Ha SangBeg's Open Wounds

Hollow bullets, patterns inspired by raw flesh and a seemingly innocent army coat all contributed to Ha SangBeg's latest collection shown at Seoul Fashion Week.

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s Seoul's reigning style celebrity for the city's increasingly cool youth culture, Ha SangBeg led the charge away from conservative commercial shows during Seoul Fashion week. Opening to parade-ground roll-call shouts from Full Metal Jacket, SangBeg sent out his brigade of female and male models in chic survivalist gear for his F/W '09 collection.  Confined to a palette of black, navy, cream, army green and khaki with a few symbolically strong exceptions, the look was a remarkable departure from SangBeg's last season's candy-coloured neons and bounding energy. While the show emerged as the sensational aesthetic highpoint in the otherwise staid schedule for Seoul Fashion Week's main show-space in Setec, it also set the pace as a resourcefully wearable collection. Massive pockets turned miniskirts and hooded jackets doubling as dresses into items that could serve as their wearer's only garment, regardless of circumstance or necessity.
 
At the time, I saluted SangBeg for what I perceived as a vivid anti-war statement running through the show's military-like exigency and serious symbolism. Viewing it as closer to performance art than fashion alone, I gave particular critical emphasis to the moment when the show halted, to be followed by a sequence of ghostly white versions of the uniform-inspired line wafting down the runway, preceded by models with yellow carnations stuffed into their left pockets.
 
But when I met SangBeg for cocktails in the W hotel's Woobar, a hub for Seoul's fashion and foodie communities, I discovered that I'd read too much into the collection, and weighted it down with didactics. "I have just been wearing this army coat all winter," explained SangBeg while handing me his multi-layered pea-green standard issue nylon coat to examine. SangBeg praised his Army & Navy-store-bought coat's cocoon-like benefits. "It kept me warm all winter. My motives were practical rather than political. I know that the mood now is very political, especially today after North Korea's little stunt, but I have nothing to do with that. I just guess that I have a bit of a fuck-up attraction to things and I became fascinated by the comfort of this coat, and research I was doing into hollow-point bullets."
 
He directed my attention to a cluster of bright, friendly looking silver buttons with neon blue, orange and pink lacquer that he'd pinned on to his coat. "See, these are hollow-point shells," he explained, pointing to the items I mistook for abstract flowers. "It is the most brutal and destructive bullet made. A pointy bullet just pierces through the body, but the hollow point explodes inside a person on impact. Part of my jewelry collection is to make these in silver, gold and cheerful colours. These buttons look pretty but they are really scary."
 
In the same spirit, the pink patterns on the sharp navy mens' suits that SangBeg sent down the catwalk at Setec were intended to look like raw open flesh torn apart by a hollow-point shot.
 
Grounding SangBeg's work is his close attention to tailoring. After establishing himself on the London club-scene as a DJ, stylist and fashion reporter for Vogue Korea and other budding style bibles, SangBeg trained at Saint Martins before returning to Korea and becoming the country's pioneering pop polymath.  It is still England, the international design culture, and whatever currently constitutes the global zeitgeist, that influence SangBeg. However, he is always attentive to references and ingredients unique to Korean culture. "In this collection, I included a modified version of traditional Korean menswear trousers," he said with a cheeky smile, "but I tied them with wire, to give them a wavy hem. No one understood how I did it, but they knew that what I was doing was uniquely Korean."
 
"I could not have happened in the eighties or before," SangBeg mused, although his delightfully impish personal charm makes it impossible to imagine he would ever lack an audience. "Only now is Korean culture opening up and becoming more diverse and accepting. It all happened here with 'The Crying Game.' When that movie first screened, the pivotal scene was censored. We knew what we were missing and we were tired of being sheltered. That's when educated audiences started resisting and now Korea has come out with 'Old Boy' and other examples of cinema that are scandalous but worthy of international admiration. It's not gratuitous."
 
"I do a lot of different things, but I am first and foremost a designer. Everything I do goes back into my collection," he explained while presenting me with a signature ring he has designed to resemble the knot on a piece of wire fencing, with diamonds at each end. "Everything that I do as a stylist, TV presenter, author, and diamonds designer all goes
toward supporting my collection. It is my secret garden. I might listen to advice but I won't follow it. This is mine and I'll do my own shit for my garden. I am not living for other people's reactions with my collection. It's my one bloody style." Literally.
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