A supreme taste of fashionNo fashion designer in Korea can better capture the exhilarating mood of high fashion than Jung Wook-jun, whose super-sleek wardrobe struts a fine line between artistic talent and commerce. His innate sense of fashion trends and ability to cut and sell at the same time has catapulted him to the forefront of Korean fashion since he launched his brand Lone Costume in 1999.
A refreshing teaser for the designer’s much anticipated new collection in November was a fashion show sponsored by Chivas Regal 18 on Sept. 21 at the W Seoul Hotel.
While Chivas Regal 12 has promoted its name through club-style events catering to a hip and young clientele, Chivas Regal 18 has remained upscale and exclusive, targeting older professionals engaged in the creative and financial sectors. “Chivas Regal has been doing exceptionally well, specially in North America and Asia; the brand’s image has been very good ― they epitomize premium whiskey,” said Anthony Budd, the marketing director of Jinro Ballantines.
To attract such an elite sector, earlier this year, the distributor organized an exhibition of three top photographers.
At the Chivas Regal 18 show, the spacious Woobar might not have been as jam-packed as other promotional parties, but Mr. Budd seemed pleased with the smaller but stylish group. “This is a set of 50, 100 or maybe 200 people whose opinions and choices matter. Not many people can afford Chivas Regal 18,” he said. “We do this kind of event three, four times a year. So, before the year end, we’re planning one more, but we keep [the theme] mysterious.”
Sipping fizzy Chivas Regal 18 cocktails doused with champagne, the members of Chivas Regal 18’s “Community of Opinion Leaders” got to see Jung’s fashion inspiration as Korea’s top models sashayed up and down from the Woobar’s white staircases.
The collection of about 35 outfits was a mixture of the designer’s current fall and winter collection, which was updated with blue and gold accents. “First of all, I was inspired by colors. I found it beautiful to use the combination of brown, deep blue and gold from the brand’s emblem,” said Jung, his black hair swept back and dressed in his own ebony suit with a skinny striped tie.
“The bottle design is actually classic but modern, so I when I designed the clothes, they were classic but with avant garde or modern elements.”
Garments made especially for the brand included a lady’s trenchcoat, a chiffon dress, a men’s suit and T-shirts for both men and women.
“The suit is classic but has a modern feeling,” Jung said, referring to the metallic finish on the blue fabric and extra-wide cut in the pants.
The designer said he modified a classic trenchcoat with cape-like double sleeves and a flowing hemline, making the garment a cross between a coat and a dress.
“The chiffon dress is feminine, but it has a draping and an unbalanced hemline, making it avant garde,” he said.
These “Chivas” editions looked remarkably chic and trendy, as if part of the designer’s regular collection, whose palette of colors ranges from white to gray to black, punctuated with royal blue. According to Jung, this year, stylish men should be wearing either skinny or pajama pants under razor-cut jackets or duster coats.
Jung’s proportions borrowed from the 1980s look “so today” with outfits of heavy cable-knit sweater tunics slouched over nude shoulders and black leggings, or a thin turtleneck knit tunic top, a slightly crushed trilby hat and hi-tops.
On the runway, the image of luxury ended with a typical Jung Wook-jun-style finale, a march of simple T-shirts with a strong message spelled out on them, except this time, the message on the blue shirt was none other than the gold Chivas Regal 18 emblem.
Mr. Budd hoped the designer would benefit from the event being publicized through the media and company promotion materials in the Asia-Pacific region, adding that “the Korean wave is an effective cultural means in Asian countries.”
Jung is currently preparing for his show on Nov. 5 during the Seoul Collections week. The tease of avant garde in the Chivas show, he said, will continue in his regular collection for the next season.
“Not too much though, because my clothes are always wearable. [For men’s wear] I will be using materials from women’s wear, so they will be light but very intriguing.”
