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Is "made in Korea" the new "made in Japan?"
A quick primer on Korean menswear and the rise of independent brands.
Japan South Korea”
Japan’s influence on fashion—and menswear at large—is inescapable. From touting highly-lauded designers, the obsession over the country’s interpretation of Americana, and its top-tier vintage and retail experiences, Japanese style and culture have been embraced by jawns enthusiasts worldwide.
While Japan has long established itself as a powerhouse, its next-door neighbour in South Korea is starting to knock on the door with their blossoming fashion scene.
Much like Japan, the popularity of Korean entertainment is playing a major role in helping the country emerge onto the global stage. K-pop has already gone global in recent years, and the emanation of other Korean media is set to follow suit. From cult film classics like Old Boy, the Oscar-winning Parasite, and of course, the most-watched Netflix TV Show of all time, Squid Game, it’s not surprising to see their fashion exports excel as well.
Speaking of Korean entertainment exports, give Physical: 100 a watch, which just launched a few weeks ago, and Decision to Leave was another great film from Park Chan-wook, the director of Old Boy.
Korean brands on the rise
What’s not to love about thisisneverthat? They’ve shown that they belong in the same class as the streetwear staples we all know and love.
AMOMENTO continues to impress me with its understated elegance and has grown into more storefronts over the last year. Minimalism can often get overlooked, but AMOMENTO is a brand that can fit into any wardrobe, regardless of style.
Looking for another climbing/hiking brand in the post-Arc’teryx GORP era? CAYL will sit perfectly next to Ostrya in your closet. Technical garments can sometimes feel too much, but CAYL’s offerings are approachable without compromising the functionality you expect from an outdoor brand. Besides, we prefer not to look like alpinists while hitting the cafe for an oat milk cortado.
I just discovered Document this season, and I found myself wanting almost every piece from the range. The Donegal Tweed Balmacaan caught my eye right away, and the rest of the collection is just oozing with nonchalance.
Of course, Andersson Bell continues to show they’re not afraid to swing for the fences. While their spins on classic silhouettes will rival any - I’m a big fan of their take on double-knees, the more eccentric pieces always steal the show on any given collection.
There are a handful of brands like the ones above that have already broken through globally; they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are many young, up-and-coming brands to fill that Kapital-sized void, and they’re the perfect candidates to bring back that feeling of the chase brought by proxying.
An exceptional Balmacaan Coat (I love Balmacaans if you couldn’t tell) from La Fudge Store is what started this all, so that’s naturally, that’ll be the first place we’ll tell you to look. Their entire outerwear section is brimming with standouts, from military-inspired pieces to sportswear silhouettes.
The latest spring collection from COOR is excellent, adding to what was already an impressive fall/winter season. The emphasis on shape in contemporary and classic pieces is quite evident here. Like La Fudge, their outerwear offering is solid, but the pants really drew us in.
I’m hoping Nothing Written will eventually offer menswear, they are an outstanding women’s brand, and I get envious at every piece my partner shows me.
If you’re wondering why it took this long to mention Frizmworks and Uniforme Bridge, two top-tier brands with superb Americana and military offerings, they’re already starting to get picked up by retailers, and they’re on their way onto the global scene.
Discovering these South Korean brands isn’t as daunting as it seems. Spots like MUSINSA are a great resource that helps with digging deeper into the space, and they make the proxying process easier too.
More tastemakers and retailers in North America, like Wallace Mercantile and Canoe Club, have already started bringing in these labels. Coupled with the never-ending search for the next brand du jour, it won’t be long before South Korea’s emergence in fashion hits critical mass.
And while they have a long way to go to catch up to Japan’s status, “this is from Korea” may become the new “this is from Japan” sooner than you think.