The sound of the underground has become increasingly loud of late. Of course, the big four – Paris, Milan, London and New York – will always be a breeding ground for blue-chip fashion, but look across the pond – and below the surface – and original style transpires; off-kilter pieces that reimagine familiar tropes through a lens that is both novel and interesting. This “underground” – even in the style capitals of the world – has long been an incubator of creativity; a kind of metaphorical hub that produces belligerent, beguiling, beautiful work with an aim to elevate the mundane through surreal pieces that subvert traditional notions of style. But the underground needn’t be de ned in terms of grit and grungy subcultures, quite the contrary. It can possess commercial sensibility, be overtly glamorous and even bourgeois in taste. That’s the beauty of independent fashion – it can be anything and everything, free of judgement.
Here, six young, strong female brands that are doing things their way.
WHO: Le 17 Septembre
FROM: Seoul, South Korea
Eunhye Shin doesn’t ignore the virtues of effortless simplicity. Her brand, Le 17 Septembre – the designer’s birthday – creates puritan womenswear that focuses on refined minimalism. There’s no compulsive taste for excess. No fad-driven trends. No bells and whistles. “It’s simply characterised by thinking of what I wanted to wear in my everyday life at ease,” Shin posits. “It should be timeless, minimalistic, but not so obvious, and unisex with a hint of femininity.” Le 17 Septembre – or Le917 for short – is exactly this; wardrobe essentials distilled into their purest and most desirable form. An Oversized Coat, for example, draws its inspiration from men’s tailoring: structured through the shoulder and ample through the body. A Layered Wrap Blouse, however, feels intimately feminine: tapered at the waist and sleeve to reveal a voluminous, hourglass shape. And then there’s the unexpected details: a surprise D-ring, a gentle box pleat, a softly seamed back yoke, perhaps even more delicious because of their revelation.
What drives Shin, above all else, is quality. “Just as the saying goes, ‘Best ingredients make the best food’, I believe good fabrics bring good clothes,” she muses. “Prior to capturing the details of the design, I spread out all the fabrics that I myself have carefully collected from the market at home, during the night, and start dreaming and picturing how I could transform them into one final piece. is very moment with each fabric gives me so much inspiration and this is how I come up with a theme for each collection.” It’s in this moment, after dark in Shin’s home in Seoul, where Le 17 Septembre is truly realised. “My time with each fabric is extremely important because Le917’s pieces are so minimalistic that the fabric itself has to stand out the most efficiently,” she adds.
As modern fashion becomes increasingly fixated with frivolity and farfetched trends – bags so small you can’t t a phone in and shoes so abstract you can barely walk in – ease and functionality are often misplaced. But instead of keeping up to date with impractical trends and bowing to industry pressure, the Le 17 Septembre woman rejects fashion’s consumerist hierarchy. She instead presents something diametrically opposed: a simple, streamlined composite of clothing to buy once and have and hold for an eternity.
It’s this singular and stylish universe she created – both in design and ethos – that captured the attention of luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, which chose the brand to be part of their illustrious Vanguard program. “I was very surprised when I first heard it through our agency,” Shin admits. “But I was grateful to be included in the selection of Vanguard designers for this season. Being a part of the Vanguard and stocked at Net-a-Porter is important to our global exposure.” It’s an enormous feat for the young, independent female designer from Seoul, and one that Shin hopes will shine a light on South Korea and its fashion. “There is still a long way to go,” she says. “I have an ambition to let you know about Korea through our brand.” With its minimalist sensibility and deft craftsmanship, does her Korean culture shape her designs at all? “For me, Korea is my root, and everyone’s roots and traditions are important,” she expounds. “It is very beautiful to see a Joseon dynasty hat or Hanbok in Korean style. The elements of curves and straight lines are so beautiful, also in Korean architecture as well.” These cultural nuances are evident, albeit subtle, in her work. A fondness for volume, for example, can be attributed to the fullness of the Hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.
With a focus on manufacturing responsibly, Shin works directly with only a few skilled tailors to produce in limited quantities. “Limited quantity sometimes becomes a barrier for new customers, but this ‘rareness’ also seems to be giving higher satisfaction to our customers who hold limited pieces of Le 17 Septembre.” Rare, sacred, sensitive pieces to wear, have and hold… Shin hopes for only one thing from her designs: that the clothes bring those who wear Le917 feelings of happiness and love – just as birthdays do.