Announcing: Seoul Street Fashion Week's Spring 2017 Lookbook MVP

Of all my 150+ images shot this season, I have a favorite, an M.V.P.

In this, SSFW's inaugural lookbook season, our Most Venerable Paepi award goes to SHIN Jiyoung, a 3rd-year middle school student hailing from Gangweondo, out in the west side of Korea. 

Why, do you ask, does Little Miss Shin deserve this great honor? Well, it's pretty simple -- her effort and attitude, which is all channeled through her awesomely cute outfit. 

  1. She (and her buds) came in all the way from the West Coast to do the Seoul Fashion Week thing at likely great psycic and fiscal cost as a middle schooler. 
  2. Even as many paepi older than her shy away from self-classifying with that term lest they be thought of ass arrogant or insufficiently humble, Jiyoung and her buds eagerly embrace the term and concept. As true "fashion people" (hence, pae-pi in Korean) who are obsessed with clothing and clothing culture, she certainly fits the bill, even if others might want to cast aspersions.
  3. Her concept, despite what my older Instagram caption says, is that of a "country girl" (which she technically is), unironically and straightforwardly argued through her old-fashioned, lace-encrusted Peter Pan collar, gaudy color choices, and outlandishly bright and ferociously feminine bag from Japan. She just loves it all. And her look. And it takes major gonads to walk around Fashion Week in an outfit no older, more mature and established paepi type would ever take seriously. She took a real risk. She's brave. She felt her fashion enough to possibly get snickered at. And she's in middle school. Now, that's true grit right there. 

And I just think she's a positive, smart young lady who makes me happy to know she exists and is out in her schhol with friends personifying the Revolution. It is from 3rd-year middle school kids such as Jiyoung that the change will come. This is where the true creativity lies, how great sartorial and aesthetic attention is gathered. And she did it with her clever and cute concept, some effort, and a whole lotta chutzpah. And I very much like to see that out there.

It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you, kid.  See you out there again soon!

An Elucidatively Ethnographic and Slightly Sartorial Consideration of the Foreign Ethnic Enclaves Itaewon and "Haebangchon" on Christmas Eve

제목: “The T100 Fishnets Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve, which is a romantic holiday for young people in their 20s in Korea. We caught this student couple in one of the hottest coffee shops in the area, the T100. The girl is wearing one of the biggest fashion items we saw on the street from last Seoul Fashion Week, wide fishnet stockings, along with the winter miniskirt. 



제목: “SKECHERS Eskimo & Minidress Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve, and we caught this working couple in one of the hottest areas in Itaewon, where a place once full of bars for Americn GIs in years past has now become full of coffee shops and clothing stores, along with many trendy restaurants. 

 

 

제목: “Christmas Girlfriends” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve for young working girls in their 20s, and and not just for couples. Here, 3 students in their early 20s, are having a communal Christmas date, just like many groups of young girls who meet on the holiday to help round out the year with friendship and food. Itaewon has become a place for gendered consumption, led by women in their 20s and 30s — the only Korean men you really see here these days are almost always brought there by women, often their girlfriends. 

 

 

제목: “Christmas Sisters” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve for young working girls in their 20s, and and not just for couples. Here two sisters go out on a “Christmas date” because they claim to have no boyfriends. The sister in red is studying to become a police officer, while the sister with the amazing super-short winter minidress tells us that “it is never too cold to look good.”

 

 

 

제목: “The Le Cafe Girl” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon” is the nickname for the small neighbourhood that was originally a North Korean refugee camp area after the Korean War since it was right next to the US military base. It became a haven for foreign residents, first American GIs looking for cheap, off-base housing, then for the growing ranks of foreign English teachers looking for US-style rent. Now, it’s become a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic thing to eat with their friends. And hence, fashionable people flock here nowadays. we caught this young lady, a fashion designer in her mid-20s outside a local cafe with a trendy, formal miniskirt to die for, along with the trendy black loafers
of the season. 

 

 

제목: “Hackney Girls” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught these two young ladies outside the HACKNEY coffee shop, this is absolutely the most popular one in the area for young, Korean girls in their early 20s. 

 

 


제목: “The Fancy Kobawoo Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught this couple outside the Bonny’s Pizza sports pub/pizza place, which has become the place to experience American foreignness for young Koreans. People definitely dress their best to go here, and this couple was the most dressed up in the line on Christmas Eve, which is a hard competition to win. Interestingly, formal looks can be deceiving — or at least, concealing — he’s a tattoo artist and she’s a fashion design student.

 

 

제목: “The Matching  Bonny's Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught this couple outside the Bonny’s Pizza sports pub coffee shop, which has become the place to experience American foreignness for young Koreans. It is also directly across from the most iconic place in Haebangchon, the Kobawoo Supermarket. This young couple in their mid-20s was very Korean and super-matchy in a wintery way — with coats and Adidas shoes. This is absolutely THE thing for Korean couples to do, as it publicly declares their couple status to all who can see, and this was one of the best examples of the winter, on the most romantic day of the year, in one of the most popular places for young people in Seoul these days. 

