It was just over a year ago when Seoul Fashion Week became one of the first major fashion events to fall victim to the coronavirus. Due to South Korea’s locus as an early hotspot for the pandemic, the announcement of its postponement was made while Paris Fashion Week was still very much underway. While the situation in South Korea is currently stable, the week’s organizers were keen to ensure that this season’s events went ahead as responsibly as possible, with all of the shows live-streamed without an audience. Yet what emerged from these limitations was a surprising amount of creativity, with many of the week’s standout collections coming by way of younger and emerging voices.
Under normal circumstances, the majority of shows would take place within the grandiose setting of the Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza which, while convenient, offers little room for designers to experiment with how their collections are presented. One silver lining to emerge this season, then, was the broader variety of backdrops, with designers exploring locations from the hallowed halls of the National Museum of Korea to the leafy environs of the Han Riverside Park, affording them the opportunity for more cohesive world-building alongside each collection. This mix of locations showcased more of what Seoul has to offer as a design capital, even from afar—something the week’s organizers would do well to continue with even when normality returns.
The highlights came by way of familiar faces such as the previously LVMH Prize-nominated Minju Kim, who showed off-schedule; more established Korean names like LIE; and a number of emerging talents, including Hanacha Studio and Painters. Together they made for an eclectic mix that reflects the rich patchwork of style scenes that have made Seoul a fashion capital.
Here, find the five designers to know from Seoul Fashion Week’s fall 2021 season.
As one of the more established names on the Seoul Fashion Week schedule, designer Chung Chung Lee of LIE showed his collection in the colossal plaza outside the National Museum of Korea. It was a suitably epic setting for an outing that featured impeccably-cut and immediately desirable separates and outerwear. A number of particularly compelling pieces were inspired by horse riding, including a cropped, belted coat with a crossover shoulder detail and saddle-style leather bags dripping with tassels, buckles, and even stirrups. The most playful accessory? A riding crop.
Arguably Korean fashion’s greatest success story of the past few years, Minju Kim’s delightfully frou-frou smocked dresses and charming oversized coats went global after she emerged as the much-deserved winner of Netflix’s Next in Fashion contest, earning $250,000 from Net-a-Porter to launch a new collection on its site. While Kim mostly chooses to show off schedule, she premiered her fall 2021 collection with a slick look book that saw her put a sharper and more graphic spin on her girlish design signatures. (Highlights included bunny rabbit-adorned knits, cardigans featuring abstracted cut-out florals inspired by Edward Scissorhands, and a series of flouncy dresses with oversized shoulders and peter pan collars.) She might be one of the week’s better-known names, but with a collection that continued to move the dial forward, Kim clearly isn’t resting on her laurels.
A graduate of the London College of Fashion, Hana Cha of Hanacha Studio emerged as one of the week’s standouts with a collection that fused dramatic silhouettes with painterly prints to form a distinctive and darkly romantic whole. While the designer is known for her intellectual POV—she recently completed a PhD at Seoul’s Hong-ik University on the relationship between the Bauhaus movement and fashion—there was a lightness of touch present in the crystal fringing running along the hems of coats and jackets and the paint-spattered denim pieces. This week, Cha established herself as an exciting new talent to keep an eye on.
While Seoul was an early outpost for genderless dressing, there’s still a rich tradition of inventive men’s tailoring present in the city courtesy of longstanding brands like Münn and Caruso. The newest name on the block is designer HyunHo Kim of Pian, who showed his collection of off-kilter tailoring at dusk under a bridge on an island in the Han River. Balancing comfort with a louche, dandy-esque glamour—and a final dose of Dickensian dishevelment—his fall collection consisted of three-piece suits and peacoats cut from washed linens and treated denims, while Junya-esque patchwork elements were given a fresh update via exposed seams and asymmetric fastenings. It was interesting to see a menswear designer stand out as one of the week’s most intriguing voices, not least with a collection as creative as it was covet-worthy.
This season’s wild card was Painters, the brainchild of designer Won Jeon, who was awarded the H&M x London College of Fashion Design Award in 2015 before establishing his label three years ago. Having emerged as one of Seoul’s wittiest and most playful designers, Jeon’s signature topsy-turvy proportions, kaleidoscopic eye for color, and unexpected textures were out in full force. Warped, bulbous dresses came wrapped around the body in cloud-like cottons and shiny bin liner blacks, while a particularly memorable piece cut from a fluffy gray faux fur featured a kangaroo-like protrusion at the waist as beguiling as it was bizarre. It seems the emergent trend for oversized, enveloping proportions is one that Jeon is fully on board with.