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October 24, 20086:22 pm

urban futurism at seoul fashion week
Photo: Mark Dvorak-Little

Tesco Finest Old Vines Garnacha, Campo de Borja 2005

Ahh…Tesco’s…to find you again…

I have long reminisced of the days I ran down your aisles with barely a pence in my pocket, my grubby grad student hands searching for whatever from your Finest was on sale that day. You always had a little something to throw my way, whether it was Finest butter, or Finest Jersey milk, or more rarely, Finest Chicken Masala. I loved your Finest — and not only for those pretty silver labels. And to think that I found you again…in the middle of a Seoul Saturday night.

100% Grenache Gorgeousness. Dark velvet blackberry jam, sun-ripened hints of Raspberry Starburst sweetness, tannins for pleasure not pain, light lasting finish.

Tesco’s, you’ve done it again.

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Seoul Fashion Week — Magic Kingdom Dresses Reign Supreme

Seoul Fashion Week has come to a close, and it has taken no time at all for the media and blogosphere to lay down commentary and critique. As expected, there are as many opinions as there are writers. But, what surprised me was Michael Hurt’s October 29th Korean Herald article, in which he writes of being harassed and obstructed by Fashion Week organizers who plainly preferred “foreign press”, or more precisely, anyone who didn’t appear “Korean”. In a blog posting follow up at Korea Sparkles, he details the experience of being treated like a second class citizen, amidst and by his fellow Koreans:

it seems that the fashion folks got way too big for their britches before-the-fact, along with being so obsessed with the “overseas press” that they quite nearly gave the domestic press a slap in the face. If you’ve got an honored guest for dinner, sure — give him a bit more food, pour her an extra glass of wine; but don’t start sneering at me and taking my food off my plate.

It’s sad to hear that the domestic press was treated so poorly. I was part of the international VIP/reporter contingent that had more than enough food on his plate, too much food even — I do now feel quite guilty — and I happened to bring a Korean friend with me to one of the shows. Unfortunately, she was treated with disdain similar to that which Michael reported of his own experience. At the very same moment she was being harassed and blockaded from entry, I was whisked to the VIP section, as if my white skin was itself evidence of VIP status.

But, I would suggest that what happened at Fashion Week did not start with the shortcomings of producers or designers or even politicians. It was a much larger failure — the failure of national imagination, the imagination to see Korea, and more specifically Koreans, as offering not something better or worse but something multi-layered and different—something complex, requiring understanding more than judgment. But in Korea, it seems too often that to be a “different” Korean is to be no Korean at all.

The Korean narrative is one of black and white. The lines are simple and clear–certain things are Korean, certain people are Korean, certain habits and behaviors and norms are Korean, and others are not. The entire narrative sells the lie that Koreans are one people. But it’s a myth. Koreans are not ONE people. Despite the strongest of conformity-inducing social norms, Koreans are (closeted or openly) fluent in other tongues, born to foreign parents, perfectly happy with American beef, and, I dare say it, homosexuals, alcoholics and homeless. The idea that Koreans are ONE people is an outrageous fallacy, matched in its fantastic departure from reality only by the PRC’s claim to ONE China. The difference is that ONE China (including Taiwan and Tibet) serves the purposes of Beijing pretty well, while Korea is none too better off for its compulsory, uniform bliss.

There is a chaos and diversity to Korea that one feels nowhere more than in Seoul. But at Fashion Week’s SETEC, sterility won out over style. Gee Choon Hee’s Pearl Harbor fantasy land was saccharine, cutesy and trite—exactly the qualities international journalists didn’t come to see swaying down the runway before them. But it’s not just Gee Choon Hee whom I fault – it’s the totalizing narrative from which she drew, the narrative that says uniformly: Korean women are cute, Korean women are delicate, Korean women are waiting for their man to come home after performing their duty—the same narrative that chides physical imperfection as something “un-Korean”, something that really ought to be “repaired” through plastic surgery, the same narrative that fuels the cupcake girl look-a-likes who stroll around Appujeong as Barbie-dolls-made-real. Myung Rye drew from the very same narrative, producing Cinderella ball gowns that matched Hee’s “Pearl Harbor” with an ante of “Disney”. But Seoul is not the Magic Kingdom, and internationals didn’t need to cross the globe to see period dresses from a screen play shot at Versailles.

On the other hand, alternative venues, like Daily Projects, were a hit precisely because they captured a genuine sense of difference. They reflected a multi-vocal narrative that more truly reflects what it means to be Korean—heterogeneous, diverse, imperfect—like everyone else.

