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Seoul Fashion Week: A Retrospective By Singapore Street Style Photographer Leong Su Shan

Despite the cancellation of Seoul Fashion Week late last month, its spirit as one of the coolest fashion cities in the world lives on. Here, local photographer Leong Su Shan shares her favourite street style snaps from past seasons and gives us the lowdown on why the Korean capital will remain a cutting-edge sartorial hotspot for years to come.

New York, London, Milan and Paris: such is the usual order of the fashion month schedule – arguably one of the most pivotal times of the year for the fashion industry. And this year’s Fall/Winter 2020 line up across the Big Four did its best to keep on – despite the brewing of the biggest pandemic the world has seen in recent times.

Fast forward to Mid-March, however, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that Seoul Fashion Week – the buzzy showing of close to 36 fashion designers in Dongdaemun Design Plaza – would be cancelled, derailing the plans of fashion designers, models and photographers all over the world.

Street style photographer Su Shan on the job. Apart from Seoul Fashion Week has also photographed in London, Paris, Copenhagen and Milan.

One such photographer who had plans of visiting was Singaporean street style photographer and FEMALE contributor Leong Su Shan, who has lensed the bold and on-the-pulse looks of Seoul’s most fashion-savvy over the past few seasons. Here, the 25-year-old Fashion Marketing graduate and freelancer lets us in on her favourite snaps of all time, the Korean stars she always keeps a look out for and what makes Seoul the trendsetting hotspot that it is.

Tell us about how you first got into street style photography.

“I got into street style photography in 2018 while completing my final-year as an undergraduate in Leeds, UK. I always thought that street style images that I came across in magazines were captured by the paparazzi. I didn’t know it was a viable career option; a niche skill that combines fashion, portraiture and documentary photography all-in-one. Since I studied a fashion degree and understood the impact of street trends, I decided to travel down to London for the Men’s AW18 Fashion Week to experience it for myself. I took a five hour coach journey and did my first season. It was a cold and exhilarating experience that I’ll never forget.”

What did you study in University and how has it leant to your work so far?

“I graduated from the University of Leeds with a Bachelors (Hons) in Fashion Marketing. I learnt that fashion trends can emerge from one city and then migrate to others. They do not happen in isolation and that’s why a change in the political, social, environmental, technological and economic climate has a direct impact on the attitudes of various societies. This knowledge has allowed me to spot trends happening in various cities I photograph in. For example, in Seoul, Koreans are deeply rooted in their culture and individual beliefs yet they are also influenced by the West – which explains their tendency to express their love of two cultures. Personalisation and mixing of international brands with their local designers are a noticeable trend.”

What would you say is a unique aspect of shooting street style that you’d like people to know about?

“I have always been intrigued by the stories behind an individual I capture. I always want to illustrate their character and personality through the photographs, and not the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry. I believe that each individual has their own distinctive character, soul and personality that is reflected in the way they dress and their actions.”

What do you think makes Seoul different from other fashion cities?

“In Seoul, Korean youths keep up with the fashion trends from the West and reinterpret to fit their individuality. They shop more frequently and have a sense of price consciousness. They shop at a mix of department stores, night markets and online stores and also mix luxury with quirky designs.

Another noticeable difference is that overseas, show attendees might wear garments from that particular brand. However in Seoul, the show goers just dress how they want for the most part. Oh and kids’ fashion too.”

Why do think the city remains a positive influence on fashion and beauty despite everything going on with Covid-19?

“Seoul has a different economy, retail market and a set of cultural values that global fashion brands favour. Despite the Covid-19 situation, the Korean pop culture phenomenon drives the popularity of the country’s fashion industry.”

Who has been your favourite street style subject to shoot so far? 

“I always look out for Wall Street Journal Magazine Style Director, David Thielebeule, Hawaiian skater, model and all-round creative Evan Mock and hot-list Korean model Park Taemin. These are the three individuals that constantly catch my eye whenever I shoot at fashion week.”

Who are some of your favourite Korean street style stars?

“They would be Park Taemin @txxmini, Junsu @kjs_jun, An Jae Hyung @oystarisland, Kim Sung Chan @kimsungchanofficial, Gi Mu @gimu2, Sora Choi @sola5532, Yoon Young Bae @mulan_bae, Bo Sung @imkeem, Daro Yoon @daroyoon, Hyeokjin Eum @e__um and Park Jun Sung @dustymilwer.”

What do you personally look out for when photographing someone?

I look out for the fit of the complete look and whether the person is comfortable in that look. My pet peeve when photographing is when people are peacocking in front of me. I love to capture people in the moment. That’s what street style photography is all about.”