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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

#SuzySFW: Generation "Gender neutral" — Seoul’s Fashion Message

Asia is leading the way in re-shaping the language of clothes

21 Октября 2015

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016
Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Calf-length sweaters worn by both sexes, light shirts, airy coats, loose trousers and the same bold, digital prints for men or women — these are the fashion images I am taking away from South Korea. 

“Gender neutral” is the real story, rather than the more provocative “transgender”. There is no suggestion that the clothes coming down the runway in Seoul, at the “moon-landing” DDP building designed by Zaha Hadid, are sent out as a provocative statement. Many of the shows seem to be from designers known for their menswear, who offer a handful of outfits for women, or occasionally vice versa. 

Aesthetically, blurring those gender lines has been going on for decades. Back in the 1980s, androgyny was a major statement as women stomped out in big-shouldered, mannish jackets to break society’s anti-female glass ceilings. But the Seoul Fashion Week offerings were more likely to be gentle unions. 

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016
Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

“We tell the buyers that we have the same clothes for men and women, but we don’t have to explain that to our customers — they get it,” said Steve J, who with his partner Yoni P has just opened a boutique in lively downtown Seoul. 

They chose to stage their street style not in the official show space, but literally on the street, with graffiti posters attached to outside walls and the cool attitude that makes them favourites of the K-Pop stars.

Mixes of the same gingham checks for male and female were the duo’s version of cross-dressing, while the use of cotton as a light fabric for a male coat or a feminine dress brought the two sexes together. 

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016
Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

But, unlike that couple, you don’t have to be trained at fashion colleges in London to feel the change in the air. 

When I visited a group of young designers at a branch of Beaker, a Seoul store that supports upcoming brands, several of them spoke casually about selling to both sexes — a trend confirmed by Soon-Kyung Ryu, the store’s Vice President. 

Suzy Menkes with young Korean designers at the Beaker boutique in Seoul
Suzy Menkes with young Korean designers at the Beaker boutique in Seoul

Unisex sweaters from Stereo Vinyls with allusions to Mickey Mouse or The Simpsons are the easy-to-grasp, established culture of man/woman dressing. While Noah Nam, the designer behind Nohant, showed me short or calf-length knits that he said were gender neutral. Noah also came up with another definition: “brunch clothes”, suggesting that smart-casual Sunday clothes have become a worldwide — and unisex — fashion phenomenon. 

As an outsider, I felt that there was an Asia-specific element to clothes being appropriate to both sexes and men being fashion followers as much as women. 

I talked to Woo Youngmi, who is one of Korea’s most successful designers, shows her Wooyoungmi brand twice a year in the Paris menswear season and sells globally.

“I think that Korean men were really opened up to fashion by the army,” said the designer, referring to the long-established American army base in Seoul and the way that khaki, camouflage and military tailoring are endemic to Korean male style. 

Suzy Menkes with Woo Youngmi and Katie Chung, on a studio visit in Seoul
Suzy Menkes with Woo Youngmi and Katie Chung, on a studio visit in Seoul

The brand’s creative director, Katie Chung, had further thoughts. “In terms of body shape, for Asians there is not a significant gender divide,” she said, underscoring the slight silhouettes of both sexes — as seen in Seoul Fashion Week’s runway shows. 

Suzy Menkes with the Mayor Seoul, Park Won-Soon, at Seoul Fashion Week
Suzy Menkes with the Mayor Seoul, Park Won-Soon, at Seoul Fashion Week

But I believe that transgender clothes are being accepted in so many different arenas because of a profound change in attitude. Maybe Korea, with its history interrupted by Japanese colonial rule for 35 years, has been the ideal culture on which to draw men and women’s wardrobes in a new way. 

D.GNAK: Hard and soft 

The rappers, blasting out words and music live at the end of the runway, created an edgy, aggressive mood as models strode out, mostly in black, either shaven-headed or hidden under a hoodie or cap. The clothes were oversize, square cut, slightly aggressive and could have been found in downtown New York.

But then designer Kang Dong-Jun changed the music — literally. His new musician was plaintive and almost Buddhist, the clothes either finely and calmly tailored, or with more insertions of circular embellishment on the back of a jacket, or more dramatically on a gauzy, transparent top.

As the colour switched to a royal purple, it was as though the designer had a story to tell. Even if it was lost in translation, the clothes remained stylish. 

из
D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK Spring/Summer 2016


Resurrection: Men steal the show

At Resurrection, designer Juyoung Lee gave a powerful push for strong women as well as men. 

White - but with a dark side — gave a striking image to the show. But this was one of the many brands at Seoul Fashion Week when feisty womenswear still played second fiddle to menswear.

“Purposeful” was the word that sprang to mind as the Resurrection models strode out in clothes that were tough and streetwise but often melted into light, airy and even transparent fabrics. It was a good example of gender crossing. But the men got all the best pieces. 

из
Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016

Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016

Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016

Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016


Blindness: Oversize androgyny

Hoodies and loose, streamlined shapes from Shin Kyu Yong of Blindness made for a confident street style that could have been pushed further to the edge.

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016
Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

Narrow denim pieces competed with oversize shirts to show the game of proportions played by this young menswear label. He showed the spring/summer 2016 collection of his Blindness brand at Seoul Fashion Week in a space dedicated to young talent.

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016
Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

“Civil Liberty” printed in large letters made a statement for the streetwear, which included hoodies, oversize sleeves that brought shirt cuffs over the hands and a judicious use of denim. This gave a sporty energy to the Blindness collection. 

Kye: Snakes and sparkles

Is it the Year of the Snake for Kye? Patterns and prints for both sexes appeared in this spring/summer 2016 show at Seoul Fashion Week.

Women’s looks included sparkly tinsel as a contrast to the more aggressive effects. With the snake patterns mostly on the masculine side, the Kye collection showed the subtle differences between the sexes in a way that looked urban and cool. 

из
Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016


Since South Korea is a country of modernist calligraphy, I thought it was smart to see decorative writing in the Kye collection - even if the word “Hate” was embroidered on sweatshirts to give an edge to the collection, worn by models with plenty of attitude.

But in spite of Kathleen Kye’s claim, her premise that everyone “loves to hate their friends” was not mirrored in the stylish clothes — for both sexes.

из
Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

Steve J & Yoni P, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016

Resurrection, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Kye, Spring/Summer 2016

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

Blindness, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016

D.GNAK, Spring/Summer 2016


Instagram @SuzyMenkesVogue 
Twitter @SuzyMenkesVogue 
Facebook.com/SuzyMenkes

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