Top French honor for fashion pioneer
On Sept. 28, the French ambassador to Korea, Phillipe Thiebaud, presented the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite to Kwon Gee-chan, the chief executive of Wearfun International Inc. in recognition of his contribution to disseminating French culture in Korea through French fashion. For Mr. Kwon, 54, the introduction of French fashion to Korea goes back to the early 1980s when he first began importing the Kenzo brand. South Korea may now be teeming with global luxury goods and services, but two decades ago when the country was socially volatile and politically unstable, luxury fashion was viewed as a “social evil,” causing boycotts in the street. A self-proclaimed born-fashionista, who says he finds “immeasurable pleasure in shopping,” Mr. Kwon established Wearfun International Inc. in 1986, specializing in importing European luxury brands. The company is credited with importing and distributing a number of labels, including Kenzo, Sonia Rykiel, Christian Lacroix, Claude Montana and John Galliano through local department stores and duty-free stores. From 1994 to 1997, Mr. Kwon served as president of the Korea Import Association.
During his congratulatory speech, the French ambassador acknowledged Mr. Kwon’s advisory roles for the French chamber of commerce and the French embassy. Before the French honor last week, Mr. Kwon, a graduate of Hankook University of Foreign Studies and Yonsei University Graduate School, was most proud of a letter of commendation from President Roh Moo-hyun, on the occasion of celebrating the 41st Trade Day on Nov. 30, 2004. The ceremony at the French embassy in central Seoul was informal, with a throng of French diplomats and Mr. Kwon’s friends and supporters, who included Kim Chang-jun, a former U.S. Congressman; Park Il-hwan, a Supreme Court justice; and Jeon Yeo-ok, a Grand National Party member. Mr. Kwon, who was dressed in a gray pinstriped suit, told the guests that the occasion was by far “the most honorable and emotional” moment since he received his honor from the Korean president.
New vodka aimed at absolutely everybody
A bottle of Absolut Vodka might be found in dormitory freezers in Korea soon. For a long time, the imported vodka has been a decorative item at upscale bars or locked away in Dad’s drinks cabinet. When the latest addition to the family of Absolut Vodka, the peach-flavored Absolut Apeach, was introduced to Koreans, its launch marked a dramatic change.
When the event took place last week, the venue surprised many vodka lovers, who often associate vodka with luxurious and fashionable high culture. Instead of a trendy bar in the posh neighborhood of Gangnam, frequented by the capital’s stylish set, the vodka promotion went public at a modest bar near Hongik University, northwest Seoul, whose casual and rugged atmosphere caters to college students and young office workers.
“Yes, it’s very different,” said a local organizer, glancing at the guests queueing to get into the Ho Bar around 10 p.m.
The Swedish spirit and its hip advertising campaigns were introduced to Korea with the production of the “Absolut Seoul” image in Sept. 2003. Styled after the world-famous Ice Bar in Stockholm, a gate in the shape of the Absolut Vodka bottle wowed trendsetters who got to sample cocktails served in glasses carved from ice. Sleek campaigns and art exhibits in happening venues made the brand even more chic.
Scott Chorna, Absolut Vodka’s Asia-Pacific director based in Hong Kong, said the brand saw 15 to 20 percent growth in sales last year, and is expecting another 20 percent growth this year. “I think it’s because Absolut Vodka is a strong brand and Korean consumers like to be associated with the brand and its image, although vodka still has a very small share in the market ― you know, Koreans drink soju and whiskey,” said Mr. Chorna, who visited Seoul for the press launch last month. The change for the brand’s events to a bar in the university district followed a strategy for penetration of the Korean market: Start with the city’s core opinion leaders, followed by surrounding districts and finally, aim for all.
At Ho Bar, Absolut Vodka was treated not like a pair of the latest Gucci shoes, but more as a utilitarian ingredient for popular drinks, which local bartenders in T-shirts and jeans taught customers how to mix. When they tossed around the vodka for prizes, shouting “Hey, a 150,000 won [$135] bottle!,” mainstream Korea became more open to imported vodka ― casual, easy to drink and even affordable.
by Ines Cho