South Korea is a pretty unique country. Imagine: you’re a teenager compared to other nations, but you’re home to the fourth largest economy on the world’s biggest continent (and 11th largest in the world). You’re neighbours with an estranged relative that’s more likely to send bullets than birthday presents, and you’ve had a pretty influential (read: heavy-handed) upbringing from the United States of America. And people wonder why you’re a little bit different.
But difference is often a positive, and it’s something South Korea’s fashion industry has embraced wholeheartedly. Style, celebrities and social media are three big parts of South Korean pop culture (you only need to YouTube ‘K-Pop fans’ to get to grips with it); coupled with a cultural propensity for looking good, it’s given rise to a great platform for fashion.
Which in turn means a great opportunity for you to diversify your wardrobe with our pick of the South Korean brands to watch (Google Translate at the ready, please).
Wooyoungmi is one of the most famous names to come from the South Korean fashion scene. First launched in 2002, the leading brand quickly became known for masterfully crafted wardrobe basics that soon found a place on Mr Porter, Harvey Nichols and MatchesFashion.
Unexpected details and a modernist slim silhouette separate Wooyoungmi from the crowd, resulting in a collection that is just at home in the casual office as it is on the front row.
Not just the name of a WWI artillery gun (don’t say we don’t teach you anything), 87mm is a Seoul-based brand that crafts block-colour basics in clean silhouettes.
The label’s signature piece has to be the slogan tee. Far from ‘FBI: Female Body Inspector’ fare, 87mm’s ‘NCBS’ tees feature faded lettering on pastel backgrounds à la Drake’s 1-800-Hotline merch, letting you channel the hip-hop vibe without the ‘Worst Behavior’.
Blindness’ output is anything but visually impaired. Unlike the minimalist staples some other South Korean labels are known for, the brand’s offering is a frenzy of Renaissance-inspired and floral motifs.
And, if Blindness’ vibrancy is squint-inducing, there are plenty of neutral wardrobe cornerstones – from sharp outerwear to woollen trousers – to help build a simpler look.
Kim Seo Ryong
Unlike compatriots Byungmun Seo or Songzio, Kim Seo Ryong isn’t all sweeping black silhouettes and outfits appropriate for a Whitby goth convention.
Standout pieces range from monochrome Cuban collar shirts to leopard print skinny jeans, and while the latter might be a touch niche for the mainstream menswear fan, this designer proves that there’s more to South Korean fashion than metallic K-Pop costumes.
American summer camp isn’t the most obvious of fashion influences, but withMNW manages to seamlessly fuse The Parent Trap costume department with Uniqlo simplicity.
Best picks include distressed slogan tees – less first lads holiday, more 1960s peace protest – canvas snapbacks and utilitarian bucket hats.
Despite sounding like a post-Soviet discotheque in Belarus, VIVAstudio is anything but dated. Instead, the brand presents a huge collection of on-trend apparel including souvenir jackets, football jerseys and micro-pattern shorts.
It’s difficult to find a unifying thread that weaves VIVAstudio’s dozens of items together, but there are some real gems to be had here.
Fancy a slice of oversized Gosha-like clobber but not willing to wait (or shell out) for it? HOM FEM is the answer. With a range of elbow-grazing loose tees and wide-legged drawstring trousers, the brand has its finger on the pulse when it comes to runway trends.
Yes, some pieces may be a little left-field, but the price means you’ll pay a fraction of the cost of designer counterparts.
‘Life starts now. We start slow.’ So says BESLOW, a label that concentrates on wardrobe essentials as opposed to on-trend fast fashion.
Ambiguous slogans aside, the brand’s collection is the perfect foundation for building a capsule wardrobe: tailoring, tees, jackets and everything else in between.