Next Generation designer, Hyusoon Joo, is a case in point. Her Paul&Alice line weaves an unlikely tapestry of color against otherwise fairly ordinary monochromatic basics. It’s an experiment, and it feels unfinished, as if perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad had she placed that splash of color somewhere else, perhaps moving it from the lapel of a jacket to a stripe down the sleeve. You really couldn’t fault her either way, for her pieces speak with a sense of freedom–freedom to color outside the lines, to try something and get away with it, to be different–not as a search for the “real” Paul&Alice but as an expression of the many Paul&Alice’s that are and will be.

Look, Korea, you’ve shown the world that you’re good enough, and we’re pretty much convinced. We want your phones, your televisions and your cars—and we’d eat up your clothes too, if only you wouldn’t sell us the whitewashed dream of a perfect life. Unlike the Korean home goods store, “My Life is Perfect”, my life is not perfect, and I’m pretty sure no one’s is. So, put the brakes on fantasy shows and give us some real fashion. We want to see your experiments, your triumphs and your scars.

I reckon you could even get some of us internationals to sit in the back, the way we do everywhere else.

Seoul Fashion Week S/S 2009

Seoul Fashion Week wrapped up last Sunday and the single, lasting rejoinder of the international press seems to be, “that’s pretty good, for Korea“. It wasn’t Milan, New York or even Tokyo, but then no one expected it to be.

The Korean Herald put it far less kindly, calling it the worst fashion week in years, faulting its disorganization, lack of professionalism and pandering to international press–all claims I can not refute, particularly the last one (and I can’t honestly say that I minded). For others here, Seoul Fashion Week was “kind of blah”.

But as runway photographer–part of the pandered-to, international VIP contingent–I saw things differently, if not to say, better (no matter how predictable such an outcome may be when you are plied, night after night, with Moet). Even so, we were not so besotted as to find no fault(s) at all:

Oh, the venues are so wretched, so drab, so 1980s, so far away, so so so so…is there no place to get a drink around here?

And it’s true, SETEC is imposing, ugly-like-a-nuclear-power-plant, and lacking in any design element whatsoever–unless you consider it ‘design’ to place three large, white, windowless cubes in the middle of a brown, arid field at the farthest outer reaches of Seoul — almost far away enough that one could forget its scarring presence on the cityscape, its white exterior nearly blending into the smog-filled skies.

Verdict: SETEC is no showcase for fashion…a similar conclusion as that reached by reporter and art critic Ana Finel Honigman.

And then there were the other venues — like Daily Projects (profiled by Maisie Wilhelm at soon-to-revolutionize-your-closet, pre-launch Stylecaster), Space Gallery, KOEX — showcases for Next Generation Designers like Tae Yong Ko, Paul&Alice and Kiim, to name only a few. International reporters were enamored by these spaces. They gave East Village like whiffs of the underground, emerging artist scene that remains, in the US and Western Europe, the much romanticized alternative to the homogeneity of big label, big production anything.

Here, however, there was squandered potential: “Emerging” need not mean that you don’t take care with the lighting. “Emerging” need not mean that you lay down a runway in front of an enormous, menacing, aesthetics-destroying black ventilation pipe.

A criticism almost too trite to mention, however, will not go unsaid: the models are quite simply too skinny. They most certainly look starved. It is difficult to impress internationals, and presumably that was a primary agenda for the week, by trotting before them colorful, well-tailored garments hung loosely on the skeletons of barely-nourished, one-step-from-the-feeding-tube, hollowed-cheek, North Korea famine survivors. They are skinnier than Madrid. Please, feed them.

And then there was the twenty minute video following the runway show at Daily Projects. This wasn’t a video for those who missed the show — it was projected in the same room as the show and seemed to request audience attention AFTER the last model went down the runway. Intended as multimedia enhancement to the entire production, most of the audience felt first bewildered, then mocked (for why would we still sit there and watch this digital crap when a great LIVE show just happened before our very eyes), and then they left, most within five minutes, none staying the entire length of the film. It was a lousy finale to an otherwise interesting and even commendable show.

My advice: Paint pipes white, work on lighting, feed your models, work on endings — all little things that would provide relatively large payouts.

Now, finally, you may be asking, what about the designers themselves?! Well, I’ll just discuss three designers here – but links to all photos are below:

Woo Young Mi produced an exceptional show with imaginative designs.

