In the eyes of Wooyoungmi, the global popularisation of South Korean culture is an interesting evolution. When the brand was founded twenty years ago, its bricks were moulded in Seoul but its foundation based on the blueprints of Parisian fashion mentality. It’s a tale as old as time: the East dreams of the West and vice versa. When it came to her craft, Woo Youngmi’s fascinations and studies gravitated towards a milieu foreign to her own. Two decades on, the digital age has assimilated Korean style, beauty and pop into the Western mainstream.  

For Madame Woo, who always identified with a Parisian fashion disposition, the new generations’ curios- ity for her homeland is invigorating. For the Wooyoungmi Fall-Winter 2023 Collection, it inspires the  designer to reflect on the historical artistic relationship between South Korea and the West. At the 1900 Paris Exposition, the nation unveiled the Pavillon de Corée: a magnificent building constructed in the style of the South Korean palaces but re-contextualised within the Haussmannian environment of Paris. It is on this backdrop that the collection finds its premise. 

In place of the pop culture that defines the present-day Western view of South Korea, Mme Woo imagi- nes the artistic exchange between Paris and Seoul at the fin de siècle through a 21st Century lens. The  notion cuts a romantic silhouette loosely informed by a Belle Époque sensibility crafted through the brand’s structural and utilitarian approach: contemporised riding coats, sack suits and riding boots, morphed with the roomy, teenage-centric shapes native to Wooyoungmi’s early-2000s archives. The historical premise crosses into Edwardian England where shooting jackets, padded coats and stalking trousers shape-shift with the cargo garments native to the urban wardrobe today. 

In a study of the jewellery worn by the rulers of the Silla kingdom, which shaped South Korea for a thousand years from 57 BCE to 935 CE, Mme Woo reinterprets its expression in a contemporary form language. Keeping the shapes of the jewels originally used to adorn the excessively decorated pieces, she reduces the jewels to a core shape and magnifies them into sculptural dimensions. They adorn the fronts, seams and collars of classic gentleman’s tailoring and generational workwear, echoing the modern cityscape of Seoul itself where futuristic structures and traditional pagodas clash and harmonise. 

The practice is reflected in a play on proportions: jackets, knitwear, and handbags and belts in leather and faux snakeskin expand and contract between macro and micro proportions, in a simultaneous reflection of Mme Woo’s ongoing exploration of the Y2K silhouette found in her early archives. The collection’s earthy colour palette erupts in a series of volcano graphics and textures interpreted in a wealth of techniques across tailoring, workwear and knitwear. Conjuring the spirit of the volcano of Jeju island, the motif evokes a contemporary vision of the South Korean volcanic landscape envisioned through the expressionist binoculars of Paris at the turn of the century.