Show & Tell: 35mm Street Fashion Portraits at Seoul Fashion Week

As a lead into Hera Seoul Fashion Week, Chilean photographer Esteban Vargas Roa shows us some of the 35mm street-style portraits he took during the Spring/Summer season. He also tells us about what drew him to Korea and Korean fashion in the first place.

Words & Photos Esteban Vargas Roa


I felt attracted to Asian culture since I was very young. Japan was the first destination that caught my attention; first through manga, then fashion, art and photography.

It was 2013 and my group of friends started mentioning K-Pop, some of them were already loyal followers and others showed little interest in this phenomenon. What really caught my eye back then was this new wave of models coming from Korea, who were making a career in fashion, internationally. Noma Han (@nomahan) and Sung Jin Park (@teriyakipapi), to name a few, started staring constantly in campaigns and fashion shows in New York and Milan Fashion Week. That's how I began to delve deeper into the Korean fashion scene; little by little understanding their codes, and why they seemed so attractive to the rest of the world.


Because of this, when we were organizing our schedule for our trip to Japan that would take place during October and November 2015, it was impossible not to add Seoul as another destination on our trip.

A Chilean magazine commissioned me to make a photo-report on Tokyo Fashion Week. When we met, I mentioned I was planning to go to Seoul as well. They became very interested and curious about my proposition. 

After a packed week of runway shows, we bid farewell to Mercedes Benz Tokyo Fashion Week with sparkling sake and the respective after-parties. The following morning, slightly sleep-depraved, we parted from Narita to Incheon to move into the heart of South Korean culture. I felt especially interested and excited about what I would find outside Seoul Fashion Week's runways. I had seen numerous street style publications from previous events that I thought were particularly surprising, and when I first stepped outside Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station, it exceeded my expectations, tremendously.  Needless to say how impressive it is to choose a modern architectural milestone like the Dongdaemun Design Plaza as a location for such a big event. I felt Korean Fashion, from the beginning, wanted to make very clear that innovation was its thing.


I was surprised by the sheer amount of people at the event. A few minutes after arriving, I had already seen Kim Won Joong (@keemwj) pass by, relentlessly pursued by photographers. I soon started recognizing faces that often appeared on my Instagram feed. Once the initial impact was over, I took a deep breath and started walking around the place, with a keen eye. 

When you photograph with film, you can't allow yourself to waste shots, so I waited to find the right opportunity and mustered enough courage to approach someone and ask for a photo. I started photographing people's looks, like most photographers around me, but then, my attention settled on their physiognomy, and in some instinctive manner, I began close my frame. In a way I felt that, through their faces, I would be able to decode this "new world." So, for a moment, I placed the clothes in the background. That's how I spent the next two days: collecting facial features and getting as close as I could to the ones I was portraying. It was a whole experience living it in first person and having that be a reality. One that seemed so distant, come true. Not only through fashion or because of fashion, more because of how rich it is to soak in a new culture, so far from my place of origin. 


Esteban Vargas Roa is a Chilean photographer, part of a new brood of creators that explore imagery creation through art and fashion. His photographs, characterized by an analog seal, transits through various genres, even interlacing themes, his most recurrent being fashion editorial photography, portraits, and landscape. /


Seoul Fashion Week FW16 will run from 3/21 to 3/26!
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