As we sifted through the best collections and street style moments from last week’s Seoul shows, one final thought came back to us again and again: From the nattily dressed men hanging around Dongdaemun Design Plaza to the surprise appearance of Darth Vader on the Heich es Heich runway, it was menswear that ruled at Seoul Fashion Weekand, of course, the stylish men who took over the city.
Look closely and you’ll see it all around Seoul: Two men in long black wool overcoats, their jeans double-cuffed; camel dusters layered over gray pinstripes; black speckled blazers with velveteen pants. Here, shoulders were structured, pants perfectly hemmed—the sartorial A game was brought, as it always is, by men throughout Gangbuk and Gangnam. Two of the week’s finest collections, too, came from menswear designers: First at Kim Seo Ryong, a soulful reflection resulted in pure, impeccably crafted clothes, like a baby blue starched gingham suit with dove gray slides. Then at D.Gnak, a moving union of traditional Korean costume and meticulous British tailoring was on offer, from a purple linen shrug embroidered with dragons to a cropped gray pantsuit slit at the kneecaps.
Why is it, exactly, that Seoul’s menswear excels? According to Dong-Jun Kang, D.Gnak’s creative director and a Parsons School of Design grad, it started in the late ’90s and early aughts, when a sudden boom in the field pushed designers to work harder, honing their garment craftsmanship and pushing in a fashion-forward direction in order to compete with one another. “Compared to other countries, there are many more menswear designers in Korea, as many as there are in womenswear,” he explains. Consider the number of now-high-ranking designers who specifically studied men’s tailoring abroad—Steve Jung of SJYP and the J Koo duo acquired their degrees at Central Saint Martins. Though they went on to apply those skills to frothy dresses and skirts as well, it was menswear that was in high demand.
Model Donsung Lee, who spent the week walking such shows as R.Shemiste and Blindness, thinks it has to do with the blank slate Seoul’s designers are given. “Modern Korean menswear has no traditions or expectations to uphold,” he says, pointing to the classic country club prep of Ralph Lauren in the U.S., say, or the bespoke tailoring codes of London’s Savile Row. “That means it’s not held back, in a good way.” And it’s true that brands can be a bit more free to experiment, tending toward androgyny: On the unisex floor at the A Land concept shop in Garosu-gil, for example, you’ll find front- and back-slit corduroy skirts by 87MM that appeal to all genders. Over at Heich Es Heich, designer Sanghyuk Han tells me that this is the house that social media has wrought. “Through the rise of the Internet and social networks in Seoul, a young generation of Korean guys developed the need and desire to dress to impress,” he says. “Over time, their expectations for designs that can do that have been raised, so fashion has to be updated quickly, and the number of designers who cater to that is growing rapidly.”
It makes sense: Here in Seoul, men actually engage with fashion, so their style choices are given equal weight. Just look to the couples fashion trend that has swept the city’s street style scene: men and women in matching white logo lab coats, for instance, or coordinating HUF baseball caps and identical Air Jordans. Approaching the many twinning pairs around DDP last week, I asked them who had first proposed their well-studied ensembles: Eight times out of 10, it was the man. “It’s just fun,” one told me. “It makes a cool style statement.” Can you imagine those words coming from your average guy stateside? Not now, perhaps, butmaybe soon, as Seoul fashion continues to go global—for now, we’ll be keeping an eye on what the men are wearing.