SEOUL — Seoul Fashion Week‘s spring 2024 edition took place one month earlier than usual amid the stifling late-summer heat, with fashion enthusiasts braving faux furs and leather balaclavas to see and be seen.
South Korea’s largest fashion event reset its calendar from October to September for the first time since its inception in 2000, and took advantage of the star wattage of the Korean entertainment industry in order to bounce back from the effects of COVID-19. Face masks had been compulsory in hospitals and other public areas in the Asian country until as recently as May, making the 2024 spring collection the first truly mask-free event.
There were considerably bigger crowds than previous offline editions of the event that resumed in October 2022. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of visitors to Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul’s fashion district that is home to night markets, shopping centers, and the SFW venue — the Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza — increased 4.2 times during the month of June alone compared to June 2022.
Making appearances on the “blue” carpet and at shows were K-pop girl group NewJeans, who are SFW’s global ambassadors; Seohyun of Girls’ Generation; actress Han Ye-seul; Taiwanese actor Darren Wang; model Hye Jung Lee, and Nayun, Hye Bin, and Ahin of Momoland.
Even BTS added to the pop-infused energy with an exhibition of costumes from their Billboard Hot 100 topper “Dynamite,” held inside the plaza’s trade show venue.
Girl band Kiss of Life also attended, donning distressed cargo miniskirts and craftily cropped tops while singing on the runway for Ul:kin. This is the second consecutive season that the eco-friendly brand has opened SFW.
A look from Ul:kin’s spring 2024 collection.
“Some of my pieces are recycled K-pop costumes and you can even see the names of the artists that their stylists had written on the label,” Ul:kin’s creative director Lee Seongdong told WWD. Waistlines were lower and pants wider in the collection, as they were for BLR by Kwon Bongseok, who has been making a name for himself by dressing A-listers like EXO, Twice, and Seventeen.
“The pandemic was really tough. But Korean pop culture got so much attention during that time as well,” said Monica Koh of Maison Nica, referring to the emergence of K-pop mega-groups, the Emmy-winning show “Squid Game” and Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”
“I can feel a renewed sense of interest in my clothes from foreign buyers, especially from New York. I think it is a byproduct of this attraction to all things Korean,” Koh added.
“It’s great to see everyone from fashion and entertainment gather after the pandemic,” actress and singer Jo Ga Bin, formerly known as Sojin of girl group Nine Muses, told WWD while attending the SFW debut show for Bludiblu. “K-pop and fashion are inseparable so I have always been interested in emerging brands.”
Coming fresh out of an internship with Henrik Vibskov, Bludiblu’s Kim Kyungdeok presented a surprisingly cohesive and mature collection for a first-time label, ranging from muted marine stripes and washed-out denim to wild graffiti prints and zany diving suits with mossy motifs that seem to belong on a Mediterranean beach.
Looks from Bludiblu’s spring 2024 collection.
“Bludiblu deals with both art and fashion, and this collection was a chance to showcase both at the same time,” said Kim, who is also an artist with two exhibitions under his belt. His experimental collection espouses SFW’s dedication to bringing a new artistic nuance to the event.
Among the crowds were VIP guests of Frieze Seoul, which coincided with SFW during its run through Sept. 9. Hosting the runway and trade shows in September was a business-conscious decision that is mindful of not only the global fashion week slate but also the synergy effects of concurrent art events.
Almost a third of the featured brands, from newcomers like #whysocerealz! to established labels like Lie and D-Antidote, collaborated with South Korean artists.
A scene from #whysocerealz!’s spring 2024 runway show during Seoul Fashion Week.
Looks from D-Antidote during Seoul Fashion Week.
This is an initiative by organizers, the Seoul metropolitan government, which helped match designers and artists for added retail opportunities. Participating labels partake in a series of pop-ups for their collections at three Hyundai Department Stores in Seoul through Oct. 1.
