Made for the man in love with himself

South Korean clothing label Bmuet(te) targets fashionable men with deconstructed designs

FLORENCE (Italy) • Who will write the history of the three-sleeved shirt? It is one of those fashion gestures that read like tag lines to some inscrutable joke.

On the catwalk of Bmuet(te), a label based in Seoul, South Korea, and produced by London-trained designers Byungmun Seo and Jina Um, shirts came with options for not one but two additional limbs.

The show, titled Human Oddity and presented as part of the 91st edition of the enormous Pitti Uomo menswear fair, was one in a number of initiatives sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Making its first appearance here, Concept Korea faced heavy competition for retailers' eyeballs and wallets, given that more than 1,200 exhibitors crammed into the ancient Fortezza da Basso and surrounding structures, including the disused customs house used for the Concept Korea show.

Increasingly, designers face the challenge of differentiating themselves in a marketplace surfeited with labels. More than ever, they are forced to find converts from among a base of consumers who - thanks to Instagram - have seen it all.

"We don't like traditional structure," Seo said backstage, explaining how, when he sees a pair of trousers, he immediately thinks shirt.

Korean label Bmuet(te) on the runway at the Pitti Uomo menswear fair in Florence. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ BMUET(TE)

"We place each pattern piece in another place," he added, as he pulled from a rack a coat created from two jackets and with snap-on pant legs attached as sleeves.

Deconstruction has been exploited so often as a tool that designers should approach it with caution.

It is hard to look at any collection with upside-down construction or collars used as plackets or portholes in the rear of a garment without thinking of Japanese masters such as Rei Kawakubo, who initiated the practice; Americans like Rick Owens, who fragments form to turn clothes into sculpture; or wits such as Miguel Adrover, forever recalled for inverting a Burberry mac (a raincoat) to make a dress and adding Yankees caps to a navy sweater to produce epaulets.

In the hands of Bmuet(te), deconstruction techniques resulted in a mild-mannered collection that, for all its Hunger Games references and evident skill (that trouser- legged coat was pretty cool), felt somehow anatomically deficient.

Maybe instead of surplus arms, designers could consider adding more brains.

Smarts do not matter much to Jang Hyeong Cheol, a 31-year-old tyro known for dressing Korean megastars such as actors Song Joong Ki and Lee Min Ho.

The breathless acronym Jang chose for the theme of his Ordinary People collection, OMG MSF (Omigod! Me So Fine!), addresses the interests of a generation of fashion- obsessed Korean dudes for whom traditional Asian values of modesty and self-effacement are a yawn.

"Korean guys are crazy stylish," said Mr Raymond Chae, who works with Jang and translates for the designer. "The collection is for the guy who thinks, 'I'm all that.'"

The show in Florence made it a picnic to conjure that particular conceited bozo, the sort who boards an escalator as if he is attending a premiere.

Does the world truly need another of those male narcissists who cannot pass a mirror without falling in love?

We all know the answer to that.

Yet, since recent events suggest the type is with us for the long haul, why not imagine pimping him in diagonally bisected jerseys in three jarring colours; slouchy bathrobe dusters; puffer coats with waists cinched smaller than an ant's thorax; or plush turtlenecks that threaten to swallow up his swollen head?


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Made for the man in love with himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe