Unless you have a deep aversion to pop culture or have no access to the internet, it is most likely you’ve heard of Gangnam by now. That ritzy, trendy district in Seoul whose style is making waves in the pop music world thanks to the singer Psy.
Let’s jump on the bandwagon and talk about Gangnam style. Not the song or dance, though, but the fashion. What is Gangnam style, anyway?
First, Psy summed it up quite nicely in his explanation of his trademark dance: “Dress classy and dance cheesy”. Well, although the “dance cheesy” may be pure Psy, the “dress classy” part is most definitely what Gangnam style is about.
After all, this is the district where the flagship stores of luxury and high end brands reside, where fashion magazine trends can be spotted in the streets, where style and image rule supreme. While Hongdae is for the hip and independently stylish, Gangnam is for the chic and sophisticated.
Because Gangnam is known for its style, the district of Gangnam holds a festival every October celebrating its role as Korea’s fashion leader. Fashion shows of famous designers, aspiring new designers, and fashion students are put on; a “fashion market” of special tent booths selling diverse fashion items is set up; and many performances, including those from K-pop artists are provided for entertainment. The “Gangnam Grand Sale” also takes place at the same time; more than 200 businesses participate to give you the best bargains, including the major department stores, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, and even clinics and hospitals.
The festival was held from October 2nd to October 7th, 2012. The main festivities including the fashion shows took place in the outdoor plaza of COEX. The festival wasn’t only about style and fashion, though. An important event of the festival, the International Peace Marathon, whose entrance fees go to various charities, had approximately 10,000 participants this year running in full marathon, half marathon, 10 km, and 5 km courses.
The main attraction for the festival is most certainly the fashion shows, where you can get a glimpse of what Korean fashion, and Gangnam style, has to offer. Lie Sang Bong, one of Korea’s most famous fashion designers, opened the festival with his modern avant-garde collection. 25 up and coming designers showed their collections in a contest judged by noted designers and fashion experts, with the winner being awarded a large sum of prize money and many opportunities.
Special fashion shows showcasing Hanbok (한복, the Korean traditional costume) and wedding dresses remind you how diverse designs can be, even in outfits with a stereotyped image. While the established designer Lie started the festivities, the highlight fashion shows were from the younger designers E Suktae for womenswear and Ko Tae Yong for menswear. Both are extremely popular with the younger crowd, which was quite evident in the roar of approval and applause they received with their shows. With hip and funky juxtapositions, bright color combinations, familiar but not boring silhouettes, and without being overly designed; it is not surprising why they are the rising stars in Korean fashion.
Then there were the aspiring future designers – the fashion students. The graduation collection of the fashion design students from Dongduk Women’s University also took the stage. I personally enjoy fashion student work because they are still rather free to design without being hindered by salability. It’s the time when you can enjoy fashion design as an art form and not a means for financial gain, so over-the-top designs can be indulged without restraint. Whatever your opinion was of their work, it was interesting to see what could be expected from the next generation of fashion designers.
Although I wasn’t’ able to attend, international fashion designers from China, Hong Kong, and Turkey also showed their collections and a “citizen fashion show” took place with ordinary citizens of all ages strutting their stuff on the catwalk.
The festival is peppered with various cultural performances, from the traditional to the contemporary. On the last day, the festival closed with K-pop performances from popular groups Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, and TVXQ. Of course, other K-pop stars also showed up during the festival to entertain the crowds as well.
And what is a Gangnam Festival that doesn’t celebrate Gangnam Style? The students of Korea National University of Arts took the stage and showed off their moves in an energetic rendition of the current song of the moment. I was disappointed that the crowd didn’t stand up and join in. Perhaps, although “dressed classy”, they weren’t that comfortable with the “dance cheesy” part.
The best thing about all the shows and performances is that they are free of charge. Being held outdoors at the COEX plaza, it is only a matter of lining up in time to be able to grab a seat, or even if you don’t get a seat near to the stage, you can always stand by and see the festivities quite clearly. There are always large screens with aid your view as well.
In addition, besides the shows and events, watching the people is always interesting. People of all ages and from diverse backgrounds show up: the Gangnam locals just taking a stroll in their neighborhood, the fashion students and fashionistas cane deliberately to see the shows, tourists who happen to stumble upon the festivities and linger, the K-pop fans who are only there to see their idols; it’s a very eclectic crowd. Seeing what they’re wearing is as interesting as the festival itself.
In the end, it’s a great event to attend. When the festivities are over, you can just hop into the COEX mall for shopping and dining, visit museums or the aquarium, or go see a movie or a play. Even without the festival, it is an area where there are tons of things to do. The festival just gives it an extra oomph, a great chance to have fun, Gangnam style.