Pure London – Womenswear
In some ways, these are a useful temperature gauge on the buying appetite and budget behavior engaging within the halls of Pure, Olympia and its 900 brands on display.
In recent seasons I have looked for, found and added Korean brands to my searches, inspired by their clean lines, simple but contemporary styling and different design aesthetic making the collections visually very appealing.
Choi Boko – one such Korean brand, positioned near the front of the main hall is now in its 5th season at Pure. I spoke with Ayhoung Choi, daughter of Boko (pictured below) who as a Central St Martin’s Graduate has aspirations for her own brand to show next year (and currently showing her grad collection at the Korean Cultural Centre during LFW as a tribute to the Korean designers that studied in London/UK.)
“We’ve always had a lot of interest from Middle Eastern companies traditionally, who like the oversized styling and they seem to like the bright colors.” This I would say is a far more universal appeal from within the UK as well as overseas now. One of the key advantages that Korean brands inherit is the fact that as a vertical market, they can do it all from mill-to-skin and at a very competitive price point with high quality machining and finishing. You don’t just influence global markets for no good reason – the staggering thing is how remarkably quick it seems to have emerged as a global player, impacting the business dynamic between China and ROW, and intercepting a lot of Chinese business that had traditionally gone to Europe, because of closer geographic and cultural fit.
So no surprise to hear Choi Boko’s garments are all sourced and made in Korea. “One of our signature styling elements is the fact we like to play with fabrics and patterns. There are a lot of patchworks and the designs are often primarily seamless.” It’s part clever engineering – so you just don’t see the construction, but it’s also fun, playful and imaginative. Seemingly not constrained by tradition or trends but mindful to incorporate key elements of what is influencing fashion while taking us on their own distinctly contemporary ‘Asian styled’ journeys. A black vest cape that stood out with blue faux stitching patterning, made from 70% wool and 30% neoprene provides a fun, different hand feel, designed so that you can enjoy a tactile relationship with the garment.
Interestingly, one of the distinctions that tend to be made with Korean designs is whether, when and how they are consciously adapted for Western markets. In Choi Boko’s case, it is clothing made for the Korean market with European sensitivities. The design ethos is not somehow bent towards ‘western tastes’ but resolutely true to what they think constitutes good, appealing design for their domestic market, and that this is automatically engaging for other markets having maintained this focus. “We don’t expect people to take and wear entire ranges but to mix and match garments from us with their existing wardrobe. We want them to do their own styling with our products.” This is where the Korean styling can have the most impact, allowing the wearer to experiment and achieve a distinctly different look and incorporate more and more as they can finesse its strengths towards their own preferences. It’s like having a highly versatile shawl scarf that just goes with everything. Price points for A/W are 50-200 euros and S/S 50-110. I asked how the show had gone and apparently they were having a very good response. I saw her writing orders on the last day up until closing. And not surprised at all.
I was also intrigued by Emin & Paul, two Korean designers, who met while doing an MA at London College of Fashion, 10 years ago and now in their 7th season at Pure. Emin gave me the background on their brand, while Paul walked their young daughter around the hall (inspiring her future design bent perhaps in the future), explaining they were in Anthropology, John Lewis, V&A Museum, as part of a curated Asian theme within its main store and other stockists also, including the huge United Arrows store chain in Japan, and with showrooms in Japan and Italy. “Our signature style is modern, simple, special ethnic shapes, over-sized, which a few years back was very trendy. Our starting point is more western, with Asian styling influences.”
This was an interesting contrast to Choi Boko, where Emin & Paul were creating pattern blocks with western sizing in mind and Asian styling influences at the outset. They have “distinctive Asian features in the styling.” And to illustrate the point picked up a wool cape garment, loose-fitting but with clear Kimono styled sleeves. The epithet we agreed on with their styling and Korean styling seems to be “less is more.” Again, further demonstrated by the fact that they have a limited color palette, 5-6 colors in their ranges, with a balance predominantly with two colors and a maximum, but restrained ‘detailing and finishing’ use of a third color (collars and cuffs, piping etc.). They use Angora wool which is very popular in their designs and “always follow trends, but with a more cutting edge.” Their target demographic is 30-40 years, with wholesale price points £20-£100 (2.8 mark-up).
They had taken orders and usually do at Pure, from Greece and Turkey amongst other buyers, curiously first finessed at Who’s Next, Paris – a revealing glimpse at needing to be seen to be at not just one key trade show (Who’s Next is the closest European comparable event to Pure) but a number of them, as if there’s also an ‘event adjacency’ that needs to be factored in to help persuade the buyer that you, your range and their trade show choices are on the same page! With this in mind, curiously Emin & Paul (no relation to Tracy btw) show only at Who’s Next, White Show, Milan and Pure, London. Spending 6 months of the year in Korea and the remainder in UK (and Europe) I get the sense it’s a very full on 7-day a week commitment from this brand. Emin laughs and says “Oh yes, 7 days for sure.” The Korean culture seems to be hard work as the norm and in an industry that will eat up those hours and more, it seems to be increasingly a minimum requirement just to stand a chance of succeeding.
By Paul Markevicius