65 kg. I think that's some sort of personal best in returning luggage from a trip. I should have known that a combined voyage to Tokyo and Seoul would produce that sort of excess luggage damage. That said, whilst I am more than familiar with Tokyo's shopping delights, Seoul was an unknown quantity to me. For my inaugural trip to this up and coming fashion capital, I was invited by the brand Lucky Chouette to experience their first show as part of Seoul Fashion Week, but thankfully, they also gave me the opportunity to see Seoul for what it is – an insanely cool city with some serious fashion chops. Turn on the TV and countless K-pop stars are styled to the max, not in preppy tees and hoodies (looking at you One Direction) but in edgy layerings of Givenchy and Junya Watanabe. Walk into the multi-brand boutiques and they're filled to the brim with statement pieces from brands ranging from the obvious to the obscure. Look at the kids shopping in Gangnam (huh-uh-huh – you could call it… Gangnam style…) and they're trussed up in Kenzo, Alexander Wang and an intriguing mix of local brands. Suzy Menkes' spot-on article about fashion being everywhere and overly accessible plays out in Seoul in a way that feels fresh, exuberant and enthusiastic.
Together with Vogue Korea, in what I think is the world's one and only Vogue van, I got a quickfire taster of Seoul's plentiful shopping spots. Everywhere we went, selection, presentation and breadth impressed. In luxury multi-brand spots like Mue, particularly up in the new Loft space, it was interesting that pretty much an complete selection of London Fashion Week's brightest talents were on the racks. Not the boring stuff but show pieces of the colourful and printed variety that draws you in immediately. Many shops in Seoul rely on the patronage of influential K-pop stars and the selection seems to reflect that. Daily Projects has built up a name for itself for forward-thinking fashion and one look at their brandlist and they've accumulated every vaguely left of field (and invariably hard-to-find) designer together that pretty much sums up the aesthetic Seoul is bang into right now – club/rave-inspired and word/logo-ridden fashion streetwear that everyone is lapping up all around the world but Seoulites take it to another level.
Their own homegrown brands haven't missed a trick either. One quick gander at Korean brand boutique boy+ by Supermarket in the Apgujeong area and you can see brands like Pushbutton and Kye are going for streetwear surface and Insta-visual appeal be it through print (Seoul-inspired graffiti in Kye's case) or texture (chevron striped fur in Pushbutton's). Doota Mall, the famous shopping mall where you could do some beer-goggled clothes buying at 5am in the morning if you so wish, is also chock full of cheapie interpretations of this streetwear aesthetic. Or J.W. Anderson gridlines or Carven-esque outerwear. Seoul's garment district is quick off the mark at interpreting trends at an above-high street quality and Doota is the place to get these locally made clothes, which do battle against the encroachment of international chains like H&M and Zara. If I was ten years younger with an insatiable appetite for filling up my wardrobe everyday, Doota would have been a dangerous place. Doota is also a breeding ground for young Korean designers, who often have stores in the more interesting basement level before making it big and brilliantly, their prices are more than reasonable (¬£40 for an independently-designed sweatshirt is a near-impossibility in London). Ditto for designers at the store Product Seoul, which displayed a quieter side to Seoul style – minimal, clean and Acne-esque – but at pocket-friendly prices and always with an interesting design detail. Even if design is quiet, the presentation never is. Look at the Samsung-owned contemporary multi-brand store Beaker, selling the preppy likes of Rag and Bone, Band of Outsiders and Our Legacy get to be hung in innovative displays units created out of upcycled furniture. It's a visual merchandising dream in Seoul's boutiques.
It's probably a bit of a stretch to link up Seoul's love of visual eye candy in fashion to the traditional bold carvings seen in places like Gyeongbokgung or to the hanbok costumes and bolts of silks in Kwangjang market (where you can gorge on stacks of yummy bindaetteok) but they certainly rounded off what has been an eye-opening trip. There's no reason why fashion can't be included in the so-called Korean wave of cultural exports.
I picked out ten brands that I came across on my Seoul shopping rounds…
I was already familiar with Kye designed by Kathleen Kye, as I remember her graduating collection from Central Saint Martins. She's been building a solid business in Seoul by participating in Seoul Fashion Week and selling abroad in stores like Opening Ceremony and Machine-A. Her latest S/S 14 collection, which she presented in New York in September takes the simple plaster or band-aid as the central motif. The clothes hardly break new ground but they're sure to get the K-Pop-sters excited (an important factor in shifting clothes in Korea).
I'm going to be talking a little bit more about Seoul's current fixation with typography-driven and sportswear-inflenced trends but local label Peace, Love and Understanding has definitely capitalised on the movement. Their tees, sweatshirts, caps and rucksacks are in constant high demand
If there's a raved-up, printed and DOPE side to Seoul's fashion coin, then the other side is clean, minimal and cleverly designed as exemplified by Cheol Dong.
The upturned points of traditional Korean shoes, which I saw in Kwangjang market are incorporated into Flat Aapartment's unique shoe range.
The only garment I bought from Doota happened to be at the Let Kuzmus store, where interesting panelled sweatshirts and printed biker jackets caught my eye. Their design approach definitely runs differently from the trend-driven norm of Seoul fashion.
I'm quite into Goen J's combo of unexpected furry textures and raglan sleeved tees and sailor tops in their current A/W 13-4 collection.
I found a few interesting shoe labels in Seoul, one of them being Yuul Yie, designed by Sunyuul Yie is putting her own spin on tried-and-tested brogues and loafers.
There are a ton of domestic streetwear brands in Seoul but thisisneverthat feels the most authentic and rooted, championed by Korea's hip hop scene.
For artisanal and indivividual knitwear look to Misu a Barbe for folsky and cutesy designs.
Grafik Plastic sunglasses have won awards for their interchangeable side temples, interesting colourways and eye catching shapes.