The ephemeral life of a new trend

June 05,2007
Korean actress Kim Hye-su by the photographer Kim Yong-ho at “Myth of Mirror” at Artsonje Center. Provided by Doff
Where is the most happening place in town? In any major capital city that’s the first question on many visitors’ lips. But answers are not easy to find because trends move quickly and only the insiders who work in the “trend industry” know how to pinpoint the hottest hot spots.
Seoul, a city where trends move faster than bullet trains, is no exception. The city’s uber-cool set is as feckless and fickle as trendy people the world over.
The universal rule is that there exists a certain group in capital cities that “decides” where to go and whom to meet. They are highly visible individuals with impressive profiles or connections to the glamour industry.
Agewise they are either in their professionally mature 20s, ambitious 30s or youthful 40s, and their opinions and choices matter. Where they gather, socialize and gossip spreads first through word of mouth, and by the time news of their latest in-spot reaches the occupants of luxury duplexes nearby they have already vanished from the scene.

The fashion designer and DJ Ha Sang-beg’s exhibition at the b_shop gallery. By Ha Sang-beg
If these decision-makers are not visible in a bar or nightclub they tend to say that “nobody is there,” even if the place is full of well-dressed people. Those late-comers who catch the second or third wave of people who latch on to a place simply don’t count in a trendy industry that moves faster than light.
“The trendsetters easily get tired of things,” said Eunni Cho, who writes about trends for W magazine in New York City. “And they migrate from one place to another. Right now the Box is the most happening place in New York. In the New York club scene getting access to the hot places can be amazingly hard because they are very selective. At least in Korea the happening places are open to the public; you just have to know the place.”
So you heard about a hot place in Cheongdam-dong, went there but it was empty? Well, you might have hit the spot a few weeks too late. Where did everyone go?
For a place to be hot it has to cater to the needs of the influential trendsetters who are fastidious and capricious. When, for example, Koreans began to embrace wine and champagne, the relationship between eating and drinking changed. Just in time, the dining bar Miss Park, (02) 3443-2221, began to serve Korean food paired with champagne until 4 a.m. It became an instant hit. The owner’s personal connections with the entertainment industry helped boost her business.
But a trend’s cycle is short. Trendsetters have recently moved on to a new location, and Miss Park is now filled with a second wave who belatedly heard about its reputation. “That way the business can sustain itself for a while, but the owner has to decide what to do ― whether to continue the business with less trendy people or shut down and create something new,” said Miggi Chi, Seoul’s leading party planner.
The new spot to be and be seen is an Italian dining bar called Tutto Bene, (02) 546-1489, which means “everything good” in Italian.

D.J. Jinwook spins deep house music at his new bar, Soulsome. By Ines Cho
Another white-hot spot was Groove, a tiny bar in Apgujeong-dong, which held a series of private parties where Seoul’s hottest D.J.s spun house music for their friends. There were no fliers, no posters and no ticket sales. Friends simply shared the party plans with each other. The bar shut down last month after two years of operation. Just when Groove-goers were wondering where to go, D.J. Jinwook teamed up with D.J. East4A and opened a bar, Soulsome, (02) 542-5667, behind the Louis Vuitton flagship store in Cheongdam-dong.
About a hundred people received SMS invitations to the opening party, but the day before was the real party for the fashionable crowd and for that occasion there were no messages. “I didn’t want just anybody to show up,” said Jinwook. “I might have another party next Saturday but I’m not sure yet.” Call him a snob, but since it opened three weeks ago, Soulsome has seen A-list stars, powerful publicists and their rich clients and a long line of fashion models. Meanwhile nearby bars have been filled with a feeling of dread.
Likewise, invitations to the Korean pop star Eom Jeong-hwa’s book launch party at Club Chow last Wednesday were very hush-hush. She is one of a handful of local celebrities who are seen as the arbiters of trends. Her 60-plus guests enjoyed an all-you-can-drink-and-dance night with hours of house music by the Korean actor Ryu Seung-bum, who at night transforms himself into a groovy D.J.

Bar, Soulsome. By Soulsome
Not all parties are off-limits, but proximity to the right people can help improve your social life. When Doff, the P.R. firm founded by fashion photographer Kim Yong-ho, organized an opening reception for the photo exhibition “Myth in the Mirror” at Artsonje Center (www.artsonje.org) two weeks ago, he made sure the event’s guests knew about the Grey Goose vodka launch party at Club Circle on May 31. For that night Club Circle became “the” place to be, even if only for one hour.
What makes a place into somewhere that’s “happening?” “It depends on who does what,” said Chi. “If someone has a big influence on the social circuit, people will come, but then what he or she offers has to be very good, or else people just stop coming.”
As Ha Sang-beg, the Antwerp-trained fashion designer and disc jockey pointed out, extreme commercialism in southern Seoul is to blame for such super-fast changes and the disposable nature of current Korean culture. “It’s a strange and sad thing that there is no such thing as ‘classic’ in Cheongdam-dong, except for the Cafe Harue,” he said. “For 10 years, it has somehow continued to be a fashionable place.” When asked about the dynamics of trends today, he says it is all about the individual. “In the age of MySpace and YouTube, anybody can do anything and become famous or rich. Just walk around the city or surf the Web and you can find people or places that attract attention. That means anybody can be a hero it’s not just about being somebody like Michael Jackson or Madonna.”
By his account, what appears to be trendy doesn’t have any permanence. Even the most happening place is often nothing more than a mirage. A trend may be that invisible yet strong vibe generated when curious individuals showing a collective interest in other talented individuals engage in creative activities on and/or offline. Like pop stars on the silver screen, lay individuals too must reinvent themselves periodically or they lose their following.

The Korean pop star Eom Jeong-hwa mingles with arbiters of trends in Seoul.
That’s precisely how Ha promoted himself and his first fashion exhibition, titled “Body/Dynamite,” at the b_shop gallery on Garosu-gil, southern Seoul. Prior to the event, Ha’s online teaser for the Web book (www.bebefatal.com), consisting of short films, photographs and music, recorded a phenomenal 280,000 hits per day. He’s already planning a second exhibition on the theme of trash in September. At sundown, the tiny gallery in the artsy neighborhood attracted a throng of hipsters, who also knew exactly how to navigate the town all night after that.
After absorbing the designer’s inspirations, they headed out to inhale more fashion energy at an exhibition and a book launch by the fashion designer Choi Bum-suk and then they danced at the Paul Van Dyke concert at the W Seoul hotel. More dancing until the break of dawn followed at the monthly “Sunrise with Yeonjun and Fhifan” party in Club Via (02) 544-3467 in Hingdae.

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

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