i'm not going to say much. I will leave it to the great, inimitable, Kool Moe Dee.
She went to WORK.
We finished up SFW without any major hitches and have our digest to present to you here. And in the spirit of the new cool kids busy filling the streets of Seoul with thier new free spirits, along with the Zeitgeist of a burgeoning kind of social freedom in Korea these days, we just say...
The Korean textile/fashion industry has played a much larger role in the development of Asian fashion than many know. When talking about Korean fashion, it is easy to see what's apaprent, what you see. Some might mark a point, perhaps 2006, 2009, 2012, when Korean street fashions were perhaps worth looking at. Some liketo only look at the high fashion sector, at the designers and their fashion designer associations, or focus solely on Korea's premier fashion event, Seoul Fashion Week. However, these ways of looking at things only focus on the easily visible, the parts of fashion that are easy for the eye to see, the parts that even the neophyte can easily observe.
There two main things I am going to point out here, in this mental bookmark article I am developing into a paper:
1) Pronto moda fashion technology and infrastructure:
That the QR (quick response) technologies of the uniquely Korean PBHs (private-branded hives) housed in Dongdaemun actually enabled the production of the diverse and unusual styles, accessories, and accoutrements worn and used by the street fashion-leading kogal of Tokyo in the 1990s. In short, the research (and any OG fashion figure one might ask in Korea) shows that there would have been no Japanese street fashion movement -- no Shibuya and Harajuku in the way we know them today -- without Dongdaemun, its silent economic partner. And even today, the growth of the PBH's (from Migliore to Doota to APM) predominance in Korea's fashion economy would not have happened without Tokyo street fashion and the Japanese market as its major client. It's a two-way street, so Korea's DDM and the PBH evolved in an environment that required (and shaped) its evolution; here would be no growth in Korean street fashion in the way we see it today on the streets of Seoul without the QR-cycle-battle-hardened, fast fashion market sharpened, fickle fashion cylcle honed PBH style of production in Dongdaemun. You don't get the ludicrously cheap prices and buffet-like extreme variety of fashion choices (often illegal knockoffs of looks taken directly from picture on ther Internet) that enables young Korean women to look exactly like and wear the clothing Sienna Miller was wearing in a picture of her within 48 of its being updloaded and disseminated across the world without the accelerated QR/pronto moda/fast fashion technology of the DDM PBH complex and places like it. And you don't get the latter without the 1990s Japanese street fashion market driving and sharpening it. (Kim and Kincade, 2009)
2) Demographic/societal changes backgrounding the rise Korean street fashion.
As in most things development related, the Japanese either experienced it first or set it into motion before Korea, but in a very similar way, given the demographic similarities and direct developmental connections between the two countries. Kawamura points out that in the Japanese case in the 1990s, an economic recession had destroyed not only old ways of thinking, but forced a shift to lower prices and a move away from the older way of branded items and outlets. This, along with the beginning of a sharp population decline, changed the way teens saw their futures. In combination with the prospect of probable unemployment even with a college degree, not to mention relative decrease in competition for spots in universities, create the social possibility for exploring life paths and identities outside of the study-college-job-marriage matrix for young girls. Hence, the environmental conditions for the eventual evolution of the kogal. (Kawamura, 2006) Sound familiar, Korea people?
In Korea, now you have the rise of the "pae-pi" (from the first parts of the Korean pronunciation of the English words "fashion people") who are mostly young women known for their sartorial sharpness, who have started occupying a status of street celebrities, driven by fame on the Internet. Here's an interview with one such paepi (who is hesitant to dare describe herself as a paepi), a series of which I've already started on the "Street Fashion Research" section of this site.
In any case, the existence of the paepi and Dongdaemun are inextricably linked. This is a relationship and a phenomenon I plan to explore with both visual and sociological data in an extended form elsewhere, after more extensive ethnographic research. As the bad guy says in all the Hollywood movies, "This is just the beginning..."
Azuma, Nobukaza. "Pronto Moda Tokyo-Style - Emergence of Collection-Free Street Fashion in Tokyo and the Seoul-Tokyo Fashion Connection." International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. (2002)
Byun, Sang-Eun and Brenda Sternquist. "Fast Fashion and in-Store Hoarding: The Drivers, Moderator, and Consequences." Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, (2011).
Kim, Sookhyun and Doris H. Kincade. "Evolution of a New Retail Institution Type: Case Study in South Korea and China." Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. (2009)
Kawamura, Yuniya. "Japanese Teens as Producers of Street Fashion." Current Sociology, (2006).
Entwistle, Joanne and Agnès Rocamora. "The Field of Fashion Materialized: A Study of London Fashion Week."
Suzuki, Tadashi and Joel Best. "The Emergence of Trendsetters for Fashions and Fads: Kogaru in 1990s Japan." The Sociological Quarterly.
Thompson, Craig J. and Diana L. Haytko. "Speaking of Fashion: Consumers' Uses of Fashion Discourses and the Appropriation of Countervailing Cultural Meanings."
The Seoul Fashion Report was recently asked to participate in a project designed to attract attention to one of Korea's recently anointed UNESCO World Heritage site, the Namhansanseong Fortress (남한산성), which was the back up capital city during Korea's Joseon Dynasty. The idea was to design an event that would attract some South Korea's most influential foreign bloggers and content producers. The problem was that, despite the undeniably important historical and cultural significance of the site, ancient structures of great cultural and archaeological importance are often not the most compelling subjects to bring people from near and far to cover through words and pictures.
That's where we came in. In the conversation with Tae-Hoon Lee, who had initially been tasked with this event by the Public Diplomacy group (공공외교) created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a picnic on the UNESCO world heritage site. I suggested mixing the best and brightest aspects of Korean contemporary culture with the historically weighty, beautiful background of the Namhansanseong site. Photographically speaking, this made perfect sense since the site would provide a beautiful visual backdrop against any pretty posing that would be done by models in front of it, making for a great visual space in which to combine elements of Korean culture, both old and new. I had full faith that it would work out beautifully, but first, work had to be done to just get out to the site with the camera and actually plan angles and times of shooting. What became the working question during the scouting expedition was simply where to place people in relation to the backgrounds and where specific shooting concepts would be staged, as in the specific places where models would stand and cameras would fire. Everything looked good in theory as of a few days before the event. In terms of lighting and where B shadows would fall from about 5 or 6 PM, everything looked good for the plan of offering a short photo workshop and an opportunity to photographers of various levels of skill and experience to shoot live models in the fashion genre, while also offering an opportunity to shoot on one of the worlds most important historical sites as a bonus.
And thusly hast God wrought. While wrangling the models together and getting them to the site was somewhat touch and go, akin to the proverbial task of "herding cats", the shoot was upbeat and interesting for everyone, which helped result in good pictures. The mix of seemingly divergent cultural elements made for a new, syncretic fusion that wasn't forced or stilted but rather reminiscent of a surprisingly pleasant melange so compelling that it simply begs to be re-created later, again and again. It also seemed quite in keeping with the apt description of the culture here as "dynamic" -- as channeled through the former tourism slogan "Dynamic Korea."
Of course, as with all good ideas, they are often remixes and borrowings from other good ideas. I had always been impressed with what I saw in the well-planned and immaculately executed Korean Cultural Heritage Show, which I had the privilege to shoot as a runway photographer back in October, 2011. Here are a few shots from that show, which was the first and only time I have seen a runway show done on the grounds of one of Korea's most important and famous cultural sites, the Gyeongbok Palace in the center of downtown Seoul.
That was one of the most amazing show sites I had ever seen in my entire life, and that experience informed the idea I had for mixing elements of old and new in the present. One might note that technically, the traditional Korean culture theme of that show offered itself as a unifying element between fashion and the traditional structure in which the 2011 show had taken place -- a more natural fit between the historical and the sartorial. However, despite the fact of this more natural "fit", it must be noted that the link provided by the common element of Korean tradition was spurious at best. Notwithstanding the fact that the clothing in the show was inspired by Korean tradition, the chronological and cultural distance between the modern spin on Korean traditional clothing and the actual hanbok that would have been appropriate to be worn at the time is so great as to render that putative link of Korean "tradition" both academic and irrelevant. Basically, many of the models were walking completely modern Korean clothing down the runway, creating a fascinating artistic energy from the anachronistic tension between the clothing and the backdrop. The only times where the venue and the clothing came together to present to the audience a vision directly from Korea's Joseon Dynasty past were in instances in which Korean traditional hanbok were walked down the runway, where the clothing in itself where unaltered and unadulterated artifacts from a time long gone. While that is surely the instinctive and natural fit between clothing and the environment, this"Total fit" was merely one of several delectable morsels on offer in the feast for the eyes during that event. Click on the gallery below to be quickly walked through the hanbok part of the show.
