Fashion editors, bloggers, and photographers tell all about what it’s really like behind the scenes and in the front row of one of the world’s most anticipated fashion weeks.
It was the fall of 2013, and I happened to be in Seoul at a very opportune time. I was with a couple of magazine industry friends who went there for Seoul Fashion Week (SFW); though I was an editor at the time, I was more interested in doing touristy stuff, like shopping, and fan-girling more than anything else. But on the last day of SFW, my friend gave me a media pass so I decided to watch the shows – and from then on, I was hooked. It had all the elements that I had come to Korea for: pop culture, a one-of-a kind fandom, and of course, fashion.
Before moving to the iconic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the shows were held in IFC Hall in Yeouido. Just outside the venue was almost like a fashion show in itself, with young stylish Seoulites strutting the streets as though they were runways and enthusiasts clicking away at their cameras. It was a whole subculture in itself. Naturally, with hallyu sweeping many parts of the world, the international press was intrigued. Marion Fann, a Taiwanese fashion blogger and reporter for a Swedish-based website, says, “All kinds of people can join the event, and you can see their passion in fashion.” What probably makes SFW different from other international shows is how the designers take inspiration from everyday people, incorporating a palpable street vibe in their designs. Unlike their Western counterparts, who mostly dictate the fashion agenda, here, it’s the other way around. Being “commercial” or “wearable,” which can sometimes raise eyebrows overseas, is celebrated. Natalie Rap, fashion photographer and creative director of Interlaced Media agrees: “What you see on the runway is what people are wearing every day on the street and I think that is a positive reflection on the designers of South Korea and the way the fashion industry is valued.”
But of course, that isn’t to say that SFW is all about urban street wear, with several veteran and emerging haute couture designers still producing art on the runways.
Inside the Frenzy
What stood out for me from attending the shows over several seasons is the organization’s attention to detail. When the schedule states that it will start at 9am or 10am in the morning, it will start exactly on time, regardless of whether VIPs or celebrities have gotten to their seats or not (they mostly arrive on time too, though). You’ve probably heard how most fashion shows don’t start until Anna Wintour is comfortably seated (well, she is THE Anna Wintour after all), but here, lights will certainly turn off once it’s time. Marion shares, “I think Seoul Fashion Week has one of the best organizations in the world, and they have certainly improved over the years. For overseas press, I could easily focus on what I had to do, enjoy the runways and interviews instead of finding it hard to get to the venue or missing any important events. It’s so much different from the other show’s I’ve ever been to.”
Sure, there may be some minor logistical hiccups, especially when you’re from overseas – missing seats or your name missing from their list, but most of that can be solved easily by the organizers and volunteers.
Perhaps adhering to the Korean palli palli (“hurry” in English) culture, this sense of time is observed strictly because it will affect the whole flow of the show. Most shows are only 5 to 15 minutes apart, and if one show gets delayed, everything falls apart. RJ Roque, fashion stylist and editor says, “That’s why it’s important to dress up fashionably but comfortably as well, because you’ll be swept up in the frenzy of it all.”
And once the music starts blaring, the lights come on and the models start prancing down the catwalk, it’s a whole other experience. “The runway is always going to be a magical and favorite place of mine to photograph because you can feel a different vibe when everything comes together,” Natalie shares.
An eye for trends – and stars
For me, while it’s interesting to see what happens on the runway, it’s also amazing to see what happens off it. The models are considered rock stars themselves, with many fans rushing to take their photos and get their autographs once they step out of the venue. But the real star power comes from the K-Pop idols and actors that come to support their favorite designers. I remember getting to interview and take a photo with rapper Beenzino during the 87MM show, seeing SNSD, EXID, Troublemaker, JYJ’s Junsu, and my personal favorite, Lee Hyori at her friends’ Steve J’s and Yoni P’s show. But of course, we’ve all kept our cool whenever we encounter or sit beside celebrities, which, admittedly is kind of hard to do. Marion shares, “Wow, I’ve met too many celebs, and it’s really amazing. All the fashionistas were there: G-Dragon, CL, Gong Hyojin, Kim Woobin, Ahn Jaehyun, Cha Sungwon, and many more.” Likewise, Natalie never missed an opportunity to take photos of stars. “I have photographed Jessica Alba at Metro City, Sandara Park of 2ne1, Red Velvet, JJCC and Hyolyn of SISTAR, to name a few.”
For his fashion instax blog, RJ has experienced his fair share of chasing celebs. While stars give off that intimidating vibe, they are approachable and very much willing to strike a pose. He shares, “Don’t hesitate to take a photo of celebrities. They’re there to be seen and photographed.”
The only downside to the people’s immense love for street wear and trends is that everyone could end up following the same style. Marion says, “With trends, you can see everyone dressing the same, and even some designers were doing similar styles and it could be a bit boring sometimes.” In an interview with Vogue.com, some buyers observed that some Korean designers tend to reference the likes of Vetements, Alexander Wang, Rick Owens, Commes des Garcons, and others more often than they should.
When it comes to innovation, however, SFW designers are certainly not short of it. Last A/W 2016 season, Steve J and Yoni P staged a “see now, buy now” approach where clothes became readily available – so the trends can be enjoyed immediately. It follows the commercial movement from other parts of the world and it’s changing how fashion trickles down to consumers. We will definitely see fabulous designs from prominent names such as Beyond Closet, Push Button, Cres E.Dim, General Idea, and Resurrection, to name a few. Emerging young designers are also on the rise. Fashion is most definitely alive and kicking on this side of the world, but what’s great about it is how inclusive it is. You don’t have to get an insider pass to get a feel of fashion week here in Korea. You see it everywhere, every day. Natalie advises, “Don’t be sad if you can’t get into a show. There’s always amazing street style outside so immerse yourself in that culture if you want to get into the true Korean style.”
Seoul Fashion Week at Dongdaemun Design Plaza takes place between October 17-October 22, 2016.
Written by: Dianne Pineda
Photos by: Dianne Pineda and Natalie Rap