Seokwoon Yoon, a former graphic designer for Gap, collaborated with artist Lee Sangwon to present an embroidered motif for his namesake label. Yoon also found inspiration in “gut” or Korean shamanistic rituals for a series of polychromatic, deconstructed street styles. Lie Sang Bong also nodded to time-honored Korean motifs, with architecturally cut creations taken from “giwa” roof tiles and “dancheong” paint on traditional buildings.
Looks from Seokwoon Yoon’s spring 2024 collection.
Off the runway was a special art-meets-fashion exhibition, in which Andersson Bell designer Dohun Kim’s archived clothing was shown alongside work by Uruguayan photographer JP Bonino.
Despite the art-and-pop-fueled buzz surrounding the new season, SFW continues to face challenges.
Only 30 shows were offered this season, which is half of the lineup prior to the pandemic. While veteran labels like Demoo by Park Choonmoo continue to be fixtures, offering high production values of her signature minimalism, younger fan favorites like Münn have moved to European runways. Han Hyun-min will present his tailored menswear in Milan next month.
“Compared to the past, the quality of the brands is still slightly weak. Most of the brands have shallow collections with only 30 to 40 [stock keeping units], and familiar Korean brands chose to participate directly in Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks. It was a bit of a pity that we did not see their latest season’s products,” said Mengyu Zhang, marketing director for the Shanghai showroom Dadashow.
But even before the pandemic, SFW had suffered the loss of not only its major sponsor but also its longtime executive director Kuho Jung.
Makeup giant Amorepacific’s beauty label Hera was SFW’s titular sponsor, providing about $752,000 a year from 2015 to 2018. But an agreement could not be reached to ensure that all 60 or so featured designers would use only Hera makeup products for their models.
Organizers, however, hope to recover the number of featured brands and to strengthen its program.
“We were really inspired by how international couture houses like Gucci held its show at Gyeongbok Palace, or how BTS performed on the World Cup Bridge,” said Sun MinJoo, senior manager of Seoul City’s Beauty and Fashion Industry Division.
“As much as Seoul City is hosting the Seoul Fashion Week, it makes sense to expand beyond the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to spotlight different landmarks around the city,” added Sun.
Sun added that the shift in dates has already helped turn things around. “For a long time, we have repeatedly had requests from designers to move the date of Seoul Fashion Week to September. Now it will no longer take place after the big four fashion weeks come to an end and buyers are low on budget. We had many buyers head over straight from Japan [Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo],” Sun said.
A total of 127 buyers from 27 countries participated in the SFW tradeshow, which featured 94 brands. First-time visitors included ones from Le Bon Marché and Liberty London, as well as Japan’s Isetan which returned after a seven-year hiatus, according to organizers.
“We’ve had many buyers and guests reaching out to us first, especially from Europe and most notably Italy,” said Violet Yang, president of trade show organizer Trade Community. European buyers accounted for about a quarter of buyers this season, a marked increase from previous seasons.
Among guests from Italy was Marcella Di Simone, project manager of Milan Loves Seoul, an event that will introduce Korean designers during Milan Fashion Week next February.
“The Korean wave is totally exploding in Italy. The popularity is not just about K-pop and TV dramas but there is also a rising interest in Korean fashion. We are here to discover and introduce new brands,” Di Simone said.
Jan Friotz Mathias, a buyer for the Emirati concept store Essentials 5ive, said he has been coming to Seoul for its novelty value. “Dubai has the world’s highest brand concentration of 95 percent, so it’s always a challenge to find something new. That is why I’ve been coming to Korea for the fifth or sixth time now, to check out emerging brands like BLR, Ul:kin and Holy Number 7. These are very forward thinking,” he said.
A look from Holy Number 7’s spring 2024 collection.
“If you’re asking which market to watch because of its potential, it would be Korea,” said Joel Adebayo, a buyer for the London multibrand store Not Just Another Store.
“Brands like People of the World really understand the blur between street, athleisure and also traditional Korean fashion, while still being respectful of its collaboration with Reebok. And there is also more a more blended attitude in other ways, such as gender fluidity,” Adebayo added. “I want to start investing in Korean brands and not just stocking them.”
- With contributions from Denni Hu