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Student Showcase Archive

RCA Fashion Graduates Explore Seoul Garment District

RCA Fashion graduates Marie Maisonneuve (Menswear, Knit 2016) and Luke Stevens (Menswear, 2016) are taking part in an exhibition as part of the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017. Project Seoul Apparel (PSA), co-curated by current PhD candidate in Curating Contemporary Art at the RCA Stephanie Seungmin Kim and architect Isak Chung, seeks to improve the existing manufacturing working conditions in Changsin-dong through an application of sustainable operational methods. 

Changsin-dong is a neighbourhood in Seoul where numerous small-scale needlework artisans produce high-quality garments predominantly for sale in the nearby Dongdaemun fashion district. Garment factories began opening in the area in the 1970s and there are now approximately 3,000 in the area. PSA focuses on the human component of the garment industry, considering the possibilities offered by this unique industrial model present in Changsin-dong. 

Earlier this year, Marie and Luke visited Seoul for an initial research trip, which was followed by a period of development at the RCA supported by Head of Fashion Zowie Broach, and tutors Susan Postlethwaite and Lee Roach. Through a socially engaged and critical design approach, Marie and Luke considered what the future of the area might be, how it might grow sustainably, and ways it could become more accessible and attractive to young designers.

Describing the experience of curating the project, Stephanie said: ‘It has been a quite a journey to work with the Fashion programme at the RCA and a really mesmerising experience to be able to listen to Zowie, Susan and Lee along with the very talented designers, RCA alumni Luke and Marie.’

Luke and Marie’s responses focused on the idea of ‘Efficiency Aesthetics’ – drawn from their observations that everything in the garment district was adapted for efficiency, from the large wholesale retailers where fabric and fixings can be found in one place, to the layout of the factories with different stages of production located on different floors of the same building. 

Marie’s work reflects the importance of the human network within the Changsin-dong industry, in particular the delivery men who transport fabric, raw materials and finished garments on their backs where vehicles cannot traverse the narrow streets. Marie has created a knitted harness which can be adapted to carry different loads, but also offers protection for the wearer against the pressures of manual labour. The final piece was partly made in London and partly in Seoul, reflecting on what the benefits and limitations of manufacture in each location might be.

For the exhibition Luke has designed a graphic identity for the factory ephemera, such as the plastic bags used to carry raw materials, and garment covers that protect the finished products. The work explores ideas of hybridity and the complex multiplicities of re-appropriation at work within the global fashion industry. It includes Seoul within a global debate about the speed and retranslation of fashion, where the origins of a design are now impossible to trace or track. For the graphic identity Luke repeatedly translated a text from English to Korean, observing the changes that took place, and how language became almost abstract as new meanings emerged. By using the language of fashion, its translation and the reappropriation of luxury branding, Luke suggests that Seoul is repositioning itself as a very knowing and reflexive community of makers with a burgeoning young designer-led fashion culture.

Marie and Luke also collaborated to create an ‘Efficiency Aesthetic’ branded sleeve, based on the protective sleeves worn by the delivery men of the district. They asked people living or working in Changsin-dong to reflect on the future of the area and write comments in a blank space left on these sleeves. The collected opinions about the ongoing process of gentrification in the area, will be displayed as part of the exhibition.

Project Seoul Apparel is part of the collaborative ‘Connected City’ project, an official UK/Korea 2017–18 programme led by the British Council. UK/Korea 2017–18 Creative Futures celebrates and showcases the UK’s innovative and excellence in the arts and creative industries in Korea.

Hosted by Seoul Metropolitan Government, Seoul Design Foundation, and the British Council
Project Advisors : Fashion Programme of the Royal College of Art and Soon-Ok Chun