In all the several senses of the words, old and new had been truly, effectively fused. And it was a beautiful sight to see.
This is a real-deal mini-lookbook of street fashion looks from Seoul Fashion Week SS 2015. These are all shots of real folks who were outside-looking-in and hoping to get caught and shot up a bit by roving street fashion photographers. They aren't all necessarily of the usual street fashion suspects, who are generally super fashion forward and peacocked to the nines, ready to dominate the visual landscape wherever they might go. This is a more real and representative selection of the interesting, colorful, wonderfully weird, or just plain visually noteworthy folks who populate the real visual landscape of Seoul. I always try to remember that street fashion isn't always about the clothes; it's also using clothes as a way to read culture, to get a window into the real, lived experience of this wonderful and sometimes weird place called Seoul. As a visual sociologist and photographer, I find that "street fashion" that merely records clothing as objects of the sartorial gaze misses the point of fashion completely. STreet fashion photography is more than just shooting subjects with a Telephoto lens from far away with tight depth-of-field. That can be done well, but done the same way, ad infinitum, yawn. That's borrring.
In no particular order, here's what the self-selecting group of folks gathered at the gates of SFW look like, and who define the bleeding, leading edge of what the normal folks in Seoul will look like this season.
Thias is a true, blue fashionista, who came to Seoul Fashion Week dressed to impress, come hell or high water, leg in a cast or no. From head to toe, she channeled the Korean cutesy in her personality well sartorially, and was an easy model to work with. Here, this Super Trooper walked, or rather limped, for my camera as I tried to get just the right runway shot of her shoes, dress and coat, along with her hair, hat, and smile.
Wow. JYP is bringing in twerking (sort of) and even the Kid n Play kickstep (in a way) to the spotlight in Korea. Expect half-cheek fashions this summer. You heard it here first. Is this the korean answer to Sir-Mix-a Lot's thoughts on the matter of the Back and who is possessed thereof?
A long time ago, in a Korea of another age, Seoul was a truly conservative, extremely reserved place where people didn't hold hands and certainly never hugged or kissed in public. But Korea has developed into a consumer economy based on choice, freedom, and the ability to indulge one's carnal urges.
This is a collection of images that conveys the hard-felt passions of the New Koreans, who are young-at-heart, more carefree, play hard, and expect some gratification now and not desires forever deferred. These images define the style of a new kind of street, one in which, laughter, love, and yes, sex are all in the air.
These days, there's a new brand of sass waftin off the new "cool kids" of Asia and it's downright baffling to those raised in a time when you trusted authority, did what you were told, and your good grades and chipper attitude would get you into a good school, great job, and big apartment in the sky. Now, the kids these days know that life is short, money's tight, and the night is young.
Skirts are higher, courtships are shorter, and girls don't bring boys home to mama anymore. It's the age of "Gangnam Style" and discerning "Gentlemen " with a "Hangover." This new attitude is the source of much consternation in Korean society nowadays as Korea grapples with the side effects of its own popular culture success.
Korea is a nation very concerned with national image and trying to impress what it refers to as "developed" nations, which -- deep, deep down, it still feels it is not, much like the unpopular girl who got invited to the school dance by a cool kid and still fears being "found out" despite the outta-sight makeover and new clothes. But the funny thing is that the very things Korea is becoming known for in the international sphere are those things that would have been found, by a conservative Confucian, old school Korean, completely inappropriate and embarrassing. But that's the up and downside of the two-edged sword and the point of the old adage to "be careful what you wish for because you just might get it."
And that's the contradiction -- or just plain old sensory overload -- that some in Korea now find has seemingly gone too far. Yet Korea has always been a land of extremes, a nation full of a balls-to-the-walls, can-do mindset that has led to insanely fast economic development and an outright naughty pop music culture that by all rights is bizarre to have originated in a culture in which people were afraid to hold hands in public not even 20 years ago, but now boast pop culture that might make the hentai -prone Japanese blush. Well, not really. But I think you get the point.
And the change is pervasive. And insidious. Even those who might describe themselves as "demure" or even "conservative" are not like they used to be. And the everyday look on the streets ain't what it used to be.
