>> That 65 kg of excess luggage can really be broken down thus – 30% second hand Comme/Junya buys from the sprawl of secondhand designer stores in Tokyo, 30% miscellaneous randomness that includes things like a pscyhedelic sweatshirt with a cat on it and a mug that says "You Great" on it so that I can have an uplifting cuppa tea everyday and then finally, the remaining 40% can be attributed to a Lucky Chouette haul from Seoul, that will basically keep me cosy in days to come. You know things are desperate when you have to go to some janky shopping mall on the day you're leaving, asking what's the cheapest bag/suitcase they've got. If you happened to be at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 on Saturday early evening, you may have seen a Monsters Inc/Cookie Monster type creature by luggage belt 1, struggling with multiple cases and cursing out loud at its inept strength. That would be me wearing the heaviest thing I had, being the faux fur delight of a coat by Lucky Chouette, to add to the stockpile of coats and jackets – a pale blue oversized number, a Clueless-esque primary coloured tweed jacket and a Chouette camo print lightweight jacket with a clever detachable peplum – all of which collectively pre-empts any "I need a new coat" qualms I might have. This Lucky Chouette haul also neatly bookends the revelation of a trip I've had in Seoul that will hopefully continue on next year if I get to go again. The short of it is that you will be clothed and clothed well on all levels of budget in Seoul.
Surreal doesn't quite cut it when I look at the random pap pic someone took of me at the Jardin de Chouette show at Seoul Fashion Week last week. Much to my ignorance at the time, I was in fact sitting in between hot K-pop star Victoria Song, leader of girl group f(x) and hot Korean actor Ah-in Yoo. Judging by their facial expressions, I don't think they were all that pleased about having my presence ruin their perfect K-star sandwich. It couldn't possibly have been the show that was causing their sad faces because from my vantage point, my introduction to Korean fashion through Jardin de Chouette and its sister diffusion brand Lucky Chouette was concrete proof that it's worth brushing up on all things Seoul before the designers start hitting the big time internationally.
Creative director of both brands Jae-Hyun Kim is on a high. After setting up her brand Jardin de Chouette in 2005 and introducing her own slant on high-end design in a fashion landscape that mainly thrived on mass production (hence why so many of the clothes I bought when I was a teenager in Hong Kong came from South Korea), she started a diffusion line Lucky Chouette. Industrial materials company Kolon Industries then swooped in last year to acquire both brands. It's the sort of quickfire investment that London designers can only hope to gain from the big French fashion conglomerates. In Seoul, investing in their own designers has become the norm for companies like Kolon, LG and Samsung and as a result, fashion has flourished within its domestic market. These companies have faciliated the distribution of international brands like Marc Jacobs and Comme des Garcons in South Korea as well as retail concepts like 10 Corso Como. They're a looming presence in Korea's fashion scene and whilst some would argue for and against their involvement, the conclusion is that they've made a positive contribution to fashion. For Jae-Hyun, she has had the ability to expand both brands, and in particular, Lucky Chouette – increasing stockists, increasing production and now taking its first step towards the international market.
That's the nitty gritty biz background to what on surface value can be taken as two brands, which create clothes that need not be confined to South Korea. Having hung out with Jae-Hyun and her close knit design team for both Jardin de Chouette and Lucky Chouette, it was immediately apparent that we were all on similar wavelengths – as we traded opinions on fashion gossip, talked films, bands and magazines – it's no wonder the clothes they're designing are speaking to a likeminded generation. There's no need to delve too deep into the intellegentisa of their designs. Visually stimulating clothes is what they do best. Jardin de Chouette began proceedings with the seemingly simple theme of afternoon tea. Nothing quintessentially British here though as the Jardin de Chouette team drink tea and quaff cakes through their own eyes. Girly pastels in layered pleats contrast with leather biker jackets and multi-strapped shoes with punched brogue detailing. Grid lines of a garden trellis are magnified and abstraced for various prints that also incorporate the Jardin de Chouette logo and initials – a clever bit of subtle branding that the new wave of Korean designers are all keen on capitalising on, as I noted when I rounded up Seoul's shopping delights. Patchwork woven raffia jackets showcase the custom made textiles prowess that Jardin de Chouette specialises in. Many of these pieces won't be available to buy off the rack as Jardin de Chouette largely operates on a custom order made-to-measure basis. Jae Hyun admits that her original brand isn't exactly a moneyspinner for Kolon Industries but it maintains a small but loyal customer base and for her, it's a collection that is a labour of love.
