The popularity of Korean fashion in Singapore is a predictable effect from the spell K-pop has cast over the local pop-psyche in the past eight years. For many fans, to love Girls’ Generation is to want to look like them. Or like G Dragon, who was a bigger news maker during Fashion Week than the event’s 19 participating fashion designers.
Hallyu Style hasn’t really overwhelmed consumers as rapidly as Korean Pop, yet it is attracting more-than-enough attention for local retailers such as Front Row’s Ann Kositchotitana to open Headline Seoul last year. Although touted as “Korean fast fashion”, Headline Seoul isn’t entirely a Korean label (since it is conceived by a Thai based in Singapore) and is not as massive a brand as 8Seconds (Korea’s answer to H&M), but like the latter, it offers the kind of clothes that will only add to their customers’ already staggering quantity of the cute and the girly.
Even before the appearance of Headline Seoul, small retailers and e-shops have been selling clothes sourced from the frenetic wholesale district of Dongdaemun, which comprises a staggering 26 shopping malls over 10 blocks, all offering inexpensive merchandise. A CNN report in July this year noted that “Korean fashion is furiously fast and fickle”, which could also describe much of fashion everywhere else in the world. So, what is Korean fashion, and is there a Korean look beyond those found in Doosan Tower of Dongdaemun?
Lie Sang Bong is considered one of Korea’s most renowned designers, yet his clothes do not correspond to the styles preferred by his country’s visible pop and drama idols. Indeed, Mr Lie’s designs do not reach out to a particular woman. His fondness for structure and tailoring, and his strong graphic sense seem not to speak to the likes of Sohee from Wonder Girls. This is not to say Mr Lie’s clothes are not current—they are, but there’s an old-world charm to his modern sensibility, and this is where the beauty stands out.
Even in his most forward styles, Mr Lie adheres to a lady-like silhouette, not a girly one. In his Spring/Summer 2014 collection, first seen in Paris early this month, the clothes were feminine without embracing the ridiculous juvenile excesses of dolly glam (preferred even by grown-ups such as blogger du jour Xia Xue). There was the technical aspect too. A ‘skort’ (that increasingly popular hybrid of skirt and shorts) in his hands had a certain couture refinement—the front was skinny-legged like bike shorts and the back, semi-full skirt. And that sleeveless jacket— the extended seam in the rear of the armhole tagged to the front so that they form almost tulip-like petals.
Mr Lie’s love for flowers was evident. Stylised Rose of Sharon, Korea’s national flower, would emerge in various forms—prints, laser cut-outs, collages, corroborating his reputation as a designer rooted to his homeland. But unlike in the past, when motifs were employed to underscore their cultural importance, this season’s Korean-ness was evident only as a mere hint. As the brand becomes more cosmopolitan, this is necessary for it to go beyond Korea and to set itself apart from early-gen designers such as Moon Young Hee and the late Andre Kim.
Although the clothes were womanly, they had a youthful zing to them. This was seen in the proportions: shorter jacket sleeves over long shirt sleeves, cropped jackets teamed with longer blouses, knee-length coat-dresses above shorter shirt-dresses, and such parings that, together with the playful prints, provided the currency for the brand to remain relevant. Even when Korean fashion can’t escape the pop-culture ethos, it is showing design strength through the work of Lie Sang Bong.
Fashion Week 2013 is staged at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre Hall F from now till 19 October