#CNILux: Juun.J – Futuristic And Gender-Fluid Menswear
As the models took a wide stride down the runway in an abandoned train station in Florence, I read a word printed on the sleeve of an oversize jacket. "Gender" was the message from Juun.J, the Korean menswear designer who has become an international phenomenon.
Juun.J is re-defining 21st-century men's fashion, creating collections with a dash of "gender blending" as well as subtle references to classic Korean costume. When we met, I asked him why Seoul has become a touchstone for modernity, and why Korean culture has gone global with K-Pop, K-Art, and certainly K-Fashion.
"The young generation in Korea is unique - and their characteristic focus is on that uniqueness," Juun.J explained. "Koreans are speedy and Seoul especially has all the culture you can imagine. The young generation chooses what they want, and are speedy and unique at the same time. They blend it all in and make it their home culture."
Since I had just caught up with Korean rap star G-Dragon, who was working on a fashion look with Seoul's Boon the Shop, I was aware of how much K-Pop had advanced the power and style of Korea - even if Juun.J himself habitually shows his collections during Paris menswear. He told me about the power of music in his home country.
"Korean people have always loved music; always loved dance," he said. "Maybe that's one of the reasons why K-Pop and K-Music is so big. When you go to Korea, everywhere you see 'noraebang', which is Korean for karaoke - a lot of people enjoy singing."
Fascinated by Juun.J's playful but powerful style, I asked him how he would define his work, which often requires re-interpreting the classic cut of trench coats, creating outsize bomber jackets, and changing the cut of impeccably tailored suits by loosening and rounding off the trousers.
"In my recent collection, I really wanted to show a dramatic contrast," he said. "I also wanted to find the break point - I didn't want it to be too masculine, nor too feminine - it's the trend these days. In my recent collection, I wanted to show the drastic contrast - but at the same time that exact mix point."
I knew that Samsung's Cheil Industries division was the support behind Juun.J's success and his company's growth. The designer explained that SFDF (Samsung Fashion Design Fund) was a significant source of funding in Korea and a great help for fledgling brands to grow and go global.
I had also been told that the presence of American soldiers in South Korea had a major cultural effect on an entire generation, and Juun.J confirmed my thoughts.
"It's more than American bases and American soldiers in Seoul and elsewhere in Korea - it's that all Korean males have to be in the army or another military service," Juun.J said. "It's a mandatory military service and I myself was in the army for three years. At the time I really hated uniforms because I thought they didn't look good. But once I was discharged, after three years of service, I started to notice how practical and beautiful they are. Now I have more and more military elements or concepts within my discipline."
When Juun.J spoke about his interest in art and his recent collaboration with renowned Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama, I told him how powerful his designs had looked in the fashion section of the recent exhibition in Paris, "Korea Now!". The designer then set out his fashion manifesto.
"I love big contrasts, dramatic contrasts, and in my collections there is big volume set against skinny volume," Juun.J said. "I also love to play with strong contrasts of material. Maybe it's my taste as a designer to love that big contrast. I usually don't look at my collections for a while, but then, after a long time, I look back at them. Now I can see that they resemble or have the feeling of a warrior's clothes, representing hundreds of years of Korea."
Let's offer a salute to Juun.J for being such a dynamic fashion warrior.
The Second Condé Nast International Luxury Conference runs from the 20th-21st April at The Shilla, Seoul. Visit www.cniluxury.com for more; follow the Conference on Twitter and Instagram: @CNILuxury; search #CNILux