Bumsuk Choi

Korean designer Bumsuk Choi takes to the streets, conjuring vintage Helmut Lang

Designer Bumsuk Choi is proving great ideas aren’t limited by borders, and great collections aren’t limited by name recognition with his General Idea menswear collection, now hitting the US. After 10 seasons in the market, Choi  became the first Korean menswear designer to present a runway collection during New York Fashion Week. Like most of the top designers showing in New York, Choi opted for an offsite venue, with Focus Studio on 11th Ave and 45th Street. Just a stone’s throw away from the current hub at Bryant Park, General Idea stood out among a stellar lineup, which included Robert Geller, Lorick, VPL and Trovata.

Some critics argue that the only successful idea in menswear is updated classics or standards defined by contemporary wear-ability (like CFDA favs Michael Bastian or Band of Outsiders). For the first time in recent memory, this simple model proves that there’s no shortage of strong options for men in tailored or casual sportswear. And since the real creativity comes with mix and match, there’s still plenty of room for newcomers like General Idea.

Influenced by Helmut Lang and utilitarian fashion, General Idea balances casual street wear with tailored, designer garments. The palette is no-nonsense, traditional male: black, grey and white with touches of silver. Although, Choi claims, “I showed a limited amount of fabric in my first New York collection. For S/S 2010, I will be playing with a variety of fabrics.” Tailored jackets are an obvious strength, but there’s also layered knits, slim ties, and ‘80s-style “Beat It” leather jackets. The result is something familiar and comfortable, but at the same time retains a palpable now-ness. And the F/W ‘09 collection was quickly snapped up by some heavy-hitting boutiques, including Oak and Takashimaya.

While Korean designers struggle for attention among established European and American companies, Choi represents a rapidly growing community. “Recently, a lot of talented, young Korean designers are actively showing their collections and selling at trade shows in Paris, London and, especially, in New York, to try to broaden their market,” he says. “Also, Seoul Fashion Week, which is held twice a year, makes our shows global.”

The reality is that Korean and Korean-American designers have plenty of real success stories in global fashion to guide and motivate the next generation (see Gene Kang and Hanii Yoon of Y & Kei, Richard Chai, Doo-Ri Chung, Gemma Kahng, Hyden Yoo, etc.) “Speed and aesthetic sense are characteristics of Korean designers,” Choi claims. He’s even looked beyond clothing, to design a Formula 1 Race Car for Mild Seven’s Ranauit F1 Team in 2006, packaging and uniforms for Heineken, and an Absolut Vodka bottle. In addition, he’s got a capsule collection for Puma Black Station due to hit the Asian market for Fall ‘09.

Since the debut of General Idea in 2004, Choi has relied on his small team of experts (Han, MJ, Jae Hyun, Da Young and Min Jeong) to execute his vision. To summarize his approach to General Idea, Choi says, “There are a lot of different people in the world, depending on religion, culture, nation, ideas, etc. Therefore, a missing button on one person’s shirt can be my general idea since it is my own point of view. That’s why I named my own label ‘General Idea’ to show my unique style.”

– Michael Cohen