Though, Woo seems to have the impression that men like to wear jackets on their head…

Jackets as Hats

Jackets as Hats

And most of Woo Young Mi’s pieces are just downright kinky. Redolent of militarism and molestation–it’s Mussolini goes to Neverland: transparent plastic jackets, trousers and hats, double-brested wool coats, glossy, white Michael Jackson ski pants).

Mussolini goes to Neverland

Mussolini goes to Neverland

Finally, for Saturday’s Seoul Fashion Week Finale, there was Gee Choon Hee. I was not familiar with this “known” star on the Seoul fashion circuit, though I had been prepared for an “upper east side”, Caroline Herrera look. But let me tell you, Caroline Herrera looks like Body of Evidence type of stuff compared to the cutesy, frilly, Pearl Harbor-waiting-for-your-man swirling of super models put on by Gee Choon Hee.



Finally, Yoon Ki Suk, has a mens lineup that really does make me want to dash off to Gangdam right now and buy everything at his LOTOCO flagship store. Oversized, brass-studded leather bags are juxtaposed against the frailty of gossamer fabrics, or nothing at all. Manly man meets delicate feminity in a yin/yang theme that is surprisingly fresh. At last, I can wear mesh and feel like a man.

Manly Man Meets Delicate Feminitiy

Manly Man Meets Delicate Feminitiy

A covetous bag, indeed

A covetous bag, indeed

Manly in Mesh

Manly in Mesh

For more photos from Seoul Fashion week:

Woo Young Mi (Solid Homme)

Gee Choon Hee

Yoon Ki Suk (Lotoco)

Daily Projects (Next Generation Designers)

Gallery The Space (Tae Yong Ko)

Kang Dong Joon (D.GNAK)

Ha Sang Beg

Yang Hee Deuk

Rule, Extract and Indulge — Can the “Trophy Kids” have it all?

Millenials, 18-28 year olds, make too an easy target…for their inherited prosperity, their ivy league education, their six figure salary, the jobs they used to have on Wall Street…

And now they’re on the prowl…again…this year and last year and every other year, job hunting and title skipping, they are hop scotching their way to the top, and they want your job. Or more specifically, the CEO’s job. But are their expectations outlandish?

From the WSJ, Ron Alsop’s excerpt from “The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go To Work”:

“They really do seem to want everything, and I can’t decide if it’s an inability or an unwillingness to make trade-offs,” says Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and M.B.A. admissions director at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “They want to be CEO, for example, but they say they don’t want to give up time with their families.”

Trophy Kids can’t have it all? Who says? Stanley Bing’s Executricksters–executives who really do have it all–certainly didn’t let the grandeur or insanity of their expectations dampen their impulse to rule, extrace and indulge. Maybe we could learn something here…

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Today’s BlackBerry-wielding, expense-account impresario may think he’s invented the concept of retiring at work. But such executricks have been around as long as people have labored at tasks they’d rather not perform. Following are some of the greats in the pantheon of tricksters.

Tiberius Caesar, Ruler of Rome

Tiberius Caesar, Ruler of Rome

Ran the Roman Empire mostly from his seaside villa far from the Forum, cavorting with concubines and other less orthodox partners and killing his fair share of friends and enemies, as was the custom of the time.

Have you mastered your executricks? Take the quiz and find out.

The Art of Employee Demotivation

Markets plunge and layoffs surge…but still, your employees are slacking off?

Despair Inc. understands the challenges managers face in extracting full value from employees, and it has codified time-proven management techniques to help you free employees from their self-delusions, narcissism and sense of entitlement.

Addressing Employee Complaints:

Creating Social Distance Between You and Your Employees:

Battling Bureaucracy with “Fake” Crises:

Time to buy Goldman?

With rampant conspiracy theories going around about Goldman orchestrating the “rescue”, it’s hard to believe they won’t rescue themselves — that, and the recent “hard money” investment by Warren Buffet raise the opportunistic question: Is now the time to buy Goldman?
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Goldman Sachs Takes on ‘Dr. Doom’

In a letter to the editor, published Friday on, Mr. Van Praag called Mr. Roubini’s claim that the firm was losing money “curious” and suggested that it was based more on a “gut reaction” than fact. He pointed out that Goldman reported a profit in the third quarter and had done so for every quarter since the credit crunch began last summer.

Asked about Goldman’s response, Mr. Roubini told Dealbook that he meant to say that Goldman “will” lose money in the future. He went on to say that their profits were down across the board from the same time last year and that “the only reason Goldman didn’t go bust” was because of the “direct and indirect support from the Fed.”