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Fashion-in-Context

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The Seoul-Tokyo Fast Fashion Connection and the Evolution of the Korean Paepi

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..."

Throwback Seoul Street Fashion: Dongdaemun Reggae Couple, 2007.

Key References:
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."

 

 

 

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The Namhansanseong Project: Mixing Old and New at a UNESCO Cultural Heritage SIte

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. 

Click to enlarge to the gargantuan proportions of your browser window or mobile device.

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Fashion-in-Context: Seoul Fashion Week SS2015 Real Street Looks

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.

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