I spent two years living in South Korea the year after I graduated from university. During those years, when I wasn’t travelling, eating, and partying my way through the peninsula, I was spending my hard-earned teaching salary on clothes. I was envious of all the impeccable-looking women I passed in the streets of Seoul who always had the best lipstick colours and the highest heels, rain or shine. Even though I found the style of dress, at times, a little predictable and conservative, I was genuinely fascinated by how polished Koreans were and are always capable of looking.
Polish and presentation are things Koreans do very well. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they fought their way out of post-war poverty and straight into the OECD within 50 years. You don’t achieve something that impressive by accepting your limitations. This perseverance and determined hustle seem to define their shared cultural identity, from what I observed during my years in Korea, and it comes into play in more ways than just fashion. Technology, education, pop culture, public infrastructure, even their boy bands are light years ahead of anything the West has ever produced.
Fashion-wise, there is a sense among Koreans that anything the West can do, Koreans could do it better. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong. For the past few years, a whole new pack of ethnically Korean womenswear designers have started appearing on style.com. They—the Lims, the Chois, the Lees—as well as a number of fresh young talent coming out of London and New York have an obvious inclination for minimalist designs, muted colours, and polished looks. These are a far cry from the maximalist sensibilities of brands like Missoni, Isabel Marant, and Prada. Rather they seem much more inspired by the thoughtful simplicity of Phoebe Philo’s Céline, the downtown cool of Alexander Wang, and the deconstructed classicism of Yohji Yamamoto.
The Pack is hardly new to the Korean fashion game—shhrug recently wrote about the Antwerp graduate and winner of the 2013 H&M Design Award, Minju Kim. Click after the jump for a breakdown of a few of my favourite new designers from the Land of the Morning Calm.