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In Seoul, Young Designers Flourish In An Unstable Political Climate
Last week, Seoul Fashion Week sent winds of change through its emerging fashion industry as young designers such as Blindness, D-Antidote and Kiok added defiant glamour to a city at the cusp of the North Korean conflict.
Between fashion shows in Seoul last week, I’d switch on CNN in my skyscraper hotel overlooking the South Korean capital. Just 30 miles from the North Korean border, I could practically see the communist regime, whose conflict with the free world has been escalating since President Trump bulldozed his way into the china shop of politics this time last year. On Friday, while Seoul Fashion Week was flexing its penchant for gender-bending streetwear, American cable news was reporting on Kim Jong-un’s newest antics: an open letter to Trump ranting about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. To a fashion tourist, the geopolitics felt surreal, but Seoul’s exuberant emerging fashion scene didn’t appear fazed by the increasing threat from the border. So close, yet so far, seemed to be the message.
We see exuberance and experimentation and rebellion at the shows here, but not so much in the streets around the city"
“I don't think it much affects the fashion and youth scenes in Seoul, although people are of course aware of the idea of being attacked,” said Crayon Lee, who fronts the label Kiok with her sister Coco. “The threat posed by North Korea is just part of life for us, so in a way, we’re just numb to it.” Their spring/summer 2018 collection was rooted in Coco’s childhood memories; stuff like Beauty and the Beast, which gives you an idea of the Western mentality in South Korea. They expressed it in cartoonish shapes and denim, structured and boned like corsetry, demonstrating a hand competent for more than the sea of streetwear, which often seems to define the fashion scene in Seoul - a city that takes fashion seriously.With its booming beauty industry and eager fashion consumerism, South Korea has decided to put itself on the international fashion map, rolling out a six-day fashion week of hourly shows every season. The creative expression you see there is testament to the current cultural youth revolution in a country largely built on conformist Confucian principles melded with traditional Christian values. Young designers are breaking with old-fashioned gender roles in a society where boys in their early twenties are still obliged to spend nearly three years in gruelling military training, a law obviously fuelled by the threat from North Korea. One of those boys was Shin Kyu Yong, who runs the label Blindness with his designer girlfriend Ji Sun.
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