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Fashion is worn by the masses but first it is made for the few

Dec 26,2006
Conventional wisdom says that the public chooses to buy a fashion item because they have been influenced by TV stars and celebrities. But recent research in Korea suggests an alternative. “The actual fashion trend starters are consumers,” says Ms. Seo Jeong-mi, the director of the Samsung Fashion Institute. “The social atmosphere, economic situation and cultural background that they belong to are the true source of new trends.”
Now this idea has become widely accepted, people engaged in the fashion industry have embarked on a plethora of surveys in order to figure out consumer desires. The first stage is to understand which new materials and colors will appeal to the market. Based on these factors, the top designers at global fashion brands prepare collections to anticipate upcoming trends at least six months ahead. Once the season starts, fashion industry people from all over the world throng to New York, Paris, Milan and London to see the new collections. And this is where the celebrities come back into their own, whatever the surveys might say.
“The styles showcased in these collections spread out through fashion magazines and form the primary fashion trend,” said Ms. Lee Myeong-hee, the editor of Vogue Korea. “The route that new trends take is well established,” said Ms. Yoo Hae-gyeong, a professor at University of Incheon. “The global brands initially influence domestic brands, and secondly, the domestic brands influence the subordinate public brands that end up in the big stores.”
All of which makes the fashion industry sound like a tiger chasing its own tail. No wonder fashion models always look so exhausted. Another way to sort out where fashion comes from is to ask people in the industry. Here’s a small sample, and the answers they give are illuminating. It seems that fashion these days is influenced greatly by celebrities and the people who work to make entertainers look beautiful and stylish.

MAKE-UP ARTIST
In 2003, Korean pop singer Lee Hyo-lee adopted a new style and became a “sexy icon singer.” The transformation was so successful that it created a “Hyo-lee syndrome.” And Sohn Dae-sik (32) was the one who gave her the new look. “Before her transformation, she had a bright and healthy image. I wanted to change it inside and out. I drew a thick eye line on her and that gave her a sexy look.”


It wasn’t only Lee Hyo-lee that Mr. Sohn worked with. Korean actresses such as Song Hye-gyo, Jang Jin-young and Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi also worked with him at a commercial shoot and a photo shoot. He has also been in charge of the make-up on the production of various movie posters and TV commercials..
With reference to the foreign fashion shows and magazines, Mr. Sohn develops makeup techniques that can be applied to Koreans. “For this year’s item, foreign cosmetic companies presented a pink lipstick. If you color your eyes pink and apply pink lipstick, it doesn’t match because Korean’s have a yellow skin tone. So instead of pink, I applied grey or brown eye shadow around the eyes. My customers were very satisfied.”
Mr.Sohn is now one of the most renowned artists in Cheongdam-dong. But he has had to live though hardship. In 1997, he graduated first from a noted makeup academy but couldn’t get a job at beauty salons because he was a man. As a freelance artist he handled more than 70 appointments a month but it was not until 2002 that Mr. Sohn won wide recognition.

HAIR STYLIST
Lee Hui, the director of Lee Hui hair & Makeup is known as the “hit product machine” of the hair industry. The bobbed hair style of Jang Jin-young in the movie “Singles” that had girls rushing to their stylists was one of her hit products. Choi Ji-woo’s hair style from the drama “Winter Sonata,” Lee Young-ae’s from the movie “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance,” Sung Yu-ri’s from the drama “Snow Queen” were all creations of Lee.

The secret to discovering popular hairstyles was simpler than expected. “I try to follow the international trend but I never restrict myself to it. The thickness of Korean’s hair and the facial shapes are different from that of Caucasians. So instead, I try to grasp the facial lines of the customers and see what fits them the best.” She says.
Though she has a gentle personality, she is stubborn when it comes to her work. Daringly chopping off Jang Jin-young’s long hair and curling the feminine waves for Bae Doo-na were all the work of Lee’s masterful hands. She wanted to bring out a completely different image for these stars. “Sometimes they reject my ideas, but I pursue and push through. It’s enlivening to see them leave satisfied with their new looks and to see their hairstyles set new trends,” she says.
She first jumped into the hair styling business in 1987 as an assistant hairdresser in Seri Hair. She first stepped into the spotlight at a supermodel contest in 1992 when she styled Lee So-ra’s hair. She worked as a freelancer until she opened her first salon in 1997.
None of this comes without effort. “I still don’t sleep much. I stay up way past midnight studying foreign materials, data and movie scripts. It’s my desire to keep presenting new styles to the public,” she says.