Then we come to Lucky Chouette. What started off as a diffusion line last year has grown to be the bigger brand of the two as its younger and street savvy aesthetic has proved popular with the K-pop stars, that a brand's popularity with their yays and nays. When I first encountered the lookbooks of Lucky Chouette last year, I was definitely swayed by their fun, cartoon capered and no nonsense design approach, priced in the Topshop Unique/Whistles bracket. With verve and energy, they've caught onto the vibe that precisely makes brands like Kenzo and Carven so vastly popular. Their longstanding logo the Owl has been made up into various "Chouette" characters that contribute an important part to Lucky Chouette's design language. The Chouettes peek out from camo prints, as embossed decoration on the back of leather jackets and as badges to sew on rucksacks Year 9 style. The Lucky Chouette brand is made for its own style tribe, which emerged at their S/S 14 show as a gang of nu-new wave chicks, bouncing out, goofing it up, smiling and genuinely making you wish you could turn back time in regards to both your age and the 1980s decade Lucky Chouette was inspired by. The referencing was 1980s but the energy was pure 21st century.
It was an infectious show filled with clothes you'd be hard pressed to say no to. Metallic slashed trews, oversized cropped knits, geometric silk dresses incoroporating Lucky Chouette's breton stripe fixation, starburst camo pieces and biker jackets made to be flung across the room. On the racks in Lucky Chouette's cute-as-a-button store in Gangnam, this S/S 14 show will no doubt be translated into an even larger range of desirable product that will drop in waves every fortnight. Here's a brand that knows how to push the buttons of 21st century fashion enthusiasts without sacrificing what are essentially well designed clothes that linger in your brain.
From Street Peacocks - wearing Lucky Chouette jacket, skirt and cardigan and Nike x Libertytrainers
>> I wanted to begin to offload at least a few kilos of that excess baggage which came home with me by carrying on raving about Seoul. A few days of roaming around the city led me to beieve that pretty much every sweatshirt and t-shirt came emblazoned with American football lettering, a slogan or a logo or were at least inflected with some sort of sportswear reference. The Acne Beta Double Logo sweatshirt was rife both in real and counterfeit form. All the aforementioned boutiques which I talked up in my previous post were rampant with numbers, letters and slogans. I recently wrote a piece for Because Magazine that was published on BOF entitled the Logo Strikes Back and Seoul confirmed my suspicions that branding your chest with typographic detailing shows no sign of dying down anytime soon. Beyond a logo, it's up and coming designers taking on the language of sportswear and streetwear to get their message across.
Juun.J is probably one of the most internationally well-known Korean designers at the moment and Jeong-Wook Jun's eponymous brand's ownership under Samsung's Fashion division has only accelerated the growth in Asia in beyond. I went to see Juun.J's S/S 14 collection, which was presented in Paris menswear back in June but in Seoul, you got an idea of how a Juun.J shop-in-shop will look like as they prepare for their own domestic retail spots. That's what backing from a humongous conglomerate company gets you. The number 30 transparent nylon knit jersey which I bought back with me from Seoul was the centrepiece of the finale of Juun.J's S/S 14 collection. Jun investigated the idea of a uniform by streamlining recognisable sportswear codes with classic tailoring. Throw in a collaboration with Russian artist Oleg Dou on some surreal padded out sweatshirts and you have yourself the kind of visual anecdotal collection filled with distilled sportswear/street, that gets people's eyes excited and cash registers ringing. If it's any sort of a positive indication, Rihanna has already performed in the marbled ensemble below.
