Party planning isn’t just fun and gamesThose new to Korea may worry about what to do for a social life, but those concerns usually disappear after one weekend in the thriving local party scene.
Jamie Perez Ramirez, the commercial attache at the Mexican Embassy, has been in Korea since February. He and his friends from around the world have kept themselves reasonably busy, socially speaking. But he said he wishes parties were also held on weekdays.
“Where I come from in Mexico, partying starts from Tuesday,” he said. “But there are parties of different kinds to choose from on weekends, so that’s great.”
To get into these parties, you don’t need to latch on to a pack of social butterflies with attitude. Just walking down the Hongdae club blocks in western Seoul and picking up a flier or two off the wall will get you into a dozen parties in the coming months.
Of course, if you do happen to know a pack of social butterflies with attitude, your options expand exponentially.
Miggi Chi of Sway, one of the better-known party planners in Korea, said she has 3,000 names in her database. She regularly sends out on average of 2,000 e-mail invites to her parties. About 500 of them are considered A-list, and they receive text messages from Ms. Chi’s own mobile phone.
Sway is known for its posh Western-style parties in the trendy district of Cheongdam-dong, catering mostly to young urban professionals and expats. Ms. Chi often chooses S Bar in that neighborhood as a venue, and “a party by Miggi” can easily attract as many as 1,500.
The former model recalled how in 2000, foreign luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci began showcasing swank product launching parties in Korea. Strict invitation-only and dress code policies added a touch of arrogance and attitude.
Ms. Chi thought she could do better. In 2001, she decided to throw her own party with a handful of friends, most of whom spoke fluent English. More than double the number she had invited, or 400, turned up.
Sponsors, mainly liquor and tobacco companies looking to promote their brands here, started to seek her out. Now Sway is expanding to private and corporate functions.
There was a time when Ms. Chi was the only party planner of her kind, at least on the south side of the Han River. Now competitors abound in Cheongdam-dong. Kim Sung-min and Ana Kang, among others, have benefited from Sway’s recent success in developing the Korean party scene.
Ms. Chi isn’t too worried about the competition, but she sees some potential problems.
“There are just too many party planners, countless numbers of them, out there these days,” she said. “In fact, there are more people who want to throw parties than people who want to party. So I think it’s becoming a problem. I’m afraid such saturation might destroy the hard-earned market,” Ms. Chi said.
Even though the party scene is booming these days, it took a long time to get to this point. Both Mr. Kim and Ms. Kang said it was much tougher to organize parties for Koreans when they got started almost 10 years ago. To a majority of Koreans, they said, a party was a foreign concept.
“When they heard the word ‘party,’ they thought of fancy balls and dances in the Western movies, you know, Audrey Hepburn in her long evening gown, drinking champagne and dancing until dawn,” Ms. Kang said. “Their expectations were ridiculously huge, and they had absolutely no idea what they were supposed to do or enjoy in a party.”
Korea’s modern party culture started with irilchatjip (roughly translated as “tea party for a day”) or irilhopeu (“beer party for one day”) organized by university students, who rented out a cafe or a pub for one day, invited classmates and their friends to the party and made money off ticket sales.
Park Sun-young, who works as a party planner at TriArt Communication, specializing in concerts in major cities in Korea, said she started out with Korean-style parties in high school.
“I almost got suspended from school because I helped organized a tea party in a cafe,” she said. “Luckily, my parents were very supportive of my active social life.”
As a party planner, Ms. Kang found that making the transition from the cozy tea or beer party to the standing-room only, casual and Western-style party was painful.
“Even in the ’90s, when Koreans were getting into underground music and hip fashion, the young people would hear about a party and would come into an empty bar and demand, ‘Where are the chairs?’ They didn’t know what to do at a so-called ‘party.’
“Embarrassed, they all stood against the wall all night or they left early. And you knew that the party was a flop,” Ms. Kang said.
To ease the initial awkwardness, she ended up “strategically planting” reasonably good-looking partygoers among wallflowers.
“I had about a dozen near-professional schmoozers working for me, but I couldn’t afford to pay them,” she said.
“You see, the early party planners worked on a volunteer basis, for we couldn’t really make money. You really had to love what you did, or else you couldn’t work another day in the old days.”
The challenge of making money off parties hasn’t changed. Partygoers expect freebies, planners said.
“Many people regard a party as something they don’t have to pay for. There are so many people and their friends ‘on the list’ who don’t want to pay. They take party planners’ job for granted, but we need to pay our staffers salaries and survive,” Mr. Kim said. “Many, many party companies have come and gone.”
So Mr. Kim turned to marketing strategies to stay ahead in the business. His company, MK Project, plans big-budget theme parties in new venues in southern Seoul, such as Sugar Club, Cube Club and Club Chow. He compiled a 3,000-member list, to which he regularly sends out e-mails, and then analyzed the personal data and divided them into different marketing groups.
Such events promote not only whatever company happens to be paying for the party, but the venue as well. Club Chow’s assistant manager, Xerome Lee, said the parties at the Art Deco-inspired restaurant and club can boost overall sales and establish Club Chow as a high-end brand.
“We have our special clientele, which is similar to that of exclusive hotels; they are the CEOs and core executives of corporations. Then we have people who have heard about the place and visit us. To manage and embrace both groups, we often work with party planners,” Mr. Lee said.
As the parties have gotten more sophisticated, so have the attendees. “No one asks for chairs any more,” said Ms. Kang, laughing. “In order for participants to feel ‘intimately comfortable,’ I put the right mix of people together, choosing from the 5,000 people in my database.”
