Samsung’s fashion maven talks future of luxury

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Samsung’s fashion maven talks future of luxury

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Lee Seo-hyun

Lee Seo-hyun, the CEO of Samsung C&T’s fashion division, remembers her company’s initial efforts to enter the global market for luxury goods as characterized by trial and error.

“To be frank, at first I thought our company would be able to enter the global luxury market as soon as we acquired a major brand,” Lee said at a speech at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference on Wednesday in the Shilla Hotel.

“I thought the brand’s history, added with Korea’s dynamic energy, would become a strong catalyst, but things didn’t turn out to be so easy. Due to a lack of experience and communication problems, we couldn’t overcome the cultural barrier [in the global market].”

The speech was the first given by Lee, who is the second daughter of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, since becoming a CEO at Samsung

The 42-year-old shared her thoughts on the future of luxury brands and markets, as well as her plans to continue supporting up-and-coming designers.

“Until now, Samsung focused only on the domestic market, but now we are turning our eyes to global markets,” Lee said. “We will elevate our global existence through investing in young and prominent designers, making new brands and continually changing to keep up with the latest market trends.”

In the second half of 2016, Samsung C&T is planning to introduce its fast-fashion brand 8seconds to the Chinese market, and it has a long history of supporting young designers through the Samsung Art and Design Institute, built in 1995, and the Samsung Fashion and Design Fund, established in 2005.

Regarding the fact that Samsung doesn’t have its own luxury brand, Lee said, “It doesn’t mean that Samsung is incompetent, it means that we were busy catching up with global trends and that we have a short history in fashion.

“Starting from now, by coming up with a unique style of our own that we can be proud of, we will be a global trend leader.”

On potential changes in the luxury market, Lee said, “The consumers of luxury goods changed from the baby-boomer generation to the millennial generation. To attract millennials who are used to social media, the marketing strategies of companies are also changing.”

Lee shared her personal story as well. “It’s been 10 years since I worked in the fashion industry and 20 years since I began buying luxury brands,” Lee said. “Thanks to my grandparents, who were avid art collectors, I spent my youth surrounded by beautiful art, and my interest in aesthetics led me to the Parsons School of Design. There, I became interested in high fashion.”

She also interacted with the audience, which laughed loudest when she told stories involving her daughter.

“I talk via messenger with my teenage daughter - even when we are together in the house,” she said.

“Seoul has a stable base laid out for a variety of beauty industries ... it is equipped with high-quality information technology infrastructure, and is culturally and geographically close to China, the largest market in the world,” Lee said. “Seoul will become the hub of luxury goods in the future.

“The core virtue behind luxury goods was timelessness, but now it seems to have changed to limitless potential. Luxury will aim for higher value thanks to the advent of state-of-the-art technology such as big data, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.”

About 500 fashion designers and CEOs from 30 nations attended the conference organized by Conde Nast International, the publisher of magazines like Vogue and GQ, and Suzy Menkes, the editor of Vogue International.

BY PARK HYUN-YOUNG[shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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