New breed of shopper aids salesYang Joo-young is a self-admitted shopaholic. In his spare time during work hours, he pores over Internet shopping mall sites. On weekends, he likes to take walks in department stores.
During an interview with a reporter, Mr. Yang proudly showed off his latest catch: a pair of iridescent lime green sneakers with a metallic sheen.
Until a few years ago, Korean men generally didn’t care about what their clothes looked like, just as long as they didn’t stand out. But recently, young men are finding it easier to admit that the color of their shirts or the cut of their pants is important, as interest in good looks and style have expanded from feminine circles to the male.
“Korean men have definitely become more fashion-conscious in the past few years,” said Kim Eun-kyoung, a fashion critic. “Before, men walking around in flowered shirts or bright-colored blazers were considered to be gangsters, as opposed to Western countries, where fashionable men were thought to be gay.”
British writer Mark Simpson coined the term “metrosexual” in 1994 to describe these straight men who take a traditionally feminine interest in their image. Since then, the word has become a popular (some would say overused) part of the English vernacular.
Metrosexualism was all the rage in the United States last year; now Korea has just begun to pick up on it. And as it is with all trends, Koreans have been very fast to adopt it.
LG Economic Research Institute chose metrosexualism as one of the five new categories that it used to identify Korean consumers according to their lifestyle. In a report released this year, the institute said that metrosexualism represented a new pattern of consumption.
Through intense marketing and the popularity of well-groomed celebrities such as the British soccer player David Beckham or the Korean pop singer Bi, the term is now widely used to promote male accessories, clothing or cosmetics, providing new channels of consumption.
From fancy silk underwear to special concept stores that only sell male jewelry, the men’s market has greatly expanded.
New kind of customer
More notable is how the retail industry is hastening to market to this new target consumer, a man who shops as much as a woman, as a way to survive in the stagnant economy.
“Until now, women were the main consumers of fashion or cosmetics, but men’s consumption is sharply rising,” said Yang Seung-won, an analyst at Cheil Communications. “New items aiming for these men are flooding the market.”
Kim Jung-hee, a senior analyst at the Samsung Fashion Institute, said the impact of metrosexualism can be prominently seen in men’s casual clothing. The men’s casual apparel market has grown from 28.4 percent of the entire men’s clothing market to 34.9 percent, valued at about 3.3 trillion won ($2.8 million).
Some men say they’re not just spending money on their looks ― they’re making an investment.
Koh Dong-wook, a 34-year-old consultant, has more than 200 neckties. In fact, he stopped counting a few years ago. “A tie is what makes a man,” he says. “You can tell a lot about a person by just looking at his tie.”
From solid charcoal gray silk to bright yellow dabbled with bunnies and carrots, a peek at the back reveals names of high-end designers, such as Gucci and Ferragamo.
Other types of accessories, such as diamonds, are taking the place of dogs in becoming man’s best friend. Already, luxury jewelry brands such as Tateossian, Tiffany and Cartier have produced men’s accessories that sport precious jewels. Necklace designs have also changed from thick chains to thin, usually with a pendant.
“We’ve definitely seen more men come to buy their own jewelry,” said Kim Kyung-ah, a marketing employee at Tiffany Korea. “These days, men are looking for fancier jewelry, and show just as much interest in diamonds as women do.”
Stores are making obvious changes to attract these affluent consumers.
Located in Cheongdam-dong, one of the ritziest neighborhoods in Seoul, Galleria Department Store’s Masterpiece Hall deals solely with luxury brands, such as Christian Dior and Chanel. Recently, it opened a personal shopper room and increased the men’s section, introducing new brands there.
“Before, men used to come with women or women shopped for the men. These days, however, more men shop for themselves,” said Park Ye-ri, PR manager for the Galleria Department Store.
Prada Korea has benefited from the new shoppers as well. “In the past, women’s clothing made up most of the sales, but now men’s sales are almost equal to women’s,” said Kim Sung-sin at Prada Korea.
But such trends are not confined to the wealthy. Chu Hye-won, a hairdresser in Apgujeong-dong, agrees that Korean men in general are feeling more comfortable about being concerned with their looks.
“It used to be strange when a man walked into the beauty parlor, since most men went to barber shops. Now, however, I have more regular customers who are men than women,” she said.
Since most men have short hair, they come more often to have it cut and are not afraid to make drastic changes in their style, whereas women tend to be more conventional or timid about changing their image,” she said.
Skin care lines
One area where men’s sales have jumped is cosmetics. It all started when Ahn Jeong-hwan, one of the most popular soccer players on Korea’s national team, was dubbed the Korean David Beckham after he permed his hair and began promoting a “color lotion,” a concoction that is a mix of lotion, foundation and makeup base. The television advertisement was an immediate hit.
In the past few years, foreign cosmetics brands such as Body Shop, Lancome and Biotherm, as well as domestic lines, including VOV, Man Holding Flower and IPKN, have all introduced men’s cosmetics.
“Even in the stagnant economy, the men’s cosmetics market has grown about 10 percent,” said Coreana cosmetics PR director Nam Gyu-huk, who estimated the size of the market at more than 300 billion won.
At Hyundai Department Store, the percentage of men’s cosmetics of all cosmetic sales rose from 6 percent last year to 10 percent this year so far. At Shinsegae Department Store, sales rose 9 percent so far this year compared to all of last year. As a result, the company has hired more male sales clerks for the cosmetics department.
“The variety of men’s cosmetics has increased from basic lotions to coloring makeup,” said Yoon Tae-jong, a buyer for Shinsegae. “Even men in their 40s and 50s buy makeup to cover up light wrinkles.”
Amid the current slack in consumption, people in the industry say that only metrosexual-related goods and “well-being” products have gone up in sales.
At Hyundai Department Store, first-half figures showed that sales were strong in two areas ― health and what the store called “pretty boys.”
The shopping mall chain said flowered shirts for men sold out fast, especially after male actors wore them in several Korean television drama series.
Profits have been seen in less conspicuous areas as well. Namyoung L&F, an underwear maker for the brand Gentoff, said sales of its new underwear shot up this year.
The most popular designs were a bright red with geometric patterns that fit closely to the body and underwear studded with rhinestones, the company said. Impression, another Namyoung L&F brand, made male undergarments woven with thin silver threads.
“In the past, men’s underclothes were mostly made of cotton, but now materials have become more diverse to include lace and spandex among others,” a company official said.
At Interpark.com, an Internet shopping mall, sales of men’s cosmetics have surged 870 percent in the first half compared to the same period last year, which is higher than the Web mall’s overall sales increase of about 470 percent.
by Wohn Dong-hee