Most people of course would say France (Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Pigalle, Lacoste, etc) and Italy (Gucci, Armani, Moncler, Fendi, ellesse, Prada, Miu Miu, Versace, etc)(1). However, during this past decade we’ve seen major shifts in global influences. Particularly towards Korea!
To quote one source from 7 years ago, “American Vogue has never featured an Asian model on its cover in 40-plus years…” which now is a thing of the past, we’ve now been hearing the name “Korea” in fact daily concerning fashion and beauty and on the cover or tongue regularly of every fashion related form of media (2)(3)! And shopping displays! Not just for K-Pop but for Korea’s thriving fashion industry! Yes, thriving!
Not just competition!
Just as important as its competitive edge is its voracious consumption of all things fashion, Korea isn’t the only beneficiary of all that consumption, France and Italy’s fashion establishments are major suppliers of Korea’s consumption. It’d be interesting to see how many dollars from the 4th largest economy in Asia are going to the various fashion centers of the world! To quote Allure, “What makes Korean fashion so different, the pace at which its consumers absorb the latest products is faster than you can say ‘trend’. (4)”
Hollywood has been capitalizing on Korea’s powerful spending for several decades already. It’s no secret that Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio are just a few of the regulars at Seoul’s downtown celebrity fests and that the so-called Korean Wave which “had an estimated USD 11.6 billion boost on the Korean economy” in 2014 alone (5)! This wave now in fact is old news and today is the norm!
Yes, Korea has taken over the world in many aspects. Winning our hearts first more than 60 years ago when the whole world came together under the UN to rescue Korea from its northern neighbors at the cost of nearly a quarter of a million men’s lives, but also winning our hearts with its great culture, people who are not vindictive, having embraced peace with its historical nemesis Japan for example when in 2000 it partly lifted a 50-year ban on the exchange of popular culture (5). And reaching out to its northern enemies, and doing vast amounts of business with China and all of Asia. Benefiting the whole world with its unmatchable talents (6)(7).
Korea is now the world’s 11th largest economy and 6th largest exporter. It is home, not only to some of the world’s most famous household brands, from cars to smartphones, but to the K-pop and fashion wave that has seduced young people everywhere. No wonder people refer to Korea’s transformation as “the Miracle on the Han River” (8).
“Although they’re not part of the main cabal of shows (Milan, Paris, and New York), Seoul Fashion Week is quickly becoming one of the most interesting and inspiring destinations for editors and style spectators all over the world (9).”
Doing the impossible…
A country that didn’t even fit into the top ten charts just a decade ago is suddenly be on the front cover of Vogue magazine, and others, consistently! I suspect that there’s more to it than just fashion sense. The people of Korea have an intense desire to get ahead in life. They take life seriously. They’re basically on an island even if they consider it a peninsula because in fact North Korea is blocking them from the mainland and they’re surrounded by traditionally isolationist nations of China, Russia, and their historical nemesis Japan.
And so you have this feeling of seriousness, competition, and yet at the same time the people of Korea work together, like a family. They literally feel like they’re all in this together like one great family. Their united spirit is incomparable. They love duty to nation. It goes beyond pride. Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism but also in human nature we love belonging, we love being loved, and not being alone. In Korea you won’t meet as many lonely people as you would in western nations where family is being destroyed.
And when talking about fashion which in essence is an aspect of beauty, and saying that it’s at an all time high in Korea, then it’s no coincidence that Korea is also home to the top plastic surgeons in the world (10). Millions of tourists visit Korea each year solely for medical procedures, not just plastic surgery. Which attests not only to the high quality of plastic surgery but also any kind of medical care in Korea, its superb doctors, medicine, and advanced hospital industry (11). Which certainly makes a person feel safer when visiting a clinic in Korea even if just for plastic surgery. Korea takes everything so seriously, even health.
Why So Serious?
Why are Korean designers at the top of the industry right now (12)? What’s required of a student in Korea far surpasses that in other nations. The average daily schedule for students in Korea from elementary school and into college is around 10+ hours. That would figuratively kill the average student in most first world countries. In America I think 8 hours was the max, if I can remember correctly, and that included a 1 hour lunch break, and gym time. In Korea I’ve heard that they get 30 minutes or less.
And usually their studies end at around midnight. And when in high school that increases to the wee hours of the morning. The parents ingrain such a sense of urgency into a Korean child, concerning test scores, that Korea has the highest suicide rates among students than any other nation in the world.
And to prove that it’s not Romeo and Juliet or relationship related woes, the average marriage age in Korea is 31, not like in America where it’s teenage years. In Korea the purpose of school isn’t to find true love. The definition of love in Korea is very different from its western allies. Focus, determination, excellence, even perfection is what Korea loves most, not puppy love.
It’s also no coincidence that Korea is in the top 10 charts for makeup companies (13). Not just plastic surgery, not just music, not just movies, not just fashion. Literally they’re in the top 10 chart for almost every industry, and that’s globally!
But how is this possible? How did a small nation like Korea surrounded by traditionally isolationist nations, of which Korea was one also, become a leader in today’s world? Koreans have been leaders of some of the world’s top leadership positions such as UN UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook. Korea hosted several summits (G20, APEC), and Olympics,
Something to be learned from Korea:
First of all to be in the top 10 of the world you need to take life and everything very seriously. Even your family. Even your nation. Second you need to have a strong support group, not just your family but also your community and nation. You need to be a true member of that group, everyone supporting everyone.
Even in politics…
I’ve noticed that the government in Korea is truly democratic in that the leaders truly represent the people because if they don’t the people literally rise up and force change which is a difficult and dangerous thing to do in most countries but in Korea, in spite of the dangers, it’s the norm.
Democracy Korean style…
Don’t be surprised to see chairs stacked to the roof and on fire as Senators fist fight with each other for what is right! When in Korea they say it’s a government by the people, they’re not kidding. And when somebody says “Han River Miracle” tell them it wasn’t a miracle, but built by the dedication and labor of tens of millions of loyal and hard working Koreans who take life seriously. Seoul fashion isn’t just on the rise, it’s here to stay (14)!
-Ben Arnold (ChatFellow)
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(1) 10 Most Fashionable Countries
(2) The Seven Asian Models Taking Over the Fashion World — Jul 2014
(3) Vogue Magazine: Asian Women Are Beautiful (Finally) May 2011
(4) 10 of the Top Korean Fashion Labels Favored by K-pop Stars
(5) Korean Wave (Hallyu) The Rise of Korea’s Cultural Economy & Pop Culture
(6) Korea Exports Brains
(7) South Korea’s Transition from ODA Recipient to DAC Donor
(8) The OECD and Korea
(9) The Best Street Style from Seoul Fashion Week
(10) South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world — Business Insider
(11) South Korea $2 Billion Medical Tourism Market
(12) Why are Korean Designers Killing It Right Now?
(13) A bright future: South Korea ranks among the top 10
(14) Seoul fashion on the rise — CNN Style — CNN.com