Star power, not fashion propels Dior premiereBack in the 1980s, one of the coolest moments on Korean television was seeing Hong Kong heartthrob Chow Yun Fat on a motorcycle, speaking Korean to hawk soda. But fast forward to 2005: One of the coolest things on television across Asia is to see a drove of Korean celebrities dressed in Christian Dior smiling and waving.
When Peter Cheung, Christian Dior’s Asia-Pacific region marketing director, was looking for a locale to unveil the brand’s 2005 fall and winter collection, he wasted no time in picking Korea.
“The response from people all over Asia to Korean celebrities is immediate and enormous,” he said. “Korean stars have filled the so-called idol vacuum in Asia. They’ve got the talent, the looks and the style that the young generation can immediately identify.”
A French executive working for a sister luxury brand under the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy group said they invited Korean actor Ji Jin-hee for its new store opening in Hong Kong earlier this year. “The 400 VIPs inside the store were extremely happy, and we had his fans jam packing the street, making the opening very successful,” the executive said.
Kitty Go, a journalist based in Taipei with the Financial Times, attests that the entire Korean wave phenomenon is overlooked by the West. “It is culturally limited to Asia only, it seems,” she said. “If you look at a drama like ‘Winter Sonata,’ it’s not something Westerners can identify with or feel culturally and emotionally.”
What sets the French fashion house apart from other luxury brands is Dior’s bold step to lead the fashion market. Before Christian Dior came along, most import brand events in Korea had been “localized” only for the domestic market. It is the first time an Asia-wide Christian Dior event has been held in Korea, covering 14 countries minus Japan.
Friday night’s extravaganza kicked off with a reception and dinner at 7 p.m. followed by a fashion show and a party at W Hotel in eastern Seoul. The entire exterior of the hotel was fitted with an illuminating Dior logo, and an impromptu tent to house a runway, a stage for two grand pianos and six rows of seats were built in the basement parking lot.
The after party in the lobby and the bar featured a live performance by Korean pop stars and all-you-can-drink Moet Chandon until the wee hours of the morning. More than 130 journalists from seven countries flew in to watch the 20 Korean and Chinese stars seated in the front row.
The actual fashion show, scheduled to start at 9 p.m., was delayed for 40 minutes when Ziyi Zhang, the star of “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” appeared in a black cocktail dress. The consensus in the audience: “She’s not all that gorgeous,” said one Korean fashion executive in attendance. “Our star Um Jeong-hwa looks better.”
Besides how ordinary the Chinese actress looked off-camera, no one seemed to care either about the clothes or the piano music or the production of the actual show, which consisted of a scant 30 outfits and a hurried 20-minute show. But fans murmured where the Korean heartthrob Eric might be headed right after the show.
The fact that Christian Dior is utilizing Korea as part of its promotional campaign seems to herald a new benchmark for other luxury brands to follow. “Celebrity endorsement by Christian Dior and Lancome has been extremely successful in Korea, and we’re looking at how we can have this kind of media-savvy event for our brand this year,” commented an Italian luxury brand spokesperson who did not want to be identified.
Pierre Denis, the regional managing director, said he was behind choosing Korean actress Choi Ji-woo as a model for Christian Dior Cosmetics earlier this year. “I’ve watched how people reacted to Korean stars when we invited them to our event in Hong Kong last year, so the event in Korea makes perfect sense now,” he said.
As to the speculation that the current Korean pop wave might be a short-lived fad, Mr. Denis disagreed. “Looking at how successful Korean films, music and TV dramas are doing now, I think [the wave] will be around for long. I know Korean and Chinese are going to make it big in Hollywood, so I see more coming from both Korea and China in the future.”
by Ines Cho