From infamy to fame, from perp walk to catwalk

Oct 02,2007
Jacket: Dolce & Gabbana 1,800,000 won (1,980 dollar ), Pants: Burberry Jeans 350,000 won (385 dollar ),Shoes: Nike Estimated at 200,000 won (220 dollar )
Type in the name of disgraced art curator Shin Jeong-ah at major Web portal sites and a list of keywords used by Korean Internet surfers will appear.
The list at Naver includes “Shin’s love letters” and “Shin and Byeon Yang-kyoon.” These phrases are not surprising, given that the shamed art curator is accused of fraud and using former presidential aide Byeon as a ajeossi-toy (he’s too old to be called a boy) who seems to have been willing to endure painful economic and anatomical surgeries in order to keep her affections.
The key word list also includes, surprisingly, “Shin’s fashion” and “Shin’s clothes.”
Choose “Shin’s clothes,” and you get online postings asking for the brand name and price of the T-shirt Shin wore when she fled to New York last July.
As she ran through JFK airport Shin was wearing a clown T-shirt, white cap and green leather shoulder bag. Photographs of the outfit were ubiquitous in the Korean news media.
Her long-awaited return to Seoul last month also generated images that were seen everywhere. In the way of the modern world, Shin, through her infamy, has become a celebrity, and thus also a fashion icon.
According to Professor Rando Kim, who specializes in consumer psychology at Seoul National University, the public is interested in what Shin wears because they have seen images of her clothing so often.
Kan Ho-sup, a professor of textile art and fashion design at Hongik University, said that Shin’s clothes are mostly luxury brands that are coveted by Korean consumers.
The clown T-shirt Shin wore when she barreled through JFK Airport had the initials “McQ” and was made by British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. It was an item from his 2007 summer collection and had been priced at over 200,000 won ($220), according to a clerk at the Shinsegae Department Store in southern Seoul.
The clerk, who spoke on condition of anonymity, has had customers asking about the T-shirt after seeing it being “modeled” by Shin in their local newspaper.
“We’re still getting inquiries about the T-shirt,” the clerk said last week. “Mostly from women in their 30s and 40s.”
The Shinsegae clerk said customers were disappointed that the clown T-shirt is no longer available.
In the JFK photograph, Shin was carrying a green-colored leather bag, from Bottega Veneta. Lee Jae-sook, a clerk for the luxury brand at the Galleria Department store in southern Seoul, said the bag was priced around 2 million won and was part of the 2006 fall and winter collection. Lee has had customers ask for the bag.
Shin’s next stroll down the perpetrator’s catwalk came in September, at Incheon airport. As she arrived home from her fugitive’s flight to Manhattan she wore a beige Dolce & Gabbana jacket, Burberry jeans and Nike sneakers. The jacket cost around 1.8 million won and the Burberry jeans around 350,000 won. A Burberry official said clients have been inquiring about the jeans.
“The public likes celebrity stories, and luxury brands associate them with their products,” Rando Kim said. “This is why we have the Kelly bag [named after Grace Kelly] and the Birkin bag [made famous by Jane Birkin]. Now, it’s the Shin Jeong-ah T-shirt and the Shin Jeong-ah bag.”
Kim has noticed that the public seems to admire Shin’s style, despite her dark deeds. “Although Shin made news for the wrong reasons, the public is in a frenzy about her style,” Kim said.
Kan said that the power of news media has played a key role. “Regardless of being good or bad, the mere fact that someone is getting so much media attention makes them a sought-after star,” Kan said. “That is the power of the media these days when people are hungry for attention.”
Kan and Kim both noted that Shin is not the first “criminal celebrity.” Linda Kim sunglasses and Shin Chang-won T-shirts are other examples.
Linda Kim, a lobbyist for a U.S. defense company, became infamous in 2000 when Korean prosecutors discovered her “improper relationships” with high-profile Korean officials including former Defense Minister Lee Yang-ho. Love letters sent by Lee were a part of the evidence presented by the prosecutors. A photograph of Kim leaving her house in Escada sunglasses made the eyewear the hottest item in town.
Shin Chang-won, meanwhile, was a criminal whose history included burglary and murder. He escaped from prison and was on the run for more than two years. When re-arrested in 1999, Shin wore a Missoni T-shirt, which became a best-selling fashion item.
“Linda Kim was a femme fatale who used her charms to manipulate high-profile officials, and Shin Chang-won fascinated the public by tormenting the police,” Kim said. By purchasing the sunglasses or the Shin [Chang-won] T-shirt people could borrow these personas, he explained.
Kim puts the Shin Jeong-ah trend in the same context.
“Regardless of what she did, the public is enchanted by the fact that she manipulated powerful men,” he said.
Kan, who remembers the ex-art professor as a “cocky art curator in a casual, chic outfit,” from their two encounters before the scandal, said she could read Shin’s desire to enter the upper ranks of society through her choice of luxury items.
“Her clothes did not have gaudy luxury brand logos, but high-society people who know the best brands can recognize them at a glance,” Kan said. “Luxury brands have lowered their threshold, with Chanel and Gucci producing products at relatively low prices, such as perfume or key holders,” she said. “So high society people want items that only they can afford and recognize, and Shin’s items were in that category.”
Kan also noted Shin’s new hairstyle. “Previously she had this simple, elegant short hair but when she arrived at the Incheon airport she had this style that we call a “shaggy cut,” Kan said. The new haircut covered Shin’s face when she looked down and the image produced “some sympathy” from the public, she noted. “Shin is using her clothes to show how she feels and to appeal to public sentiment,” Kan explained, noting that Shin must have calculated her look.
Such fashion presentation reminded Kan of Paris Hilton, the hotel conglomerate heiress and pop icon, who presented a somber look with a conservative suit and black headband on her way to the courthouse.
“Hilton made a statement by wearing conservative clothes and Shin is employing this strategy as well,” Kan said. Kan is curious to see how Shin will dress in the future. “Shin could be wearing a prison uniform soon, but she will find a way to reveal her feelings through some fashion item,” Kan said. “It will be very interesting to watch how she does that.”

T-shirts: Alexander McQueen 200,000 won (220 dollar ),Bag: Bottega Veneta 2,000,000 won (2,200 dollar )

Controversial lobbyist Linda Kim sports the Escada sunglasses that she made famous. Right: Fugitive Shun Chang-won models Missoni during his perp walk in 1999. [JoongAng Ilbo]
By Chun Su jin [sujiney@joongang.co.kr]

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