FASHION STYLIST
A fashion stylist is responsible for making a movie or a magazine article look right. A movie poster, for example, should not only describe the characteristics of the movie, but should also attract prospective audiences. Ms. Seo Eun-young, a leading stylist, is a top player in the movie poster industry. Her work includes posters for “Mr. Robin Ggosigi” (Alluring Mr. Robin), “Between Love and Hate” and others. However, Ms. Seo is better known as the co-author of “Style book” (Sigong Publication Company) co-written with the fashion model Jang Yoon-ju. The book was published in August this year. One hundred thousand copies have been sold within the last four months.



“The main readers are women, from teenagers to those in their 40s. This shows women’s desire to find a good style regardless of their age,” said Ms. Seo. She started her career as a designer and worked for the fashion brand Club Monaco. She also worked as the chief writer for the Korean edition of the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. She has been a stylist for fashion catalogs, fashion shows and advertisement posters, and she has done styling for celebrities. She worked as the stylist for Chung Mong-jun, who is a former presidential candidate.

“Unlike trends, fashion is a matter of taste. For example, even though the trend is for black, style can be different depending on whether the intention is to express oneself as sexy or confident,” said Ms. Seo. As she holds “knowing what people really want” as her priority, the styles she creates are often welcomed by the public.

RETAILER
The managing director of Shinsegae International, Jeong Joon-ho (42), is the person who introduced Giorgio Armani to Korea in 1993. He is more renowned in the fashion industry for launching “Boon the Shop,” which is Korea’s first multi-designer brand store. It opened in 2000.



“We handle designer brands that are well-known to the public, but also have many collections of young, experimental designers,” said Mr. Jeong. Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Marni and Dries Van Noten are some of the brands that were first introduced to Korea through Boon the Shop.
“I realize that the public doesn’t have a positive attitude towards some of the so-called ‘luxury brands,’ but in order to expand the fashion industry we need to introduce foreign fashion brands that have high artistic quality and commercial value to the public.”
Mr. Jeong says that they are now treated as first-class buyers in the foreign collection market.
“When Giorgio Armani visited Korea last year, he said ‘My dream is to launch a shop like Boon the Shop in Milan.’” Mr. Jeong lives overseas for 130 days a year, going through the famous collections of foreign designers. If a certain brand or designer catches his eye he visits the company.
“When I visit department stores in Korea, by just a quick look, I can tell which designer has been copied.” But he doesn’t have any bad feelings. “Everybody starts by imitating. If one develops a more elaborated work from the imitation, then one will eventually create one’s own know-how and make new interpretations.”

PUBLICITY AGENT
Fashion items seen at fashion shows, product launches and award ceremonies are usually imitated in no time. If a celebrity wears a garment at one of these events in an exceptionally stylish way the effect on sales is worth more than millions of won spent on advertising.


Oh Je-hyeong is in charge of PR for local and international fashion brands including Bally, Marc Jacobs and Bean Pole jeans. He works at “Pressync,” a public relations agency. For him, marketing via stars and celebrities takes up most of his time. But if publicizing was all he did, people in the industry wouldn’t call him a “trend spreader,” or a “man of many connections in the fashion industry,” or a “star-marketing genius.”
Mr. Oh was once an entertainer himself. He worked as a reporter for “Midnight TV Entertainment,” as a sitcom actor, and a VJ. “I only started PR in 2003. First, I was interviewing the president of a famous foreign name brand and next, I found myself in charge of their PR as well.
Mr. Oh is now seen as a key intermediary on the fashion scene. “Designers, stylists, entertainers, photographers and distributors all need each other; I simply get them together to work together, have fun, and come up with something creative.” He says that “the fashion industry is greatly affected by what star celebrities advocate and pursue.” He pays close attention to “which stars are most in demand for the paparazzi line at a show” as well as the overall quality of fashion-related events. “It’s not how many (entertainers) but who, that’s what matters. It needs to be someone that fits the image of the brand.”
He also believes that introducing new items and coordinating methods to reporters and stylists is an important part of his job. With the overflowing number of individual items out in the fashion industry, “what is beginning to matter is how they are coordinated and pulled off.”

by Lee Na-ri,Hong Joo-yeon



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