Many a style clue, and girls like it, too

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Many a style clue, and girls like it, too

Many men are chronically insecure about style and taste, and have to either cope with being the gauchest at every get-together or resort to a men's magazine to pick up fashion advice.

But Korea's Confucian traditions tend to discourage men from trying hard to be more attractive. So the local men's magazine market has never really taken off. "Buying a fashion magazine instead of a newspaper is like going to a beauty salon instead of a barber," said Lee Choong-keol, the editor in chief of the local edition of GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly).

Despite the unfriendly conditions for men's fashion magazines, the introduction of GQ to Korea, which began in February 2001, has been a success, Mr. Lee says. The magazine is published by the Doosan Corporation's magazine unit, and it is under the Conde Nast Asia-Pacific publishing empire. Mr. Lee, 40, says GQ is the only men's magazine in the country that can call itself "established."

The local men's magazine industry has a lot of catching up to do, according to Mr. Lee. "I feel sorry for Korean men," he says. "There aren't that many things they can do -- but that's where our magazine comes in."

The editor says his magazine is a place for Korean men to use as a playground where they can explore subjects ranging from the latest clothes fashions to nifty new gadgets. But many women are showing up at that playground as well; magazine retailers say plenty of women snap up GQ.

According to Mr. Lee, 15 percent of his magazine's readership are women. "It just shows us how there are readers out there who are interested in the needs of men, and I think these people are very sensitive," he explains. "It is surely a good thing when a woman knows what a man likes."

And women take to some of the men's fashions, as well. "These days it has become fashionable for women to wear big watches," he said. "This shows how some of the things that we have in the magazine can also be of interest to women."

Asked how the men's magazine market has changed from the past, Mr. Lee said the fashion aspect has been the most important factor in improving market conditions. "Now there are established brand names that people want to buy and that everyone recognizes," he said. "Men want information on those brands and go looking for a place where they can get it." But a quick thumbing through of the magazine raised the suspicion that few of the featured items could be easily picked up on the peninsula. "In that case," Mr. Lee said, "GQ provides a yardstick and tells people what others consider premium brands, helping the readers develop an eye for quality products."

While fashion is the focus, the chief editor stresses that the magazine runs stories that become catalysts for creating issues. And, he acknowledges, there are the standard fluff pieces on celebrities. But GQ doesn't always cover the famous with praise. Referring to entertainers as the "absolute power," Mr. Lee cites a recent article in which a critic panned a certain popular local musician.

"It's not an easy thing to do," Mr. Lee says, "especially for a magazine that needs those people."

Well then, do Korean men need their own fashion magazine? While the older generation may scoff at the narcissism and critics may complain that GQ is marketed to the upper classes, a guy can't go too wrong getting a wealth of fashion tips at 5,900 ($5) an issue.

by Brian Lee

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