The Korean fashion industry may still be in its infancy, but the scene features quite a few young designers who are challenging the codes of more established fashion countries, revealing the artistic potential of their nation. The best thing about them, though, is the support they are receiving from key institutions and curators who are contributing to transform their vision into a reality, promoting their skills through various showcases. One of the latest events organised was for example the exhibition "K-Fashion Odyssey".
Conceived as a follow-up to the previous event entitled "A New Space Around the Body" (winner of the British Council and British Fashion Council’s International Fashion Showcase Emerging Talent Award 2012 for Best Project at London Fashion Week), the event is curated by Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov.
"K - Fashion Odyssey" features work by Chloe Kim, Gigi Jeehyun Jung, Hyein Seo, Narae Park and Rejina Pyo. The five designers included are very different one from the other: some are more focused on clean and precise silhouettes; others mix in their garments different materials and create imaginary worlds in which grown-ups are allowed to re-ignite childhood fantasies. All of them them are distinctively modern and combine in their inspirations art, film and Korean skills and traditions.
One of the designers included in the event, Hyein Seo, recently won the British Council and British Fashion Council’s International Fashion Showcase Emerging Talent Award 2014 for Best Designer with a collection inspired by 1990s fashion, Dario Argento, Jim Jamusch and old school hip hop.
What kind of selection criteria did you employ to pick the designers included in the exhibition?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: Just as in the previous exhibition, all the selected designers, work in a very sculptural way, challenging the ideals of beauty and non-beauty both on a philosophical and visual level. They have very interesting and powerful imagery; they possess a well developed sense of social awareness and political statements are often present in their work. They also work with storytelling, which enables an interpretation of the exhibition on multiple levels.
Can you introduce us the designers involved?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: London-based Rejina Pyo is a graduate of Central Saint Martins’ MA Womenswear. Her work is inspired by minimalism and she has the rare ability to design both commercial and experimental lines. Her graduation collection, which was inspired by primitive art and block colours, spawned a collaboration with Weekday/H&M. In 2012 Rejina won the prestigious Han Nefkens Fashion Award which led to the solo exhibition "Structural Mode" at the Museum Boijman van Beuningen. Her work has featured in Vogue, AnOther Magazine, The Gentlewoman, Marie Claire, Elle, Dazed and Confused, and many more. Rejina has also exhibited in "ARRRGH! Monsters in Fashion" in Greece and "A Queen Within - Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chess" in the USA. Her work is extremely interesting since her way of designing innovatively clean and strong shapes and silhouettes is remarkable and she manages to create absolute forms from 360°. Her pattern-making is highly original and her execution of the construction is flawless. Currently studying for her MA at the prestigious fashion departments at Royal Academy of Fine Art Antwerp, Hyein Seo’s third year collection "Fear Eats the Soul" takes an unexpectedly humorous twist on the classic horror-film aesthetic. Inspired by 1990s fashion, Dario Argento, Jim Jamusch and old school hip hop, she explores strong characters and adopts the creepy horror film heroine as her muse. Drawing on the powerful energy and atmosphere surrounding the new generation of Korean avant-garde designers, her horror-film collection takes a contemporary view on luxurious fur coats, decadent jewels, red lips and pale skin. Hyein Seo’s has a wonderful ability to translate her very insightful inspiration into the mood of her design: her work breathes the future and it is delightful how she manages to create both wearable and innovative work; her silhouettes and the way she works with patterns in fur are extraordinary. Chloe Kim is a recent Central Saint Martins graduate currently based in Seoul. Her dreamy, other worldly graduate collection is inspired by Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and focuses on Miss Havisham living in a forest mansion where she becomes one with the flora and fauna and her body entangles with the branches, trees, thorns and flowers. Chloe’s shredding of laces and unfinished skirts resonates with Korean drawing techniques, characterised by delicate lines and light colours. Chloe Kim’s mixes mid and late-19th century dresses with a very delicate romantic, but simultaneously punk atmosphere. She works in a very bold way, yet manages to keep the pieces extremely feminine, light and dreamy. Having graduated from BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins in 2012, Gigi Jeehyun Jung is currently completing the MA Fashion Artefact course at London College of Fashion. In 2012 she was a Finalist of Fashion Culture held by the Embassy of Poland, and she has interned at Nathan Jenden. Her work can be characterised by humour and exploration of childhood nostalgia. The starting point for her graduate collection is the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure by Tim Burton and its character who lives forever in his childhood as a “kidult”: half kid and half adult. Gigi’s collection is a tribute to her ancestors’ tireless efforts to bring Korea to the forefront of cultural and technological development at incredible speed. She wanted to allow these adults, even just for a moment, to reclaim their lost childhood fantasies. That's why Gigi Jeehyun Jung’s work is an explosion of vivid colour, material and toy combinations. We love the way she uses humour in her work and her daring playful shapes. She also creates interesting and beautiful fashion illustrations, so fantastic that we had to incorporate them in the exhibition design. Narae Park’s Central Saint Martins graduation show, "The Boundary Collection", was the first runner-up to The L’Oreal Professionnel Young Design Talent Award in 2013. Aiming at destroying barriers and creating a new meaning of fashion, her work explores the plight of child labour and hybrids of sizing, fitting and application of industrial materials such as tarpaulin and neoprene."Heung", that is cheerfulness, is running as a current through Park’s work: she portrays a labouring child still able to smile in her harsh reality, with social awareness and philosophical undertones. It is also interesting how Narae Park's pattern-making gives the garments the appearance of being too small and too big at the same time.
In which ways does the set and setting of the exhibition integrate with the designs on display?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: To resonate with the adventurous voyages the designers have taken coming from South Korea, one of the worlds largest shipbuilding countries, to Europe, wooden boat sections and piping were created, tying their unique stories together. The triangular patterns on the walls and floor are based on navigational rhumb lines of old sea maps. These same elements have found their way into this catalogue. The yin and yang symbol, taken from the South Korean national flag, was originally created to give the appearance of movement, similarly here it illustrates the new wave.
The designs exhibited display a sculptural approach to fashion - while working on the sets for the installations did you also look at this aspect to try and create architectural environments for these pieces?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: Yes, we wanted to create five unique installations that also framed the designers work. As our designers often work with storytelling, we wanted to create five very different and bespoke hypothetical worlds for them, enforcing the concept of each collection as well as enhancing the visitors experience. Lighting was also an important element, with each installation having its own distinct ambiance.
Did you expect the first exhibition was going to be so successful to win an award?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: No, it was a very pleasant surprise! We knew that we had some very talented designers and a brilliant team working on the exhibition, however we never expected that our exhibition would win.
In your opinion, what did visitors like about that previous exhibition?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: We think they enjoyed the variety of wonderful objects on show, the craft, the social and political awareness of the designers, and the humour.
After "Odyssey" where will you be taking Korean fashion or will you continue your exploration of this theme in other events/exhibitions?
Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov: We love working with Korean fashion. There is such an amazing energy and atmosphere there at the moment, so many ideas and interesting work being created. There is still so much more to come from Korean fashion. We are very happy to be a small part of this exciting development, and look forward to continuing our relationship with Korean designers.
"K - Fashion Odyssey" is at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, Grand Buildings, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW, UK, until 2nd March 2014.
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