Play, of the childlike and more adult varieties, was the dominant theme of Seoul's most confidently mature fashion week to date. As a veteran of seven previous seasons in Seoul, I was delighted with the increased experimentation, skill and subtlety. Gawky pre-shows, starring children and comedians, were cut from most collections. Instead, designers presented directional and diverse collections with real international appeal and assured personalities.
Seoul is a strikingly sophisticated but still conservative city. Because Korean culture remains largely regimented and stratified, the looser, anti-luxe, pragmatic and sexy feel of the collections was especially compelling. While international labels still dominate the luxury culture, local designers are asserting a more artistic and playful identity.
Menswear, Seoul's consistent strong-point, included Unbounded Awe's suits in a crayon box of pastels, including a charming business suit mixing mint-green plush and pin-stripped gray wool: Kermit the Frog gone corporate. Grange Yard's knit surfer shorts and involving tops were boyish and bouncy.
For women, The Centaur discarded direct art references for a grunge collection of oversized synthetic knit dresses, disproportioned mini-dresses, denim hobble skirts and rug-woven puffy sleeved boleros. The results recall art students cherry-picking from thrift-store bins.
Steve J & Yoni P abandoned their previous season's naughty jokes. (An outhouse was the central prop for their A/W 2010 show.) Instead, the adorable Seoul-based London darlings, whose colorful personae make them magnets for flocks of photographing fans, created a sleek black-based collection of leggings, sculpted knits and studded leather. The show was elegant but not stale. Patterns on their artfully cut ankle-length dresses and skirts looked like portraits of Zorak, the giant villainous bug from the hipster cartoon Space Ghost.
Bas was the overall winner throughout the collections. Previous seasons were sugary, with fluffy and frilly collections gaining attention. This time, black was the strongest collor on the catwalks, while leather in countless seductive permutations and subversively subtle BDSM references appeared as a common bond. The gift on the seats for Lee Young-lee's Lilee collection, a Selfridges favorite, was a printed button of hands bound with a white sash, the print that appeared on little lady-like cape-backed dresses and jackets paired with magnificently constructed leather gloves.
And the only off-site show, which Ha Sangbeg held in the W on the last night, was a rousing climax of women's and menswear inspired by Araki's kinbaku imagery and Azzedine Alaïa's color-blocking. After the models crossed the lobby to be photographed by Dazed & Confused Korea's house photographer, with the images broadcast live and morphed through the W's video screens, a team of hyper-flexible club-kids Vogued for the crowd's delight.