I’ve been in an Asia-bound disconnect for the past week and have continued my journey from Seoul to Tokyo. I’m still trickling out my thoughts on Seoul Fashion Week but first up, a revisit of one Seoul label that I have had physical experience of. I finally got to see a Low Classic show, after admiring them from afar through EMS packages, lookbooks and scant email correspondence. Since I last wrote about them, the original trio of Lee Myeong Sin, Hwang Hyun Ji and Park Jin Sun, who started Low Classic in 2009, have now divided and conquered, with Myeong Sin now heading up the creative direction of the mainline Low Classic, Hyun Ji handling the diffusion line Locle and Jin Sun departing to study in Germany. She did come back however to style the S/S 16 show, a far-and-above stand out show of the week.
Inspired by a girl’s discovery of her body and other bodies during puberty, Myeong Sin and her team worked with a local artist Minzo King to create an expressionist print based on the naked form. They also scoured Google Images to print on to t-shirt graphics and as collages on the brilliantly smocked pieces, layered up with King’s artwork. Boys, not men, declare some of the shirts. And boobs. In a city where one third of women have gone under the knife on a quest for “volumptuous body with a schoolgirl face”, to highlight boobs and boys on a t-shirt feels like a gesture laced with dark humour. If you look through King’s work, her drawings are mainly themed around the growing pains of Korean teenagehood – some feel universal, some localised. Low Classic’s collection as a result resonated because of its ability to connect on a wider level, but it also made you want to delve deeper into what growing up specifically Seoul actually entails. At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I enter the show venue DDP, and seeing scores upon scores of teenage girls welding their smartphones, dressed up in their big-eye contact lenses, cute berets and box pleat skirts. Skin-deep appearances, as pointed out in this enlightening New Yorker article, are everything in Korea. What’s beneath it all?
But whilst the ideas felt elevated, if you walk into a Low Classic store (the one in Apgujeong is particularly lovely), you’ll still find prices that hover around the Whistles and COS bracket. “I want to make clothes for the Seoul women,” said Myeong Sin, when I visited their head office. That desire to clothe Seoul doesn’t just stop at the amenable pricing but can also be seen in the aesthetic and the spirit of the label, which is summed up in the brand’s bio as thus: “To realistically create a fashion full of Seoul.” Despite the evident smidges of Celine, Miu Miu and to some extent, Vetements (hasn’t there been a touch of that label everywhere this season?), there is something that inherently roots the clothes to the city. Seoul’s penchant for an alternative take on preppiness and sportswear silhouettes, without sacrificing any interesting design details, result in clothes that are primed for hanging out in the city’s countless coffee shops, BBQ joints and falling out of the bars of Itaewon (note: Koreans drink A LOT!). Oversized silk pyjamas, leather jackets tied as jumpers, off-the-shoulder satin bombers and top-stitched jackets with extra long sleeves all feel like heightened takes on familiar dress codes – and precisely what gets the Seoul fashion crowd going it seems.
Moreover, with an in-house production facility and 100% Made in Seoul manufacture, Low Classic are also able to respond to the city’s needs should there be demand for one particular item or if alterations are requested by customer.
Where does that leave Low Classic and its relevance to the world beyond Seoul then? Unfortunately for us, the e-commerce site still isn’t geared to ship internationally (Meyong Sin said the volume of orders from China alone would be a nightmare to deal with). Opening Ceremony in the US and I.T. in Hong Kong remain their biggest sole stockists outside of Korea. Whilst international shipping isn’t on the cards, they are keen to expand on international stockists further down the line. Interestingly, Low Classic is one of the few independent brands that have refused backing and investment from external companies (LG, Samsung, Kolon etc etc), which is the norm in Korea. Myeong Sin prefers to retain her independence and have full control over how her brand is run. Slow and steady wins the race is her mantra. And therefore, we’ll continue to covet from a distance.