By 9:00 p.m. on Friday night, an unmarked alley in Euljiro, Seoul was filled with kids wearing silk bucket hats and patch-work bomber jackets, clingy knit slips and perfectly lax cargo pants. The stylish swarm had descended upon a two-story art gallery to celebrate Hyein Seo, the four-year-old cult Korean label that staged its first hometown presentation as a raucous house party. DJ Leevisa cued her next track in the front room, while champagne and vodka poured forth freely from the concrete slab bar on the ground floor. In a nearby corner, black cotton mock turtlenecks with the words “Hyein Seo” on the chest and “Prototype” on the collar sold like hotcakes.
Upstairs, the designer herself stood discreetly on the roof deck, dressed in head-to-toe black and surrounded by friends who had arrived for the occasion: photographers like Cho Giseok and Dasom Han, who captured the night exclusively for Vogue; models like Soyoung Kang, Ahreum Ahn, and Prim Patnasiri; DJs like Coucou Chloe, who had flown in from London to headline; stylists like Serian Heu and Hanyoung Seo, who collapsed onto bean bag chairs in the hookah bar room; and countless gate-crashers, including several overseas editors looking to escape from the staid Fashion Week shows taking place not 10 minutes away.
Since moving her base back from Antwerp this year, Seo has become the reluctant talk of the town. Though known for her “tough girl” image—the vinyl biker pants and cut-out spandex tops, the garter belt bag designed to hold a pack of Marlboro Reds—Seo herself is quite shy, hence her position on the roof, removed from those crowds of strangers. Jino Lee, the label’s co-director and fellow Royal Academy of Fine Arts grad, explained that he “deals with the technical side of things, so she can focus more on the creative,” and by nature of having a namesake brand, Seo is made to be the face of it. “People think I’m the really strong, partying type, but I actually spend a lot of time at home reading books, watching movies,” she said, laughing.
Yet it is this element of wish fulfillment that make a Hyein Seo piece so compelling. Past seasons have been inspired by the qipao-clad sirens in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 and Street Fighter’s Chun-Li (Fall 2017’s “Final Boss”) and Park Chan-Wook’s vengeful ex-convict (Fall 2016’s “Lady Vengeance”); stepping into one of her silk cheongsams or a hiked-up sukeban skirt is like slipping into character. “I’m always captivated by the bad girl in movies,” Seo added. “Maybe because I’m not a bad girl.” Small wonder that her fans include Rihanna, Bella Hadid, Simi and Haze. It is more startling to see the impact Seo has made in conservative Korea, where trends are still followed to the letter. Girls are growing empowered to dress for themselves, whether that be a curve-obscuring jumpsuit or a spandex crop top.
Equally transgressive is the fact that Hyein Seo is a unisex label, with pieces meant to be worn both by Lee and Seo. Ergo the oversize coats; the Belge menswear and military references beloved by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Khalid, who stopped by the Hyein Seo archive sale before performing in Hannam-dong last week; and the equal swath of men in Euljiro, wearing the same beautifully embroidered suit coats as their female peers. Looking around the room, it was thrilling to see this point of view come across.
In throwing Seoul’s hottest event, Seo and Lee have staked their claim as the bright future of Korean fashion, around which the capital’s young creatives are eagerly flocking. There is a hunger here—untapped potential—and Hyein Seo is tapping directly into its veins. Which leads us back to tonight’s Spring 2019 presentation. Called White Noise, the collection was inspired, Seo explained, “by Seoul youth now.” “We want to show what’s on now in this sleepless city,” she said. “We do have talents in Seoul but no place to get them together. Those young DJs, artists, designers, photographers became our inspiration.” It’s precisely why Seo and Lee called upon their very cool friends to each choose a Spring look and wear it to the party: Their Hyein Seo fantasy had found real-world roots.
Just after midnight, as Coucou Chloe picked up her mic before a crush of kids in matching bomber jackets, Seo and Lee looked on proudly at the crowd they had gathered. The bass picked up, more vodka was poured, and a happy feeling settled over the room. “Finally,” it seemed to say. “We’re getting somewhere.”
This article was originally posted on Vogue.
Minor changes have been made by the Quiet Curator editors.