Exploring Seoul's vibrant art scene with Prada Mode

The Italian fashion house explores the links between fashion and art in the South Korean city

Prada Mode was held at Kote art space in Seoul. Photo: Prada
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Art, music, film, food and, of course, fashion are the five pillars of Prada Mode. In September, the Italian fashion house hosted the 10th iteration of its global cultural programme, this time with a pop-up social club in Seoul.

Curated by South Korean art academic Lee Sook-kyung, the result was Plural and Parallel, a three-day exhibition that transcended a gallery space, transforming a corner of the city into a cultural hub, complete with three very distinct creative spaces.

Lee, a storied curator who has worked at London’s Tate Modern, served as the commissioner and curator of the Korean Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 and as the artistic director of the 14th Gwangju Biennale in Korea this year, was approached by the fashion house to helm the event. Her objective was to embed the nature of the city in the installation.

“I wanted to build on [the context of the city], connecting the philosophy of Prada Mode with the specific nature of Seoul as a global yet locally rooted city,” she told Luxury. To bring this to fruition, Lee worked with a trio of South Korean directors – Kim Jee-woon, Yeon Sang-ho and Jeong Dahee – to create tangible explorations of their cinematic work. In the past, Prada Mode has worked with visual artists – Damien Hirst in Dubai and Kazuyo Sejima in Tokyo – but for the 2023 event, the focus was firmly on film.

“We wanted to differentiate the event in its 10th iteration,” Lee explained during a panel discussion on the first day of the programme, saying the medium was selected as one that “best showcases Korean culture”.

“It’s the medium that best resonates with the general public and there is a tangible connection to art.”

Embellishing upon the concept in a conversation with Luxury after the event, Lee explained: “The idea came directly from the helm of Prada, and I immediately agreed. Korean contemporary films are widely respected in the international realm, and many Korean film directors are household names for some global audiences.

“I also liked the idea of film being a form of total art, combining narrative, visual, audio, technological and collaborative practices that represents a true or imagined reality.”

Hosted at Kote, a cultural space and blank canvas in the city centre, there was a calm to the venue by day. Film screenings and lively panel discussions were visited by a chic set of aesthetes, who moved from installation to installation, taking breaks to enjoy a coffee from a Prada-branded cup in the courtyard. By night, the venue transformed into a nightclub, with live music, a cineconcert, DJ sets and dinners, and the same set of creatives exploring the work through a new, and literally, darker lens.

“The three directors were carefully selected for their unique visions and their installations were truly distinctive in their imagination and delivery,” Lee said.

“I wasn’t expecting the directors to approach their given spaces in such different ways. Unlike visual artists, they seemed to set out with stories first and then plot these stories spatially. Without the serial nature of viewing films within a set duration, these spatial narratives became fragmented, yet flexibly accessible elements determined by the audiences’ movements,” she added.

Kim, a decorated director and writer, best known for his films I Saw the Devil (2010) and A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), created The Shadows of Faded Old Love. The nostalgic installation harked back to Korean childhoods through the pyeong-sang, a low and versatile piece of furniture, which was widely used in the past, but is falling out of fashion in modern homes in the country.

“I loved the way Kim’s installation positioned memories at the centre without overvaluing a sense of nostalgia,” Lee said of the space, which was shrouded in blue mosquito nets, with films projected on screens throughout and everyday objects, such as tea pots, bikes and boardgames, placed on the tables. People were also encouraged to enjoy it as a space to gather in, sitting on and using the pyeong-sang. The result was a warm and inviting space, which rejected cold, stuffy tropes of the archetypal gallery.

“Lee told me she wanted me to tell the story of Seoul,” Kim said during a packed panel discussion. “I’ve seen this city evolve.”

Of the three, Yeon is likely the most recognisable name, having created horror webtoon-turned-Netflix series Hellbound.

His installation brought the set of the series to life, recreating a life-size boarding house that protagonist Jeong Jin-soo resides in. From the moment you stepped into the atmospheric space, indulging tropes of the horror genre, it was clear that it was a crime scene, with the audience left piecing together clues until they reached a room housing a bloody body. Before entering, guests were advised that it was a space some might find distressing.

“Yeon created a seemingly mundane space that turns out to be a shocking crime scene, touching upon hidden fears and desires,” Lee said, while Yeon himself reflected on “surreal things happening in an ordinary space”.

The third director is animator Jeong, who created Paper, Light, Ghost, a multidisciplinary installation that featured sculpture, film and drawings.

The most immersive of the three spaces, the audience moved through the room, taking in the artist’s black-and-white etchings, before standing in the heart of the room, surrounded by screens showing extracts from her films on a loop.

“Jeong’s installation felt like an extension of her animated films, elevating the space into a world of paper and light,” Lee said of the work, which was set up in the building’s original library, with books reintroduced to the space for the installation and small screens punctuating the shelves.

A theme that tied each of the three spaces together, and the wider work of the directors and curator, is a fondness for Seoul, with an edge of caution as it continues to urbanise.

“Having grown up in Seoul, the old city centre means a true mixture of past, present and future in its history, architecture and culture to me,” Lee said of the decision to host the event in the city centre. “Kote’s disparate buildings are from the 1960s to 1980s, showing how Seoul’s rapid urbanisation changed the fabric of everyday life. The venue signifies inevitable changes, but also enduring memories, which were key curatorial concepts for this project.”

The event was held to coincide with Frieze Seoul, a four-day art fair held in the upmarket Gangnam district in the heart of the city.

“Korean art and culture have been a global focus for many years and Seoul manifests the nation’s creative and commercial energy strongly,” Lee said. “There is also huge interest in Korean films, video games, pop icons and cuisine internationally, making the capital an excellent venue for experiencing diverse facets of creative outputs.”

Guests included an array of South Korean musicians, film stars and models, including K-pop band and Prada ambassadors Enhypen, and actors Lee Byung- hun (Squid Game), Kim Tae-ri (Twenty Five Twenty One) and Yoo Teo (Past Lives) – all dressed head-to-toe in latest season Prada looks.

The fashion house’s head designer and co-creative director Miuccia Prada has long blurred the fine line between art and fashion through her passion for creative subject matter. “What interests me most is when a work of art is no longer just an object, but also touches reality and life,” the designer told The Telegraph in 2009, a quip that has, in many ways, shaped the brand’s ongoing cultural events.

More than a decade on and the Italian fashion house continues to forge its reputation in the art world, with its frequent roster of creative events and Fondazione Prada, the institution co-chaired by Prada and her businessman husband, Patrizio Bertelli.

She speaks pragmatically about fashion as a commercial medium, saying in the 2009 interview: “I do commercial work. If I was only creative, I would become an artist. A designer can be very creative, but art is something that stands by itself, and fashion is something you sell.”

Lee speaks more romantically of the connection between the two, concluding, “Fashion and art are both linked to our creativity. For me, however, their differences are their strengths, offering each other its own meaning in our lives that are inherently complex and connected.”

Updated: October 12, 2023, 12:01 PM