But whatever one wants to make of it, one thing is certain: things done changed on the streets of Korea. And it's that je ne c'est pas that makes Korea seem extra edgy these days and much more interesting to the rest of the world than it has ever been.
While South Korea still likes to think of itself as a “conservative” Confucian culture, and Koreans will often still parrot that line, It is still apparent in the contemporary culture that this belief isn't much more than a pleasant fiction around which many people still organize their identities. Still, in Seoul, the Code and Cult of Demure Domesticity dictates that, despite wearing a Ludicrously Short Skirt, the shoulders should be covered. Somehow, the Korean fashion culture code doesn't see what Americans would call "Daisy Dukes"-length attire showing lately all the way to the bottom curve of the buttocks as at all provocative or even sexual.
The original Daisy Duke, from the Dukes of Hazzard show (1979-1985 on CBS)
However, showing any amount of shoulder or upper arm is seen in terms of a very sexual connotation and is very much frowned upon. In fact, Korean-American visitors to Korea in the late 1980s still recount tales of Korean middle-aged women slapping them hard on the shoulders for having been exposed during the summer and scolding them for having ripped jeans, which were fashionable items in the late 1980s.
By American, or one might even say Western, standards, the summers in Seoul seem to breed a lot of ludicrously short skirt lengths and shorts. The average skirt length in Korea, and this includes even office uniforms, is what would officially be termed a miniskirt. And remember, the original definition of miniskirt was any skirt with a hem under which to place your 4 fingers above the knee. While that strict original definition has gone to the wayside, any stroll down a Korean street will yield lots of leg from a Western standard. And combined with high heels that regularly reach past the 3 1/2 inch de facto limit of what many Westerners would consider casual heels, and the effects of hem length become all the more emphasized. And it's something that Daisy Duke herself seemed to know, since any appearance in the show in her extremely short cutoff jean shorts included stockings and pretty high heels. The funny thing is that the character of Daisy Duke was once somewhat of an issue on American television but in the land of the conservative Confucians, people dressing like her every day doesn't seem to cause anyone to bat an eye.
Not that we're complaining, but it is an interesting fashion-based cultural difference worth pointing out. What's also interesting to note is women wearing extremely tiny micro minidresses such as the one pictured below, but along with a sweater to cover the top, even on one of the hottest days of the summer in Seoul. were not saying that's bad or good, but just that it seems kind of contradictory, especially even as the wearer herself recognizes the sexual valence of the dress itself even as she wears another piece of clothing seemingly at odds with not just style of the thing it's covering, but with the season itself.
Of course, this attitude and social rule regarding exposing the upper arms and shoulder is just that: a rule to be violated. Any social norm is not defined by a reality in which everyone follows it, but the norm itself is worth looking at since it is the dividing line that meaningfully tells us something about people on both sides of it as well as attitudes that created the rule itself and what that rule was meant to protect. Of course, even the space of one picture, one can see different attitudes towards how much skin to expose and what that means.
And then there are individual interpretations and interesting remixes of trends and their constitutive social norms around clothing and appropriate gender roles. I like to call the picture below an example of “Geeky Dukes.” I see this as the result of the fact that the Daisy Dukes, or what Koreans would call simply “hot pants” have become so trendy and popular that the original type of girl who would wear them in the culture of their origin, or the kind of Korean girl who would wear them as somewhat socially transgressive trend items in Korean culture, have simply become what every girl is expected to wear in the summer. So, to put it simply, you get conservative girls who would never imagine themselves as wearing anything socially transgressive in what Americans might simply call Daisy Dukes, even if they are watered-down versions of them.
Watch closely to see Catherine Bach's "Daisy Dukes" in action.
And here's the opening of Wonder Woman, from the new one they did in the middle of season 2. Wonder Woman's look alawaays changes with the times, and her "satin tights" were hiked up particulrly high.
Korean fashion culture brings more attention to Korea in Audrey, an online Asian American fashion magazine. The amazing ajumma takes center stage here, although my feeling is that the writer didn't have much in the way of a variety of Korean street fashion pictures to choose from. That's where we can help out a bit.
You want eclectic? Mismatched patterns and colors? We got ya. Oh, and visors?
And you can't forget an ajumma's dog.
And an ajumma who brings the sexy back.
And the ajumma does colors like no one else.
And then there are ajumma who are just awesome, forces unto themselves.