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Is Korean fashion America's next mainstream frontier?

By Kristopher Fraser


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Korean street style and ready-to-wear has emerged from being a subculture to finding its way into the mainstream. Celebrities and social media influencers have been seen wearing more Korean designers, notable fashion editors and buyers have been seen attending Seoul Fashion Week, and on the beauty front, K-beauty has put Korea's beauty market on the map.

As we went into the roaring '20s 2.0, all eyes are on what trends and movements in fashion will help define the decade, and one of the most obvious ones is Korean fashion. New York Fashion Week has seen several notable Korean designers and brands this season, including the annual Concept Korea fashion show featuring Lie, Iise, and Leyii.

Concept Korea is a collaborative project that helps support emerging Korean designers. The project originally launched in 2010 at New York Fashion Week, and had perfect timing as streetwear was having an entire global movement and consumers were moving more toward an idea of individualism. Designers, like Kang D. of D.Gnak, found their footing in the U.S. thanks to Concept Korea, and have been able to pick up stockists like Ssense.

Korean designers are finding their way into America's mainstream market

These Korean designers have managed to find universal appeal. Chung Chung Lee, the designer of Lie, was inspired by London during the 1960s. His collection featured bold and sculptural shapes, contrasted feminien lines, and styling inspired by the working class Rude Boys movement. Lee was also formerly the senior designer of Lie Sangbong, Korea's primary luxury brand, which also has a boutique in SoHo, so he has an understanding of the American consumer.

This season, Lie introduced more sportswear inspired pieces, with oversized coats, jackets, and blouses with his brand's signature tailoring and unique fabric combinations. As consumers try to find new ways to wear tailoring, Lie is a good place to start to experiment, given the brand's approach to color and fluid architectural structure. Chung Lee is ahead of the curve when it comes to tailoring, and customers will begin to catch-on.

Leyii was also on trend with the sportswear feel. With the worldwide sportswear market expected to grow to a CAGR of 3.4 percent over the next five years, Leyii is well on its way to claiming its piece of a growing market share. The brand took sportswear and infused it with curved line shapes for looks individual to their own brand DNA, such as billowing curved cape coats and asymmetrical cinched waist puffer jackets. These figure flattering designers can work for women of all sizes and proportions, and fit is everything when it comes to womenswear.

Then there is Iise, the fashion and lifestyle brand by Kevin and Terrence Kim, that is a street-inspired nod to South Korea. The brothers, who were born in the USA, are right at the intersection of both the American streetwear and Korean streetwear movements. Despite the belief that streetwear is going to die (Virgil Abloh seems to think so), it rather seems like it is going to evolve for the next decade. The influence of Korean culture in streetwear, which is reaching a growing audience, could be the key element to what streetwear needs next to continue its relevance.

Korean fashion's influence on New York's scene and the American market is only going to continue. Concept Korea is just the beginning of how consumers will see Korean fashion infused into the commercial mainstream.

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photos: courtesy of Lecca photography

Concept Korea
New York Fashion Week
Seoul Fashion Week