The Gucci gang landed in South Korea on Tuesday night at one of Seoul’s most iconic locations, the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the country’s largest royal compound built in the 15th century.
As the first luxury house to host a runway show at the royal palace with a storied past, the show almost didn’t happen.
After its initial plan to host former creative director Alessandro Michele‘s Cosmogonie Collection in November was canceled due to the tragic crush in Itaewon, Gucci persisted and sought approval from the Cultural Heritage Administration. The Kering-owned Florentine house was granted the green light just ahead of its 25th anniversary in the market.
Gucci follows Louis Vuitton and Dior as the third luxury brand to mount a fashion spectacle in South Korea in recent years, a market of rising affluence and cultural influence.
South Korea is one of the fastest-growing luxury markets, even surpassing the U.S. market from 2019 to 2022 in terms of growth rate, according to Citigroup. According to Euromonitor International, the South Korean luxury market was valued at $14.65 billion in 2021, ranking seventh in the world.
With the popularity of Korean pop culture, particularly K-pop and Korean dramas, South Korea has been exporting global fashion and beauty trends that have taken the world by storm. With this in mind, the Gucci Cruise 2024 collection made some obvious references to honor the country’s traditional culture. However, the true draw of the collection came from a studied take on the distinctive sartorial language of Seoul’s eclectic youth and subculture, often immortalized in street style images that come with a healthy disregard for what constitutes “good taste.”
The original soundtrack from hit K-dramas such as “Squid Game,” “Parasite,” and “Oldboy” matched the pulsating lightscape that dazzled the sacred grounds of the palace courtyard and hinted at the subdued subversive nature of modern South Korean style.
The coed runway opened with Sora Choi in a billowing hanbok reimagined as a floor-length bomber, resembling a deconstructed hanbok. The goreum, a satin bow that created the high-waisted effect of a hanbok, was singled out as a key decorative element, adorning deconstructed outerwear and sheer muscle Ts alike.
To counterbalance the brand’s “Bourgeois ‘streetwear’” archetype, finessed by the in-house team over the past two collections, the cruise show came with a cyber goth twist. For example, a hoodie gown shimmering with crystals paired with a pair of cyber goth stompers; the nylon duster coat cinched at the waist with a heavy chain, as seen on 1990s cult model Tasha Gilberg, and many iterations of oversized cargo pants laden with generous pockets perfectly summed up the baggy aesthetic of South Korea’s Gen-Z generation.
To add to the brand’s local cultural cache, Gucci enlisted South Korean digital artist Ram Han, known for her fantasy paintings, to create sporty streetwear for the collection. One hoodie, adorned with a cat’s paw touching a butterfly, provided ample visual ASMR.
A neoprene wetsuit, styled as the undergarment for a ruffled mermaid number, was reminiscent of the haenyeo, South Korean female divers known for their independent spirit and pearl hunting skills on Jeju Island.
According to Gucci, the scuba-inspired looks were a literal reference to wetsuits worn by windsurfers and jet-skiers on the Han River, a niche community sport that exploded in popularity among stressed-out Seoulites post-COVID-19. Models also appeared on the runway carrying huge surfboards and life-sized skateboards that came with an attached pouch, updating the counterculture movement with a high-fashion spin.
Neoprene boots, which metamorphosed from 1990s scuba boots, expanded the Gucci retro sportswear lexicon while providing a fun anchor to the many dressy styles that brought to mind Michele’s opulent creations during his seven-year tenure.
On the accessories front, the collection updated the Horsebit clutch bag, first introduced by Tom Ford in the 2000s, reimagined in iridescent color schemes and precious leathers, or dressed up with dazzling crystals. A slanted box version of the 1955 Horsebit could be in the running to become the “It” bag of 2024.
The collection was a mix of trendy ideas and covetable items, a balance brands need to achieve today. However, they also need a jolt of creative energy and cohesive storytelling to build sustained hype. That is now the task handed to incoming creative director Sabato de Sarno, who will take his bow for Gucci in September.
For now, “what’s Gucci?” remains up in the air.