Another Korean brand getting in on the wordplay action is relative newbie Nohant. Their recent runaway hit has been their Lonely/Lovely sweatshirt and t-shirt now reiterated in multiple colourways. The Seoul style set have been giving this local cult item support and with reliable well-priced wardrobe staples to back up this no-frills label, there's every chance people outside of Korea might want to get a piece of the Lovely/Lonely.
One of my favourite street/sports/word (sorry there's no handy catch-all word to describe what has been such a persistent trend) finds from Seoul, also happens to be pocket friendly. That seems to be one of the strengths of Korean fashion – the ability to source local production and therefore offer maximal design at minimal prices. Pennant is a collective that creates everyday items. Their JIMI line of customisable footwear is named after Jimi Hendrix as the sole of these changeable sandals with seven peg units on its side and back looks like a guitar head. The uppers can be changed with the pegs and go from being a multi-strapped sandal to a pool slider to a canvas chelsea boot. The backs of the shoes can also be changed and if you wished, you could probably create your very own Love Life Celine S/S 14 shoe nod with the removable canvas/bandana rag ties. Pennant's own site sells some of the styles but if you can figure out Korean shipping, this site 29cm has far more options. I got mine at Daily Projects in Seoul, where Pennant is one of their top selling brands. Easy to see why when you put those slightly confusing KWon prices into a currency converter.
Nothing to do with the word play theme of the post but another nifty bargain I picked up were these plastic easy-to-transport plastic netting bags by local fave Paul & Alice. I'm always in need of solutions of carrying cameras so I can whip them out at any instance, without wading through a handbag or swinging them about on a strap and these shoppers are more than capable.
65 kg. I think that's some sort of personal best in returning luggage from a trip. I should have known that a combined voyage to Tokyo and Seoul would produce that sort of excess luggage damage. That said, whilst I am more than familiar with Tokyo's shopping delights, Seoul was an unknown quantity to me. For my inaugural trip to this up and coming fashion capital, I was invited by the brand Lucky Chouette to experience their first show as part of Seoul Fashion Week, but thankfully, they also gave me the opportunity to see Seoul for what it is – an insanely cool city with some serious fashion chops. Turn on the TV and countless K-pop stars are styled to the max, not in preppy tees and hoodies (looking at you One Direction) but in edgy layerings of Givenchy and Junya Watanabe. Walk into the multi-brand boutiques and they're filled to the brim with statement pieces from brands ranging from the obvious to the obscure. Look at the kids shopping in Gangnam (huh-uh-huh – you could call it… Gangnam style…) and they're trussed up in Kenzo, Alexander Wang and an intriguing mix of local brands. Suzy Menkes' spot-on article about fashion being everywhere and overly accessible plays out in Seoul in a way that feels fresh, exuberant and enthusiastic.
Together with Vogue Korea, in what I think is the world's one and only Vogue van, I got a quickfire taster of Seoul's plentiful shopping spots. Everywhere we went, selection, presentation and breadth impressed. In luxury multi-brand spots like Mue, particularly up in the new Loft space, it was interesting that pretty much an complete selection of London Fashion Week's brightest talents were on the racks. Not the boring stuff but show pieces of the colourful and printed variety that draws you in immediately. Many shops in Seoul rely on the patronage of influential K-pop stars and the selection seems to reflect that. Daily Projects has built up a name for itself for forward-thinking fashion and one look at their brandlist and they've accumulated every vaguely left of field (and invariably hard-to-find) designer together that pretty much sums up the aesthetic Seoul is bang into right now – club/rave-inspired and word/logo-ridden fashion streetwear that everyone is lapping up all around the world but Seoulites take it to another level.