Mr. Kim said the Korean market for organized parties is still immature but is developing fast.
“Like the event market years ago, the party market is still a wilderness here,” he said. “By next year, losers will have fallen out of competition, and the real professionals will survive.”
Even as the “losers” fall away, Mr. Kim expects even more competition, this time coming from big international party planners, especially from Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Apparently, the party in Korea is just getting started.
- Most famous for: Western-style parties in Cheongdam-dong, in southern Seoul. “I was one of the first customers of S Bar, which opened four years ago.”
- Most remembered for: Sex and the City Party, Halloween party, New Year’s Eve party at S bar, her very first party there in December 2001.
“I was trying out for my friends and myself. I invited 200, but 400 turned up, and everyone had a great time. People were just hungry for music and partying.”
- A great party is made with: a great place, DJ and music.
- What’s at Sway parties: “There are the strictly fashionable who are totally self-conscious ― whose attitude is ‘hey, look at me’ ― and those who are not necessarily fashionable but know how to schmooze and dance. These two kinds of people make a good vibe. They are young professionals engaged in fashion, finance, in their mid-20s to late 30s and also foreign expats and college students.”
- How to have fun: “If you come with a pack of the right people, then you can have a great time.”
- Check your calendar for: Ultra-Pop Party at W Seoul-Walkerhill at 9 p.m. Friday, Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Christmas parties, possibly at the W Hotel, and also a lounge music CD album titled “Chi Miggi Party Lounge” due next month.
- Best known for: DJ Yutaka Party at Club Cube, “Unknown Night” at Sugar Club and Club Chow VIP Party in June.
- What kind of parties: Organized for foreign companies, posh and classic parties and DJ parties. “For high-end parties, we hire florists and food stylists, and the decoration and arrangements are quality-oriented.”
- Who goes to MK parties: High-end clients and foreigners who are embassy personnel and corporate managers, in their 30s and 40s. Hip-hop and house music listeners in their 20s.
- Specialties: music and networking. “We also have our own team of local DJs. Staffers, including myself, function as a party host or a ‘bridge’ by introducing partyers and help them network.”
- A great party is made with: a great atmosphere, the right number of participants and the level of satisfaction. “We need some people who we categorize as ‘opinion leaders’ of a particular theme and group of people. They are the ‘mood-makers’ who lead other partyers. I go out to many parties in town and find these people so I can invite them to our parties.”
- Check your calendar for: Club Chow Party No. 4 on Aug. 28, Halloween party at Hard Rock Cafe and Club Chow, and “Urban Train Hip-Hop Party in Beijing” at Club Look in the commercial sector of Beijing on Sept. 10.
- Contact: www.mkproject.com, or e-mail email@example.com.
- Most famous for: Mr. Chow Second Party, Mystic Powers in Laluna Club, Delicious Diva in Underground Club, Cosmopolitan Party
- Specialties: The Cheongdam-dong and Apgujeong-dong crowd. “We are selective with those who come to theme parties.”
- A great party is made with: A good concept, people management and promotion.
- How to have fun: “There are so many kinds of parties; know what kind of parties you’re going to. Choose the ones where you can enjoy yourself and especially meet new people. Just go there with an open mind.”
- Partygoers are: Young professionals engaged in law, fashion, business, and foreign companies, expats and Korean gyopo, or expatriates.
- Check your calendar for:
“Unveil” Lounge & House Night at W Seoul-Walkerhill at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow.
- Contact: www.anakang.com;
A party for every type of scene
Here’s a listing of the kinds of parties in Seoul, which includes information on how you can get an invitation:
Posh parties, Cheongdam-dong style, include theme parties, such as product launches, restaurant or store openings and fashion shows. Sway, Ana Kang and MK Project specialize in this area.
Mr. Chow and Club Chow announce their parties on www.mrchowseoul.com, or contact assistant manager Xerome Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darren Hong of DMX Productions organizes or helps promote parties through www.dmxproductions.com, or e-mail email@example.com.
Itaewon clubs, targeting mainly expatriates, tourists, military personnel and the gay community, may organize parties on special occasions, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving Day or New Year’s Eve.
Check out weekend nights at Spy Lounge (next to La Cigale Montmartre on the main avenue), Limelight (right next to Hamilton Hotel), Helios (opposite the fire station), King Club (Up the hill right next to the fire station), G Bar, Why Not and Trance on Gay Hill behind King Club.
For what’s happening in Itaewon, pick up a free copy of a local magazine, Seoul Classified (www.seoulclassified.co.kr), in Itaewon restaurants and bars or visit www.enjoyitaewon.com.
Hongdae and Sinchon clubs in western Seoul offer the largest parties: On Club Day, the last Friday of each month, a purchase of a single 15,000-won ($12) ticket allows entry to 15 clubs in Hongdae.
Since April, Sound Day (go to the Web sites cafe.daum.net/soundday or www.soundday.co.kr, which will be up soon), on the second Friday of each month, has featured live performances by musicians and DJs. A 15,000-won ticket allows access to six clubs in Hongdae.
The newly opened entertainment multiplex Ohoo (www.ohoo.net) regularly holds parties.
TriArt Communication (www.triart.co.kr) specializes in “concerting,” or a combined concert and party.
A Web site specializing in techno music and rave parties, www.technogate.co.kr, lists club news and party posters and introduces active local DJs.
For general news, www.partyline.co.kr, includes mainstream Apgujeong-dong parties, Hongdae club parties and small Sinchon concerts.
Party promotion company Funny Time’s Web site, www.funnytime.net, offers a community calendar.
by Ines Cho