Underwear emerges from the shadows
Ever since the 1990s, when Courtney Love sported a rag-doll look, wearing nothing but big red lips and a stark white slip, the boundary separating underwear from outerwear has become very thin. It now seems like the line will vanish altogether.
Looking through a rack of neon-colored swimsuits at the Galleria department store, Kim Ji-eun, 27, revealed her own summer fashion tip. “I’ve been wearing halter-style bikini tops in pretty colors under summer dresses. The little bow on the back [of the swimsuit, made when she ties the loose ends around the neck] makes a great accent and it does double duty as a bra.”
Kim, a fashion-hungry Seoul girl, went on to disclose more underwear secrets as she walked out of the department store.
“Do you remember when Winona Ryder wore a bright red bra under a white tank top during an award show and the straps showed?” she said, with a smile. “To tell the truth, I’ve been copying that look all summer.”
Looking around the Apgujeong area recently, it seemed that Kim wasn’t the only one.
Han Hye-seong, 25, was wearing a flowy peasant skirt with a loose top, under which her colorful bra straps were strategically placed to be noticed.
“Five years ago, these [straps] would have been clear. But now, I hardly ever see clear straps being sold,” she said.
Until recently, Kim and Han did their underwear shopping at Internet sites which stock foreign underwear labels like Victoria’s Secret.
“I couldn’t find underwear made by Korean labels which had any pretty patterns, bold colors or high-fashion elements,” said Kim.
It seems as though Korean companies are finally catching up. The triad of underwear brands ― Try Brands, BYC and Taechang, have faltered, making room for new names. The triad’s standard white, black and beige selections with a small variety of designs couldn’t withstand the new wave of outer/inner wear. By 2005, Try Brands’ sales had fallen from 220 billion won ($24.2 million) in 2003 to 129 billion won. BYC’s sales also went down significantly, from 182.5 billion won in 2003 to 151 billion won in 2005. Taechang sold their underwear division to E-Land in 2005.
In their place, a new triad have emerged, including E-Land World (with brands like Roem, Who.A.U and Hunt), Yeshin Persons (including brands like Maru, Codes Combine and Noton) and Good People (with Bodyguard and James Dean).
Yeshin Persons was in the forefront of this new group with Maru Underwear (a domestic sportswear brand) in 2004.
“Maru Underwear features casual lingerie with a bit of a fashion edge and it targets women from 19 to 25,” said Lim Sae-un, a Maru media representative.
Following the initial success of this brand, the company made another underwear line ― Codes Combine ― which also stems from one of their sportswear brands. This line, targeting people in their 20s and 30s, includes underwear with bohemian and vintage-inspired elements like fringes and neutral tones. The two underwear lines alone made the company 45 billion won in 2005.
E-Land World has been following a similar path. Besides Hunt Underwear and The Day Underwear, they launched Body Pop and Petite Lin, the former for teenagers and the latter for kids under 10. Both have been a great success.
Good People launched underwear lines which target women in their late teens to 20s, including Sugar Free and Sexy Cookie.
One factor behind the success of these lines is their affordability. Along with the growing popularity of affordable cosmetics lines like Missha and The Face Shop, these underwear lines provide a sense of adventure at prices that do not involve the risk of a big investment. “Customers feel free to take risks and buy colorful items with patterns instead of your basic white or skin-colored underwear because these items are so affordable,” said an E-Land representative.
Along with domestic brands, underwear brands from other countries have also been selling well.
Women’s Secret, an underwear brand from Spain, was introduced in late 2005, with its first shop in Apgujeong-dong.
“Underwear is no longer hidden beneath clothes and consumers are now more daring and wear colorful, showy underwear. We decided to bring in this brand to meet these needs,” said Kim Hyun-hwa, the brand’s assistant marketing manager. “Customers are smarter as well. They don’t want cheap material or poor tailoring. Underwear nowadays has to be fashionable and practical with a reasonable price tag.”
Choi Young-jip, head of Princess TamTam Korea, an underwear brand based in France, agrees. “Customers not only look for good designs, but also for underwear that is a good fit for their body. So material and cut are very important.”
These factors have led to some adjustments in tailoring.
“We have introduced a line of bras and panties just for the Asian market for this fall/winter season,” said Kim Hyeon-hwa at Women’s Secret. “The panties in this line support the hips, with more coverage, as opposed to thongs or Brazilian-style pieces which are popular in Europe.”
Adding to this boom are celebrities who have launched their own underwear lines through home shopping, the Internet or off-line stores.
Actress Park Jeong-su launched Sooanae last year, an underwear line targeting middle-aged women which offers stylish yet form-flattering foundation garments.
Next was actress Hwang Shin-hae with Elypry, which was first offered through Hyundai home shopping but branched out to CJ home shopping this year.
Actress Hyeon Yeong and actress/singer Um Jeong-hwa both used their sexy image to full advantage by launching underwear lines this year.
“Finally, there are now lots of choices [for underwear] in Korea.” said Kim Ji-eun as she flipped her hair and continued to search for the perfect bikini/bras to match her new shoes. Reporting by Lee Eun-joo
By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]