Color: Korea's Primary Style Maxim

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Color: Korea's Primary Style Maxim

Who says Koreans can't go platinum blond with baby blue eyes? To be fashionable means to be colorful to young Koreans. Their brown irises turn blue, green or violet; black straight hair becomes wild aqua blue or silvery-spiky. To attain this almost cyber-character-like transformation takes a minimum of three hours' bleaching and dyeing. "Super blijji" (the Korean pronunciation of "bleach") dyeing that can wipe out any trace of black roots is in high demand, and within an hour, the powerful blijji can turn a silky black mane into a brittle shock of hair in any shade of the rainbow.

Hair stylist Park Joo-young at Gyuniyoung, one of the trendiest hair salons in southern Seoul, said that even though prolonged bleaching and dyeing damages hair extensively, young clients continue to have their hair done to stay modish or stand out. The colors of the moment have shifted from orange to beige (sandy blond) and grey. Some fashion extremists stick to "difficult colors," such as red, blue and green, which require the hair to first be bleached white. Korean entertainers first began that hair coloring trend last year, and it has now been picked up by just about anyone who wants to look fashionable.

As predicted by the Korea Fashion Color Association (KOFCA), spring/summer 2001 fashion sees a continued dominance of bright, strong colors, such as yellow, green, blue and deep purple. They are categorized as "Super Vitamin" colors, signifying fresh energy.

This frenzy for mixing and matching colors is no longer confined to fashion show runways. The vogue has caught on in supermarket aisles and on freeways as well. Popular beverages and compact cars targeting young Koreans are now as eye-catching as the latest fashion accessaries.

What are categorized as "sports beverages," sold in supermarkets and convenient stores, are now all in primary colors. The beverage market is clearly divided into two, according to a spokesperson for Haitai Beverage Co., Yoo Chul-ahn. Traditionally older consumers have been conservative with regard to food colors. They believe that drinks should come in the fruit's original colors - orange for orange juice, purple for grape juice and the like - and that other artificial colors are cheap and bad for the health.

The consumer divide first became apparent in the early '90s, when American sports beverages came along to attract the fashion-conscious minds of young Koreans. Powerade and Gatorade drinks were colored striking blue, red and white, and then cyber yellow-green. To young people, the taste and price do not really matter, according to Mr. Yoo, as long as they look attractive. Last year, Japanese apricot drinks flew off the shelves - mainly due to a bright, visually tempting color ad campaign. The advertising was done entirely in green, a color that Koreans tend to associate with freshness.

To jump on the color branding bandwagon, Haitai developed a local brand named Never Stop in 1997. Forecasting the new trend, the company added green to its color list. Mr. Yoo explained that primary colors are psychologically comforting and visually attractive. The company's color marketing scheme, followed through in packaging and TV advertising, was successful. With the introduction of the new beverage, the market share claimed by Haitai's sports beverages jumped from a meager 3 percent to 15 percent within a year. The company has now released new drinks made from more traditional types of fruits such as plum and Chinese quince, this time targeted at older consumers, which are also marketed in bright colors.

Like the beverage market, the automobile market has changed over the past few years in Korea. Koreans were once very conservative in their choice of cars, opting for sober, expensive sedans that bespoke social status over smaller economy cars. That was then. As the economy grew and the number of cars owned by a family increased, consumers' tastes in cars have changed. Cars became something of a matter of taste, like fashion in Korea.

Ahn Eun-young at Design Forum, which specializes in researching and developing colors for Daewoo Motor, said Koreans change cars every 3-5 years on average, compared to Europeans' 5-10 years. Mainly because European consumers keep their cars for a much longer period of time, they prefer classic hues such as metallic silver, navy blue and red. Koreans, on the other hand, increasingly want to follow trends and expect their cars to express their individuality. Driving a car is less about showing off money or status - once a model has met certain standards of function and economy, then style counts most.

"Change" means something fresh and new, according to Ms. Ahn, and to meet this heightened consciousness of fashion, Daewoo Motor has added a new shade of paint to its immensely popular Matiz line, in one of the trendiest colors of the year - cyber green. The new model, which resembles nothing so much as a cute frog, is certainly eye-catching. Daewoo is targeting young people in their mid- to late 20s or those seeking a second car. The names that appear on the color chart for these cars are reminiscent of Korean flavors: "Gingko Leaf" for gold, "Fresh Apple" for green, "Tropic Green" for blue, "Super Red" for scarlet. Ms. Ahn hopes these attractive candy colors will prove unable to resist.

Korean style experts all seem to agree on one thing: Wanna be young again? Then go colorful.

by Inae Cho

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