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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."






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.



Seoul Fashion Week Super Trooper!

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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. 



The Romance of Seoul and the "New Korean"

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. 

Korea, Land of the Conservative Confucians.

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. 

Chuncheon nights.

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.

Searching for a way to finish out  Saturday night horizontally.

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. 

Drive by. She had a makeup box on her other side. Makeup artist, I think. With them funky shoes.

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."

'Cuz that's what friends are for..."

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.

These layered mesh sports tops are everywhere.
Sporty meets pseudo-gangsta look.

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. 

Maybe we all are, indeed.



Ajumma -- Style Influencer!

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. 

OG Ajumma .

You want eclectic? Mismatched patterns and colors? We got ya. Oh, and visors?

Under the ajumma visor.

And you can't forget an ajumma's dog.

"Say hello to my little friend!" An ajumma's dog I bumped into in hongdae. Apparently, the doggie bites.

And an ajumma who brings the sexy back.

Deep Gangnam ajumma in heated discussion.

And the ajumma does colors like no one else.

Ajumma power.
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And then there are ajumma who are just awesome, forces unto themselves.

Ajumma or halmoni? Either way, she's busting through!



The Korean "Sports Jersey" Look

I first noticed what I now call the "sports jersey" look on young Korean women back in September of 2013 when talking with a fashion design major in my university. I was really struck by how much her top looked like a football jersey, down to the mesh holes and inexplicably large  lettering in stark, football-team allcaps that I at first thought said "LOWELL" -- as in perhaps a football team from a high school in Lowell, Massachusetts. On closer inspection, I realized it said "LONELY", with a superimposed V over the N to double the stencil as "LOVELY."  But it struck me that it was definitely in the style of an American football uniform, down to the high cut, mesh holes, and all. But I saw it as a one-off. But that was going into fall and winter's colder weather. Now, in the subsequent summer, I realized again that no matter what, whatever fashion-forward Hongdae kids are wearing will become the thing within 6 months, no exceptions. Exhibit A:

Got a football jersey in there with player number on the flautist, as well as a stark capital A on a flowery, girlish print with the gayageum player (the girl playing the thing that looks like a harp on its back). And of course, the ubiquitous hot pants that all young girls not in a convent must wear here. 

And the combination of football jersey text with girlish flowers and even lace doesn't end there. Behold:

Besides just winner teams such as the Eagles -- which surely a pronto moda house in Dongdaemun picked up on very recently from American sports follies -- aren't the only teams and things found on women's jersey tops around Seoul.

An actual sports Jersey meets snobgirl faux classism, with oversized, allcaps lettering on the skirt. We also have pictographs meeting faux Boy London here.

Which brings us back to "LONELY."

And back to the first fashionista who started both my thinking on this trend and this post, when you combine an actual, full-on football top with a conservative, school uniform-eque collar, coquettishly quaint miniskirt, along with thick socks and sandals, you get interesting things going on.

But inevitably, all memes evolve into new directions, according to the rules and dictates of their particular ecosystems...


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MY A-DI-das!

Rockin' the Adidas gear.

I ran into this very sporty young lady while catching  a taco after my run to the bank.  since I've been keeping an eye out for especially sporty outfits this summer, I couldn't help but ask for a portrait. And I happen to bump into her again when I circled around to go back to my office, at which point I got a candid shot as well. I also took the opportunity to officially ask her, as the representative of all Korean women wearing summery outfits with stockings, why young Korean women like to wear stockings in the summer, which is a question sometimes foreign women ask me. the answer I got from her in Korean was to have a "보정된 느낌," which means to basically cover and smooth out the look, actually explained to me. It covers bruises and other marks and make everything look clear and even, she explained. of course, many non-Korean women will remark that wearing stockings kind of defeats the purpose of wearing cool clothing in the summer, but remember,  appearance seems to trump comfort here in South Korea.

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