By: Carlotta Rose Busetto, BA International Relations and Chinese
More and more Korean designers have been showing at the major fashion weeks and many celebrities, like Rihanna, have been seen sporting their pieces. It’s fair to say that Western audiences are starting to show a significant interest in what Korean designers have to offer.
The rapid popularisation of Korean culture, also known as the ‘hallyu wave,’ has made itself ever more present nowadays. From the explosion of K-pop among young people, to the exponential rise in demand for Korean skincare, the made-in-Korea trademark is sinking deeper into the average person’s wish list. The same can definitely be said for fashion. More and more Korean designers have been showing at the major fashion weeks and many celebrities, like Rihanna, have been seen sporting their pieces. It’s fair to say that Western audiences are starting to show a significant interest in what Korean designers have to offer. The purpose of this article is to uncover a part of fashion that has been hidden for too long, so, here is a compilation of 5 Korean designers based in Seoul challenging conventional approaches to dressmaking. Some are just beginning to make themselves heard in the industry, like Shin Kyuyong, Park Jisun of Blindness, and Minju Kim, while others have already established themselves as major players, such as Ko Taeyong of Beyond Closet and Han Hyunmin of MÜNN.
Minju Kim of MINJUKIM
The name Minju Kim might sound familiar if you’ve watched Netflix’s ‘Next in Fashion.’ After securing a first place win, from which she gained $250,000 and a place for her brand on Net-a-Porter, she is on route to making herself a household name in the industry. Graduating in fashion from the Samsung Art & Design Institute in Seoul and later on at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, she went on to win the H&M Design Award and to be shortlisted for the LMVH Young Fashion Designers Prize. Her talent has also been appreciated by the stylist teams of K-pop groups BTS and Red Velvet, for whom she has designed tour outfits and worked with on album promotions. As if that wasn’t enough, her creations have featured in the popular K-drama‘It’s Okay Not to be Okay.’ The style backing her road to success centres itself in a ‘combination of youthful playfulness and avant-garde haute couture,’ which seeks to combine ‘bold silhouettes and femininity with a dominance of joyfulness.’ After her breakthrough on Netflix, we should expect to hear much more of Minju Kim in the future.
Park Miseon and Byun Hyejung of Lang&Lu
This brand would probably be unknown to you unless you are a K-pop fan. In fact, Lang&Lu, led by Park Miseon and Byun Hyejung, has established itself as a favourite of Korean entertainment companies and of K-idols themselves. The designers’ pieces were worn throughout Hyuna’s ‘Flower Shower’ promotions, as well as throughout IU’s ‘Blueming’ promotions and occasionally during her performance as Jang Manwol in the K-drama ‘Hotel Del Luna’. One of their dresses, which was part of their Spring Summer 2020 collection ‘Flower Garden’, went viral online after Rosé of K-pop group BLACKPINK wore it for a performance in Fukuoka during the ‘In Your Area World Tour.’ But these are just a few mentions of Lang&Lu’s impact in Korean entertainment. Their designs have regularly appeared on variety shows, on idol’s Instagram feeds, and even on red carpet events in South Korea. Graduating from Seoul’s prestigious EWHA women’s university, Park Miseon and Byun Hyejung took the brand into a route of personal reinvention, whereby buyers are urged into an individualistic way of dressing filled with bold colours and patterns. Through their designs they wish to ‘reject conventions’ and bring their ideas to a global level. Their style combines playfulness with sensuality targeted at women with an age range between late 20s and 30s, who are ‘professional and cosmopolitan.’ As with many Korean designers, elements of Asian culture are definitely not missing, but are explored through a modernist lens. Although, Lang&Lu are not unknown in Korea, their designs are definitely going to stand out elsewhere, thanks to the millions of K-pop enthusiasts.
Ko Taeyong of Beyond Closet
As mentioned earlier, Beyond Closet by Ko Taeyong is not unheard of. It has established itself as an internationally acclaimed menswear brand, whose most recent achievements include the Excellence Designer Award at the Korea Designer Fashion Awards and the Minister Prize at the Korea Federation of Textile Industries Awards in 2019. After winning the Designer of the Year award at the Premium Brand Awards in 2016, he went on to collaborate with Colette, the famous Parisian concept shop, for a collection based on simplicity, conceived to make casual-formal styling easier. Ko Taeyong talks about his designing intention being rooted in his brand’s name: Beyond Closet. He wishes that his pieces might urge people to look through themselves, in particular through their personalities and lifestyle, to provoke a rethinking process to one’s everyday approach to clothes. His style is based on American preppy influences, which feature wide colour ranges and ‘witty graphics.’ As BTS have frequently been spotted wearing his creations, Beyond Closet is probably already going through a rise in popularity amongst younger generations both within and outside South Korea.
Kyuyong Shin and Jisun Park of Blindness
Like the other designers mentioned here, who are quickly catching the eyes of conventionalists and non-conventionalists alike, Shin Kyuyong and Park Jisun of Blindness are among the few who are doing it through genderless fashion. Made up of an interesting combination of a fashion graduate and furniture graduate from Hongik University, the brand has become sought-after by the major fashion weeks and events, and is well on the way to becoming a household name. Despite their outstanding achievements, which include a Best Designer award at Soul Fashion Week in 2018 and making it on the shortlist for the LMVH Prize in 2017, as well as their rapid success, Shin Kyuyong and Park Jisun shy away from collaborations with celebrities, as they say their prime focus is their genderless mission. In fact, their pieces symbolise an act of breaking gender norms in fashion through clothes that include a mixture of stereotypically feminine and masculine elements, such as pearls, ruffles and trousers. In fact, they often mask their models so the gender identity of the person underneath the garment is purposefully unclear. The designers’ style also includes a refreshing combination of contemporary art and youth culture. Even though they avoid popularising their creations through influencers and other celebrities, Blindness is undoubtedly going to become one of the main exponents of genderless fashion.
Hyunmin Han of MÜNN
Like Beyond Closet, MÜNN has secured its place at major fashion weeks, such as London and Milan Fashion Week, attracting the attention of international audiences. Led by Hyunmin Han, graduate of the Samsung Art and Design Institute in Seoul, the brand boasts numerous awards, including Best Designer of the Year award at Seoul Fashion Week in 2018 and the Asia Menswear award at the International Woolmark Prize in 2016. In a further boost to his success, in 2020 he collaborated with Mulberry for a bag collection featuring Korean flower motifs and other elements of Asian culture, and, later on in the year, he teamed up with the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Musical in South Korea making masks. At the forefront of MÜNN’s creative inspiration lies the expression ‘Luxurious Defamiliarisation,’ which is about pushing the boundaries of the ordinary. In fact, Hyunmin Han commits his approach to dressmaking through stitching in ways not thought of before, to reach a level of designing that is purely original and that rethinks traditional approaches to fashion. Creativity is key, as he aims for his pieces to take the dullness out of the everyday and to present audiences with fun and interesting alternatives. Sustainability is also one of his biggest aspirations. He hopes that through using materials that are made up of ‘50% of ecologically grown fabric’ MÜNN can play a role in limiting the devastating effects of the fashion industry on the environment. Animal rights are also significant to his creative mission, as the brand is committed to using cruelty free alternatives, such as faux fur and leather.
As Korean culture continues to make itself heard amongst audiences across the globe, the rock that has been hiding Korean fashion design for so long will be lifted completely in the next few years. It will gain more and more presence in the industry and it’s quite possible that these 5 designers might be the ones to lead this change.