중앙데일리

Crocodile Barrett takes a bite out of Seoul

Feb 06,2007
Eva Barrett with her collection sold at the W Seoul Hotel. By Ines Cho
“Korea needs to be promoted as a place for high fashion,” said Eve Barrett, an Australian handbag designer. “Korea has some of the richest consumers I’ve ever seen ― on Cheongdam-dong street I see women carrying $10,000 Jimmy Choo bags.”
Even if Korea is not going to be an easy place for her to launch her line of handbags, called The Red Queen, the 32-year-old a native of Melbourne is ready for the challenge. “I’m living in a city of 11 million [people] and I see a huge potential here,” she said, adding that the first thing she did when she came to Korea 18 months ago was learn Korean.
As for promoting Australian fashion in Korea, she’s been a brave lone ranger ever since she launched her brand seven months ago. In fact, she was the only Aussie designer living in Korea when the Australian Embassy invited Korean fashion executives to the Australia Day events last month.
Australian fashion is, like its Korean counterpart, an up and coming phenomenon. But, apart from fashion experts in both countries, few know that import boutiques in southern Seoul have long imported hot Australian items such as Sass & Bide and Tsubi jeans. And such a shift in taste ― from snatching duty-free store items to seeking obscure designers ― is quite a recent phenomenon. Currently, the winning look in Korea is to mix and match, wearing a Proenza Schouler or Richard Chae top or coat over a pair of Habitual jeans.
“We tried to organize a similar fashion event three years ago but couldn’t because the Korean market wasn’t ready,” said Elizabeth Masamune, the embassy’s senior trade commissioner at the Australian fashion showcase at the Park Hyatt Hotel. “Now we feel that the market is ready and mature.”
The range of products from the 15-plus brands on display included PVC travel bags (by Catherine Manuell Design) to denim (by Tsubi) to casual silk tunics (by Amar) to high-end dresses (by Kirrily Johnston). All day, designers, agents and marketers were able to introduce their lines and chat with local buyers looking for “something fashionable and new but not necessarily huge names” for more discerning, mature consumers in Korea. Shauna Mac, an agent based in Hong Kong specializing in Australian brands, came with piles of catalogues and samples in the hope of breaking new ground in Asia.
For the designer of The Red Queen handbags, her business started with women stopping her on the street to ask about “that cute clutch.” It was a clutch with a square buckle, a sample she made with the intention of starting a brand one day. “If I like it and other people like it, maybe I have a chance,” said the petite designer, dressed in a floral blouse and black jeans over a pair of pirate boots. “It was not an easy decision to quit a full-time job to start your own business. But you only live once.”
And she loves clutches that are funky, exotic ― and affordable. “My bags are for women who appreciate high-end bags but cannot afford them,” she said. “Women who want real alligator bags that cost tens of thousands of dollars in can buy mine because I use real exotic skin, imported from around the world.”
Her bags start at 200,000 won (about $215) and range up to 800,000 won. She said the price in Korea is slightly higher because of the complicated retail system.
Before she moved to Korea to be with her boyfriend, who works for GM Daewoo, she worked as a marketing and retail manager for Fosters Wine Estates and Adidas Australia. With a fashion marketing background she has been able to sell her bags in boutiques and now they are sold in over 30 stores across Australia.
She’s proud of her clutches, made in both Australia and Korea, being sold in upscale stores like Missoni Home in Sydney and Melbourne. In Korea, she sells her bags at the W Seoul Hotel in eastern Seoul, and is looking to expand aggressively this year. “It is important how your products are perceived by consumers. I wanted my bags to be sold in beautiful stores,” she said. At the moment, The Red Queen is all about clutches, the designer’s favorite. She has recently added a golden ring like a bracelet to clutches for party-loving women, who, like herself, love to drink champagne and smoke and need both hands free. Now that Ms. Barrett gets to travel more, she needs over-sized weekend bags. Stylish and affordable alligator weekend bags from Korea, anyone?


By Ines Cho Staff Writer [inescho@joongang.co.kr]


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