The city of Seoul gives good pep. A hi-tech megalopolis surrounded by rice paddies and fields, it has become a voguish playhouse for the world’s trend conscious – it is a place where popstars rule and perfection is deified. Last week, designers at Hera Seoul Fashion Week revolted against norms as queer club culture met military uniforms at Blindness. Youser spliced tracksuits and forceful streetwear; R Shemiste destroyed and disassembled archetypes of teenage closets.
Where do you go for quiet, understated clothes in one of the world’s most pulsating cities? Look to Low Classic, the laidback label launched in 2009 by Lee Myungshin, Hwang Hyng-ji and Park Jin-seon. They met whilst students at the costume department of Konkuk University during the early Noughties, a period when Korean designer brands like Wooyoungmi and JunnJ were making headway overseas as Seoul’s biggest fashion exports. Naturally the trio skipped exams to help out backstage at their shows.
‘When we first created Low Classic, there were a lot of wholesale and street brands, but not many designer labels…’ Myungshin says. ‘We saw a gap but there were hardly any distribution channels so I made ten styles and was determined to sell them online.’ The first people to buy were fashion savvy friends in their mid-20s, later celebrities bought pieces and wore them on TV and then the line was picked up by editors who were drawn to its louche, European élan. Today the label is sold across Asia and in two locations in the US.
Low Classic exudes a knowing confidence counter to the showy garb elsewhere on the official Fashion Week schedule. It has none of the K-pop kapow we expect from the city. ‘The K-pop stars are told what to wear – they don’t get to dress how they want to,’ Myungshin says. ‘I guess they want to give fans colourful performances, they want to exude a stronger image, but they clearly distinguish between what they wear on stage and what they choose the rest of the time.’ Low Classic has become an outfitter to many of them. They pop into one of the brand’s two minimalist stores in Garosu-gil and Myeong-dong when off-duty and off-stage.
The American retailer Totokaelo picked up the label in 2016. ‘It was – and is – sophisticated and quirky. Easy to style and most importantly, it’s accessible. It feels designed for confident people who want something easy to wear,’ Esther Min, senior merchandise manager of womenswear says. ‘Korean fashion has increasingly become a focal point for original design. The trend follows other culture points which are becoming more apparent and appreciated in the West too – food, music, art, and even celebrity personalities. As a Korean American, I’m proud. As a consumer, I’m really excited.’
Myungshin heads up the design of the collection after focusing on tailoring at Konkuk. The day-to-day management is overseen by Hwang Hyun-ji who majored in product development and merchandising. She also designs the more trend-focused, second-line Locle. Park Jin-sun worked as a magazine assistant during the semester and is currently studying visual arts in Berlin. She directs all of the campaign and ‘Lowbook’ imagery that has made the label an Instagram hit. ‘We each agreed to take it in turns to study more but only when the other returns… Park is still in Berlin for another four years! So, we meet every summer either in Berlin, Paris or London,’ Myungshin laughs. It sounds like the right way to create clothes that speak to a global audience.
‘Classic is something that you like, something that you feel comfortable in,’ she says. ‘Low Classics are easy to wear. There is always a lightness, an ease.’ Closing the A/W 2018 show was model Hyeseung Lee. Wearing a long, bias-cut jersey dress over slim slacks with a billowing, waxed trench all in inky blue, she is the classic Low Classic woman. ‘She is strong. She is into music. She is the type of girl that doesn’t follow what her agency tells her to do,’ Myungshin says. ‘She just does exactly what she likes.’