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