JUUN.J: Korean Menswear’s Superhero

It was a fait accompli that Korea’s JUUN.J would end up showing his menswear collections in Paris. “I’ve always thought of Paris in terms of fashion and artists like Picasso,” says Juun. “It is risky for a young designer to come here. And that was my situation when I did my first Paris show in 2007, but if you can take the leap, it’s worth it.” Juun, 47, is the kind of guy who gets what he wants; and today, he sells to top stores worldwide, including Opening Ceremony in New York, London’s Harrods, Joyce in Hong Kong, and Corso Como’s Shanghai outpost. Starting as an independent, he has been backed by Samsung Cheil Industries since 2012 and is today Korea’s most outstanding fashion export. On Friday, he will be showing his SS 2014 show at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo.

For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Seoul, it might come as a surprise to hear that when it comes to fashion in Korea, it’s the men who are busting a move in the style department. Korean women don’t lack style, but young Korean men—after the intense physical workout required during compulsory military service—are in top form and eager to show off. It’s a country with more than its fair share of boy bands and cinema idols (let’s just put PSY, who’s an anomaly in Korea, physically speaking, aside for the moment). Perhaps as a direct result, Korea, particularly Seoul, is a menswear paradise, full of the sartorially obsessed, who favor impeccable tailoring with a twist.

JUUN.J’s streamlined, sculptural take on menswear has seen him travel around the trench coat season after season, but it’s too easy to sum up his style vocabulary as a collection of variations on that classic. The trench will always lurk somewhere in Juun’s closet, but beyond that he’s a romanticist; a believer in dramatic, graphic tailoring for men. This position often sees him borrowing techniques typically associated with womenswear—sweeping volumes, single-color ensembles—which he employs in a hypermasculine way, often in voluminous shapes, that almost calls to mind comic-books superheroes.

“Koreans are very fashion-conscious,” says Juun. “Particularly men, because they’re so connected, they have all the information in the world at their fingertips, but they’re usually more into New York than Europe. They’re very Americanized.” Apparently, Juun went in the other direction as he grew up, becoming increasingly interested in fashion through his parents’ childrenswear business.

For the past few seasons, Juun’s collections have been growing both more voluminous and more sharply tailored—particularly the pants, which he likes high-waisted and drapey like David Bowie in his Thin White Duke prime. For this Fall/Winter, Juun puffs up coats and bomber jackets, giving them a larger-than-life look with superhero details like copper leather sleeves and wing insignias across the chest. He also likes tight-waisted blousons layered over coats for an hourglass, curvy Popeye look. “In fact,” says Juun, “I was thinking about Claude Montana in the late 1980s. That’s when I began designing; and I’ve always loved his proud, exaggerated masculinity.”

Juun works with a six-person design team in his atelier in Seoul. Although for him, everything in the collection—including color, which he likes to keep basic—is there to enhance the shape. He isn’t afraid to take a detour into innovative fabrics. This Spring, for example, finds JUUN.J showing a great trench—wrinkled, patent blue, cropped—in paper. For Spring/Summer, he’s inspired by sport and military gear from the 1940s, particularly side-slit running shorts, football jerseys featuring his favorite number (three, which he calls “both masculine and feminine”), and blue-sky marble in big, simple shapes for gods on earth.