reference to Charles Dickens’s character from Great Expectations, Mrs. Havisham who takes refuge in the forest after a tragic betrayal of love. The main inspiration comes from her Korean roots – the painting Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land by An Gyeon, a Joseon artist, and her own mother’s floral embroideries on Korean traditional folding screens. Both inspirations focus greatly on the complex, surreal images and themes, which Kim transfers onto her garments. Interning previously at Alexander McQueen, Chloe Kim shows her appreciation for grunge with a hint of femininity, but her textured frills and evening gown silhouettes are distinctly her own. 

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In the context of the ‘wave’ theme of the exhibition, Regina Pyo would be best described as a tsunami. When one sees the designs of this CSM graduate and designer of the brand REGINA PYO, one could say that it’s very Korean, European, or even both. In fact, Pyo never intended for any cultural input in her pieces, but ‘blood will tell’, she says, ‘As long as I have my own input into my pieces, the interpretation, I leave to whoever sees them’. The philosophy behind Regina Pyo’s designs becomes interactive with the presence of the viewers – the more minimal and colourful her designs are, the more room for imagination. If she weren’t a designer, she’d have chosen to be an artist – especially abstract art. The flowy silhouettes of the crepes and flares could depict a hanbok, the vibrantly coloured Korean traditional dress, but at the same time, it could also be a minimal Jil Sander-esque dress. That’s the true privilege of having a dual nationality, which leads to ‘my very own original piece’, as she calls it.

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Gigi Jeehyun Jung must have intended for her designs to be paradoxical – some words she uses to define her collection are kidults, and Tim Burton’s films combined with Korean history. As a CSM graduate and currently MA Fashion Artefacts student at the London College of Fashion, Gigi knows how to push her designs over the boundaries and try something different. Her original illustrations of a Korean child and headpieces made from a child’s toy, such as miniature pigs and houses with pieces of jigsaw puzzles, express her fascination of the peter pan complex. She reflects back to the hard times in the Korean history where our ancestors were not given a chance to be the child at the appropriate stage. With this dark historical context, she takes a humorous turn with bright colours and toy-like sculptures as headpieces and accessories. ‘It’s a tribute to our ancestors in the 1950s and 60s’, she said. As a big fan of Tim Burton films, she had Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in her mind as she created her pieces. ‘The idea of an adult who dreams of being a kid was more interesting than tragic to me’, she told us. In fact, it’s not about being childish, but it’s about fulfilling the dream that never came true. 

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Hyein Seo is another rising designer recognized by Korean fashion industries such as Vogue Korea. In an attempt to express the new avant-garde in Korean fashion, her collection reflected on street styles inspired by the Gothic elements and glamour. From watching old horror movies where a ‘rich woman who wears lots of jewellery, [and] red lips on her pale skin’ is a symbolic subject to terror, she looked at them as a fashion statement.  With the theme of ‘fear eats the soul’, Seo put more emphasis on how cinematic fashion can be. Studying in Antwerp, Seo also feels that she may not have intended to express the Korean roots in her production, but the growing fashion scene in Korea has inspired her, not only through street fashion, but through the efforts of artists and designers trying something new.

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Having studied in the UK, working in South Korea and supporting Ethiopia through the organization, Save The Children, Narae Park’s horizons are largely expanded for inspiration. Park met the fourteen year old Bakantu through Save The World and has been struck by the different lives they live. ‘Neither child nor adult’, as she describes in the program, Bakantu has shown Park the inevitable labour both a child and an adult face is clearly presented through her garments. From the work shoes that seem worn out and the use of ‘Royal Mail plastic-woven mail sack’ material called polypropylene, the story behind her collection recognizes the disturbing truth behind child labour. This 2013 L’Oréal Professionnel Young Design Talent Award winner also appreciates the ‘Heung’, the Korean spirit that accentuates happiness and enthusiasm. By combining both the Korean and Ethiopian cultural differences together, Narae Park recognizes the impact the nation has on an individual.

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The ‘K-Fashion Odyssey’ runs from 4 February 2014 to 2 March 2014 at 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW.