Redefines past, present, and future to create a hybrid art with precision in cut and fold, among other technical design innovations, that is unexpected and unique.
Black, White, Khaki, Red, Gray
Wool, Silk, Taffeta, Denim, Polyurethane
KIKO Seoul Collection 08/09 F/W
When moving to a new city one always worries about finding a new group of friends. How on earth will I find people who share the same interests as me? In my case, “how on earth will I find people that are willing to tolerate me!”
This is the beginning of a new story. How I came to find myself hob nobbing with Korea’s elite models, fashion designers and DJ’s. There are moments where I have to pinch myself and ask if this life really is mine. A teacher by day and scenester by night.
Most of my friends at work can’t believe what I get up to every weekend. Attending exclusive club party’s, VIP lounge schmoozing, always dressed to impress and ready to dance myself silly.
In a huge city like Seoul, which is obviously an intense monoculture of millions it helps to be a non Asian. Anything different catches the eye. Blond hair and “big eyes” don’t hurt, but Shareen with her black skin and hair weave finds herself the object of many Korean affections. If you can manage to get past the staring and embrace the sudden new found celebrity status you’re golden. One requires a flare for fashion, avant guard art appreciation, corny conversation, odd ball dance moves and an obsessively outgoing nature is always helpful.
It all started when I met Chad. A Canadian model, perhaps the tallest person I have ever met. He stands out in a crowd over here. He then introduced me to a rather splendid group of expats. I instantly clicked with Cory, a girl about my height with blond hair and pink streaks who always dresses with fun on her mind. She and I hit it off when we first met at a little restaurant called Indigo. We eagerly chatted about food and fashion. I soon found out that she worked for Marc Jacobs at his headquarters in New York and also spent time at American Apparel after completing here degree in Fashion Management. I knew I was in love with Cory the moment she told me her favorite things in life are, “Camembert and themed dance parties.”
Cory often chats to me about Her Korean.” She is dating a Korean male fashion model. Like all well put together Korean men he looks androgynous. Korean woman love their boyfriends to look “pretty” and borderline feminine. A few weeks ago Cory gave me a shout, “My Korean is working with a designer for Seoul Collection you have to get tickets.”
Seoul Collection is Korea’s fashion week and one of Asia’s most celebrated annual fashion shows. I rushed to work the next day and asked the secretary at school to book me tickets to one of the shows. I was able to get a day pass for Sunday’s male and female collections. Forty dollars for eight runway shows! This would be my first official big deal fashion show experience and I was incredibly excited! What ever would I wear?!
I arrived at SETEC, Seoul Trade Exhibition and Convention at 10:35am sharp! The ultra modern convention center buildings made my heart skip a beat as I walked past giant banners which read, Fall/Winter 07/08 Seoul Collection Fashion Week.
The first runway show was slated to start at noon so I had a bit of time to spare. An attempt to orient myself, familiarize myself with how things were going to work and make a few local friends while standing in line. Once passing through the main doors I found myself standing in a huge slate floored lobby. Directly in front of me was a massive, glowing screen displaying clips from Runway shows of the past. I walked into the expansive showcase room in the center of the lobby and browsed mannequin displays of each of the 60 designers featured here over the next ten days. At the back of the showcase space there was a large VIP area where people stood sipping on champagne and nibbling canapés. This is where designers and serious buyers get down to business. Champagne is a great social lubricant.
Back in the lobby, I picked up a beautiful Seoul Collection book with glossy pictures of each designer and the styles they are associated with creating. I flipped through the pages and glanced down at the daily runway itinerary. On each side of the lobby there were two red carpets with access to runway’s A and B. Outside a huge tent had been erected to showcase the infamous Korean avant guard designer Ha Sang Beg.
I stood in line by myself for about an hour waiting for the first show to start. I realized there were no food venues. How on earth did the organizers plan for people with day passes to last ten hours straight without eating. Thank goodness I threw a bag of salted almonds into my bag. I’d spend the rest of the day rationing them.
Each runway show lasts anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes. As soon as the show is over you literally have to jump out of your seat and run to the next venue in order to get seats. As soon as the show ends and the crowds have left, a massive work clean up team has to tear down the stage in order to prep for the next designers show. Throughout the day I was amazed at how a room can be torn down and built back up again within the span of two hours.
The day was magical and exhilarating. Art hanging off human bodies as they pranced across the stage. Attending a fashion show is an incredible once in a lifetime cultural experience. Most people travel around the world visiting art galleries and museums but often miss the various fashions that these countries are producing. A sad loss for this very important segment of cultural tourism.
And now for the designers…
KANG KI OK
After standing in the lobby for about an hour we were finally allowed through the main doors. The air got very agitated and excited and I felt as though I was standing in line for a rather dubious rollercoaster. I thought we were actually entering the theater space but instead we were now standing like cattle in a large black coloured waiting room. Hanging from each wall were large framed portraits of various famous Korean designers. I stared into the crowd of excited fashion lovers (99.99% 20-30 something females) who held massive professional cameras around their necks like Tiffany necklaces.
Five minutes before the show was about to start volunteers pushed us back from the railing and through the center of the room a gay entourage of immaculately dressed people were ushered into the theater. There were several foreigners, later I found out they were buyers for the European and North American markets. One particular bald man wearing black leather gloves was apparently one of the most reputable buyers for New York. After this entourage was seated the VIP line was rushed into the theater. The women in my line started to scream as they saw Korean pop stars and television and film personalities whisking themselves into the room.
We were finally unleashed from our cages and I tried to avoid being trampled in a rampage by power walking into the dimly lit theater. I rushed up the stairs on the right side of the catwalk and was lucky to find a seat in the 4th row from the floor.
I found myself sitting beside two Korean girls who spoke a bit of English. They asked me to take a picture of them sitting in their seats and we started to banter before the show started. I got to know Mirusong and her friend who are both Korean University students studying fashion design. I shared with them a few of my rationed almonds (food is always a great way to break the ice with new friends, especially when they really don’t speak your language too well.
And then the lights went off, everyone held their breath, spot lights flew around the room and the tunes of Goldfrapp and Ladytron whizzed through the air. My heart leapt and I stared in fascination at the gorgeous sinewy female models who marched down the runway. This particular designers line consisted of models wearing outrageously tall colourful wigs which reminded me of Marge Simpson. The runway was checkered black and white like a Flemish kitchen scene and contrasted perfectly with the classic black and white dresses and skirts which hung of the models shoulders. At the end of the catwalk each model took a moment to stand in front of a massive number of paparazzi standing on a small platform.
Twenty minutes of dazzling black and white and the show was over. All of the models circled around the catwalk and an incredibly short nerdy looking woman came out onto the stage to much applause and grasped a brilliant bouquet of flowers.
KIM SO YEON
I jumped out of my seat, waved goodbye to my friends and ran out of the theater in an attempt to find the next. I ran out into the lobby and was astonished to see how long the line up was for the next show. There was no way everyone was going to get into the theater and it was at this moment I panicked. I assumed with my day pass that I would be able to get into each show easily. It became apparent rather quickly (at this very moment as I stood staring in horror at this restless throng of waiting people) that I may not be able to get into anymore shows.
And then as if God himself lavished luck all around me I bumped into Mirusong. She was the shorter of the two fashion students I sat with at the past show and she told me to hurry up and follow her. She flashed her massive stack of VIP tickets at the security guard as she grabbed hold of my hand. My heart was racing and I now stood waiting in a very short VIP line. I felt a bit awkward as I couldn’t explain to her very well that I didn’t have VIP tickets. She just assumed I had VIP tickets because I am foreign, well dressed and I mentioned that I am a writer (when she questioned what I was jotting down in my note book). I was ever so glad I bumped into Mirusong as we literally walked right into the theater with no more than a ten minute wait.
For my second show I found myself sitting right on the catwalk on the main floor in the VIP section. Again, as I write this I am still astonished I even got away with this. I was sitting beside a ten year old boy and his family. I stuck my tongue out at him and his mother smiled at me. I chatted with her a bit as she spoke very good English. For some reason Mirusong and her friend were shockingly quiet as I continued to gab with my new friend. It wasn’t until after I stopped talking to the lady beside me that they both gawked with their mouths drooling. I was soon informed that I had just been talking to one of Koreas most famous actresses. It’s funny how you can be sitting beside the Angelina Jolie of Angola and not have a clue. Celebrity is such a ridiculous concept anyways. I treated her like a normal human being and was able to get on with her quiet nicely (I recall she loves Fererro Rocher’s, her favorite cheese is “anything Swiss” and her favorite city in Canada is Vancouver).
The runway in Theater B featured a white faux fur catwalk. Photos bounced off the walls as projectors illuminated them with “Fur is not Friendly” propaganda. The catwalk and various, Fur is not Fair pictures set the tone for the next designers fashion philosophy. The room went dark, everyone held their breath as our ear drums pulsated to the hip hop bass which blasted out of the surround sound speakers. In the first ten minutes models ran down the fur lined catwalk wearing purple, black, green and red faux fur accented pieces. These furry garments accessorized low rise jeans, mini skirts and luminous evening gowns.
This particular show was one of my favorites due to the winter spectacle. Half way into the show the music quickly switched to a chilling rendition of the Home Alone theme song, Carol of the Bells. My heart shivered as my whole body burst out into Goosebumps. The caroling children with a DJ infused bass line combined with a saucy catwalk model wearing a huge faux mink fur was beyond enjoyable. The entire room burst into applause as an explosion set off into the air. Millions of pieces of small white confetti burst above us while men manning industrial fans orchestrated the snow like confetti down the cat walk. The models appeared to be walking through a snowstorm right in front of us. Everyone held their hands to their hearts and let out a sigh. Several more bursts of confetti, and a few snow storms later and the entire theater was covered in faux snow flakes. My head was covered in tiny pieces of square white paper. The designer was given a standing ovation and I jumped out of my seat to follow my two Korean VIP card holding fashion students to the next venue.
HONG EUN JU
I grabbed hold of Mirusong’s hand and whisked myself past the ticket collectors as we soon found ourselves standing at the front of the VIP line for the next show. I always felt a bit naughty after bypassing security without a legit VIP ticket. I would just chatter as much as possible with the girls as we passed through the VIP entrance in hopes that they would not check my ticket. I was able to get away with this tactic the entire day and I think a lot of the reason had to do with the fact that I was clearly not a native speaker. I saw them stop several Korean’s trying to get into the VIP line but the security guards were weary of stopping a foreigner when they knew they would be entirely unable to communicate with me. Also, Mirusong would simply wave her huge wad of VIP tickets for the week in their faces which was reason enough not to worry about being strip searched and sent home.
I yelled across the room as I spotted Chad and Cory dressed like club kids standing in the press line wearing pointy heels, silver tights and massive leather jackets. We were rushed onto the stage and sat in the first three seats directly beside the entrance to the catwalk on the main floor.
The third show had an odd choice of music (classical with a lot of stringed instruments being plucked by the orchestra members). This designer’s runway show consisted of only female models who were dressed like rag dolls wearing knitted hair nets. Their baggy and poofy cloths were rather adorable. The colours ranged from pink, bright orange, purple and white. It was exactly what I would have expected an Asian collection to look like. The delivery of the show was also rather atypical as several models would come out at a time standing in precarious spaces on stage. I didn’t find the art in that but I’m sure it was meaningful to someone. The music was slow, the models slid along the runway appearing to be floating as there was a light fog hanging over the stage. For most of the show I got distracted as I was standing directly on the corner of the front of the stage and was able to see the models as they exited the stage. I found it really funny that the models appeared so calm and cool as they were on the catwalk but as soon as they turned the corner backstage they ripped their cloths off and started running to throw on their next outfit.
HA SANG BEG
As soon as the show ended we jumped up from our seats and ran into the lobby. The next show would be in the giant outdoor tent. We pushed through the front doors and were shocked to find thousands of people standing under umbrellas on the red carpet. The line up was massive and I instantly felt a bit of gloom as we tried to find the VIP entrance. Ha Sang Beg is one of the most famous designers in Korea. His cloths are avant guard and much loved by Japanese and Korean celebrities and pop stars. The crowd was full of thousands of screaming fashion lovers who were desperate to get into the show. I knew maybe 30 percent of them would be lucky enough to get standing room inside the tent so I was banking on getting into the show with Mirusong as my faux bride. My heart raced as we pulsed forward on the red carpet passing hoards of screaming Korean’s flashing us with their cameras. I pretended she was my girlfriend as we passed by the people checking tickets. We hurried through as a mass of people rushed into the theater. I held my breath as three Korean security guards checked tickets and exhaled as I was able to go through without any hassles.
Inside the tent we rushed to get a place to stand (all of the seats are taken). We found an excellent space right at the end of the catwalk with the paparazzi to our left. Girls in the audience all of a sudden started screaming. I soon found out that Korean pop musicians and actors were sitting in the front row and as soon as they were spotted they were mauled by adoring fans.
The catwalk was a raised white simple stage with projectors illuminating the message, “Space Indians VS Ninja” like a Batman sign in the sky. In the next ten minutes the room filled until I thought it may just burst. The crowd attending the Ha Sang Beg’s show was much more diverse. Full of both men and women, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s who were dressed to impress. Just before the show started, I wondered if I would be more impressed with what the crowd was wearing.
None of the other shows were this big of a deal and you could feel the excitement in the air. I suppose for a foreigner like me who has no knowledge of Korean fashion that is to be expected. Sort of like a Namibian bushman attending a Marc Jacobs runway show in New York. They may not know who he is, but they sure as hell would get the drift that people were excited!
The room suddenly went dark. All I could see were the little illuminated LCD screens on cameras as they hovered along the stage. Several female fans let out excited screams and all of a sudden, POW, the show began with a massive thunder of bass. The sort of bass that makes the hairs stand on your arms and the back of your neck. The audience stared up at the front of the stage as the projectors played an introductory video of the designer. The music was racy and fast and full of adrenalin. The video shows the designer having the hair on his head slowly shaved from various angles. He is wearing what I would describe as Egyptian eye makeup. By the time he was bald you looked entirely androgynous.
The runway show started with an incredibly tall Korean man wearing a helmet, silver tights, massive gold work boots and silver ski jacket. He slowly crept down the stage moving like a well oiled robot. The tempo of the bass line sped up and all of a sudden this robotic model was practically krumping on stage. By the time he made it to the end of the catwalk the entire room was bumping up and down. The tent was pulsating. He stood in front of the paparazzi posing and as he turned the music went wildly melodic. For the next twenty minutes the catwalk featured mind blowing ultra modern fashion which resembled costumes from a science fiction film out of Tokyo. Women dressed in ripped leotards, neon ski jackets, helmets, visors and well sculptured Mohawks. There were two crowd pleasers that had the entire tent in hysterics. The first was a tall Korean woman dressed in a white ninja suit carrying two samurai swards at her side. The second was another tall Korean model wearing a visor, her hair wrapped in a cone standing about two feet into the sky, dressed in a one piece tube skirt. Both of her arms were bent inside the dress across her breasts. She seemed trapped. Her hands gently rested on her cheeks and she appeared to be screaming. I noticed that everyone in the audience seemed to be moving up and down as if they were in a dance club. These wild and crazy fashions by Mr. Beg are fun, eye catching works of art.
MOON YOUNG HEE
After the Ha Sang Beg Show ended it seemed as though the entire tent exhaled. The twenty minute show was full of such energy as soon as it was over my body reminded me of how hungry I was. I had already come to terms with the fact that I would not be staying for all eight shows it was physically impossible. I was under the impression a fashion filled day would be relaxing, it was quite the opposite. Mirusong and I were starving but we decided to watch one more show before grabbing something to eat. We once again rushed through the VIP line (I was an expert at entry tactics by now) and spent twenty minutes before the show moaning about how empty our stomachs felt.
The last show of the day was much different from the previous spectacle. The music was horrifically slow. Thinny minny models walked out onto the stage in a lazy bored sort of way which I did not find at all attractive. Each of the models seemed as though they didn’t even have knee caps. The show featured all Asian models who were predominantly short. The line was traditionally Korean in inspiration and mostly featured earthy brown, green and grey colour schemes.
As the show ended I looked at my companion and pointed my finger in my mouth to show her I thought the cloths were disgusting. We grabbed a cab in the pouring rain for COEX and she explained to me that the last designer is known for making cloths for an “older market.” Once in the mall we sat down at the famous Celebrity Dim Sum Restaurant owned by Jackie Chan. The restaurants walls are covered in pictures from the actors various film roles, an incredibly corny ambience.
Mirusong called several of her other friends from University who met us at the restaurant. We all ate dim sum and peanut chicken satay while chatting about the fashion world. I listed off each of my favorite designers and they hilariously responded by giggling and screaming, “Oh, I like I like!” Near the end of the meal I was having a conversation in my head about what Mirusong thought of me. Throughout the day we had been together and whenever she bumped into a recognizable friend they would point at me and giggle. I wondered if she was telling them all that I was her boyfriend. I certainly didn’t want to crush her hopes but I also wanted to be realistic.
Of all the women in the world I feel that fashion students are most likely the most gay friendly. So, as a social experiment I decided to tell all of the ladies at the table that I was gay. As the words left my mouth the table went quiet. One of them thought she misunderstood so she pointed and said, “sexual?” I said, “yes.” And they all gabbed in Korean for a few seconds then stared at me as if I were a precious rare jewel. They all giggled and screamed “oh we like gay, like Marc Jacobs!” I spent the next few minutes realizing these girls had never met a gay person in their life. They had also never seen one in Korean television or in a film. They were aware, however, that Marc Jacobs was a famous gay designer. I was a bit floored by it all. So it really was true. In Korea homosexuals really don’t exist. An untalked about slice of society. I mentioned to them that I found it very odd that at Seoul collection over 95% of the designers are women. They told me that at their school they don’t even have one male student in their classes. I wanted to explain to them in as few words as possible that the fashion industry in North America and Europe is predominantly run by the creative powers of the gay community. I blurted out, “in the West fashion is all Gay.” They all excitedly nodded their heads and let out agreeable moans of excitement.
They all asked me what I was doing for the rest of the day. I was shocked that it was only 6pm I felt as though it was midnight. I told them I was going home because I was exhausted and their faces all looked rather glum. I expect they wanted to spend the entire night asking me questions and becoming best of friends.
Before we paid the bill they all got out their journals and asked me to write down my email and phone number. I was now their token foreign, gay, shopping friend. I told them all that I expected them to take me to the best Korean restaurants and help guide me through the menu.
I waved my new Korean friends goodbye and walked through the rain to the subway station. Even though my body was exhausted my spirit was clearly hyperactive.