Their own homegrown brands haven't missed a trick either. One quick gander at Korean brand boutique boy+ by Supermarket in the Apgujeong area and you can see brands like Pushbutton and Kye are going for streetwear surface and Insta-visual appeal be it through print (Seoul-inspired graffiti in Kye's case) or texture (chevron striped fur in Pushbutton's). Doota Mall, the famous shopping mall where you could do some beer-goggled clothes buying at 5am in the morning if you so wish, is also chock full of cheapie interpretations of this streetwear aesthetic. Or J.W. Anderson gridlines or Carven-esque outerwear. Seoul's garment district is quick off the mark at interpreting trends at an above-high street quality and Doota is the place to get these locally made clothes, which do battle against the encroachment of international chains like H&M and Zara. If I was ten years younger with an insatiable appetite for filling up my wardrobe everyday, Doota would have been a dangerous place. Doota is also a breeding ground for young Korean designers, who often have stores in the more interesting basement level before making it big and brilliantly, their prices are more than reasonable (¬£40 for an independently-designed sweatshirt is a near-impossibility in London). Ditto for designers at the store Product Seoul, which displayed a quieter side to Seoul style – minimal, clean and Acne-esque – but at pocket-friendly prices and always with an interesting design detail. Even if design is quiet, the presentation never is. Look at the Samsung-owned contemporary multi-brand store Beaker, selling the preppy likes of Rag and Bone, Band of Outsiders and Our Legacy get to be hung in innovative displays units created out of upcycled furniture. It's a visual merchandising dream in Seoul's boutiques.
It's probably a bit of a stretch to link up Seoul's love of visual eye candy in fashion to the traditional bold carvings seen in places like Gyeongbokgung or to the hanbok costumes and bolts of silks in Kwangjang market (where you can gorge on stacks of yummy bindaetteok) but they certainly rounded off what has been an eye-opening trip. There's no reason why fashion can't be included in the so-called Korean wave of cultural exports.
I picked out ten brands that I came across on my Seoul shopping rounds…
I was already familiar with Kye designed by Kathleen Kye, as I remember her graduating collection from Central Saint Martins. She's been building a solid business in Seoul by participating in Seoul Fashion Week and selling abroad in stores like Opening Ceremony and Machine-A. Her latest S/S 14 collection, which she presented in New York in September takes the simple plaster or band-aid as the central motif. The clothes hardly break new ground but they're sure to get the K-Pop-sters excited (an important factor in shifting clothes in Korea).
I'm going to be talking a little bit more about Seoul's current fixation with typography-driven and sportswear-inflenced trends but local label Peace, Love and Understanding has definitely capitalised on the movement. Their tees, sweatshirts, caps and rucksacks are in constant high demand
If there's a raved-up, printed and DOPE side to Seoul's fashion coin, then the other side is clean, minimal and cleverly designed as exemplified by Cheol Dong.
The upturned points of traditional Korean shoes, which I saw in Kwangjang market are incorporated into Flat Aapartment's unique shoe range.
The only garment I bought from Doota happened to be at the Let Kuzmus store, where interesting panelled sweatshirts and printed biker jackets caught my eye. Their design approach definitely runs differently from the trend-driven norm of Seoul fashion.
I'm quite into Goen J's combo of unexpected furry textures and raglan sleeved tees and sailor tops in their current A/W 13-4 collection.
I found a few interesting shoe labels in Seoul, one of them being Yuul Yie, designed by Sunyuul Yie is putting her own spin on tried-and-tested brogues and loafers.
There are a ton of domestic streetwear brands in Seoul but thisisneverthat feels the most authentic and rooted, championed by Korea's hip hop scene.
For artisanal and indivividual knitwear look to Misu a Barbe for folsky and cutesy designs.
Grafik Plastic sunglasses have won awards for their interchangeable side temples, interesting colourways and eye catching shapes.