This season, the glimmering Dongdaemun Design Plaza filled with stylish onlookers for the first time in three years, as Seoul Fashion Week finally returned to a full schedule of in-person shows. Yet it felt like a shadow of the event that drew a crowd of international editors and buyers from 2015 until the pandemic. Given the global hunger for Korean culture, one would imagine that a showcase of promising Korean brands would be a priority—and a cinch to arrange. There is no lack of young talents, returning from schools like Central Saint Martins and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Instead, searching for emerging designers feels rather like unearthing hidden gems at a flea market.
Goom Heo, a semi-finalist of this year’s LVMH Prize who splits her time between London and Seoul, is one such on-the-rise talent. Heo spends months scouring Dongdaemun’s sprawling wholesale market for fabrics, sampling garments, and researching domestic textile techniques. “I felt like I should use sources and techniques I can only find in Korea and merge them into my work process,” she explained, pointing to the country’s incredible production and craft industries. “All the artisans you can work with in Korea, there are so many talented and skillful craftspeople and ateliers.”
Her latest offering, “Dystopian Beach,” was inspired by Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberger’s black and white images of ’50s and ’60s youth culture. It’s incredible to imagine the middle-aged Korean uncles and aunties who were tasked with slicing bondage-inspired bandage jeans, or hand-painting and airbrushing Grecian armor onto cotton tops to create her delightfully subversive collection. “I would say communicating with artisans is most challenging to me, especially when making untraditional garments,” she conceded. “We need a lot of conversation along the process for them to understand the untraditional construction, and also for me to understand their way of working.”
Juntae Kim echoes Heo’s sentiment. A fellow Central Saint Martins graduate, Kim moved back to Seoul in May and opened a studio in the Sinsadong neighborhood, enticed by the practical possibilities of building a brand there. “I think the production here is the best in the world, though bringing new ideas to traditional factory workers and developing collections with them has been interesting,” he said. “My designs are ultimately menswear in appearance, but for each design, the pattern and cutting comes from historical women’s costuming.”