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: Spring Sogaeting with Cherry Blossoms

The Golden Mean
Too often, fashion editorials focus on only one extreme of aesthetic reality, namely the tallest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the sexiest -- all statistical outliers. But there's a very large middle range of height, style, and level of social normalcy. So we decided to do a concept on a look that really defines the dead center of a the  relatively conservative Korean women's fashion code. This idea comes from Korean comments that a lot of the paepi fashion and photographs of them are pleasant thought pieces but are so far removed from many people's sartorial and social reality that the subjects don't even seem Korean.

Which is a very Korean thing to say. But there's something to that idea. What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And to  take this line of thinking even further, what is even particularly Korean about Korean street fashion, if it's not all particularly Korean material, patterns, or even brand that we are looking at? Does this mean theonly true Korean fashion is the traditional hanbok? What is Korean fashion, really? This is the crux of the existential problem with street fashion of any kind, especially if we are looking at fashion as a window towards understanding culture. This was exactly the problem when world-reknowned street photographer Scott Schumann visited Seoul several years ago and took some shots of "Korean" street fashion. 

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Power, Politics, and Sadaejuui
What Scott Schumann surely didn't know about Korean culture was that certain key socio-historical frames of thinking were responsible for the extremely warm welcome he was given in a country where most everyday folks and fashion civilians had barely even heard of him. Korea in the modern era and for a good several centuries before it has always been afected by colonial or neo-colonial relationships with vastly more powerful sponsor states. This was true for China, which was never a conqueror or a sovereign over ancient Korea (Joseon), but a suzerain. The first great articulator (and architect) of modern Korean history, Shin Chae-ho, called this relationship (and the lackeyesque attitude/identity it engendered) sa-dae-ju-ui, a four character Chinese term that means "deference to the greater power") "Korea" had enjoyed a mostly beneficial suzerainty relationship with "China" for a huge stretch of historical time by the time imperial Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910 andofficially ended Korea's political independence and forced Korea into a traditional, exploitative colonial  relationship that would last until the Japanese empire's resource needs clashed with that of the United States, causing the ill-fated political decision to "brush back" the US with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a war that would end with the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the Japanese military empire, and suddenly thrust a newly liberated South Korea into the controlling hands of its former vanqquisher's vanquisher. To allow sadaejuui to make sense of all of this, as the greater power changed from China to Japan to the United States, the language of power changed from Chinese to Japanese to English. The race of the Powerful Ones changed, as did the ideologies which justifieda and rationalized their cultural power, and the common sense ways of making sense of the world also changed, from the pure Han Chinese ideal that overlapped quite well with Korean notions of ethnicity and aesthetics, to one that privileged the pure, Sun God Ameterasu-descended, pure Yamato race of Japan, to that of the American notion that "White is Right", since the fact that the racial hierarchy of their new occupiers mattered in how things got done and who got to do themwas not lost on Koreans. The fact that few blacks were officers were black and almost all blacks were enlisted men was not lost on Koreans, and even Korean prostitutes knew not to cross the racial lines dictated by their clientele; you either took black guys or white soldiers, not both. Add to this the powerful messages sent by Hollywood films and American television, magazines, and popular music and it makes for quite a heady Cocktail of Western Power. 

The "Global Fetish"
And yes, Koreans had to imbibe that special cocktail of geopolitical-cultural power, to drink that special flavor of the neo-colonial Kool-Aid. And it was within that general historiopsychological frame of sadaejuui that Korean national deveopment took place, with the concrete assistance and support of the USA (and former colonizer Japan, many Koreans like to conveniently forget), while that development process founf internal validation through external markers. Symbolic GDP levels of 10,000 or 20,000 per capita GDP were important psychological moments for Korea, as were the 1988 Olympics, which was both an impetus and a symbol for Korea becoming modern, or at least, being seen that way. This sadaejuui pattern of thinking backgrounded everything Koreans did on their own, internally, with validation of these efforts coming from the outside, most importantly, the White West, and even more importantly, the USA. So, as the "global" has become more than just a pipe dream and a reality for a Korea with not just a highly developed infrastructure in heavy industry, factory production, and ideologies of anti-Communism that have served the Republic well, but which now has a highly developed popular culture infrastructure in music, film, food, and fashion, there is now a discernible "global fetish" that undergirds and validates Korean cultural projects. The recent "Premium Korea" ad from the CJ group is a perfect case with which to illustrate how sadajuui has evolved into a "global fetish" (a brilliant concept articulated by scholar Kim Hyunjung) that both undergirds and validates all commercial and cultural endeavors in Korea, as well as the Korean national project itself. 

Fashion Control Groups
Hopefully, the way in which Korean street fashion is evolving in relation to the increasing international attention it enjoys should be much clearer, along with the understanding of the cultural context in which Schuman did his first work in Korea, the reception it received, and why. And hopefully, it should be clearer why identifying the KOREA in Korean street fashion photography is increasingly problematic, especially when understood within the context of how the qestion of identifying the specific and the local within a larger entity that is becoming increasingly popular by virtue of its universal appeal -- should be easier to understand. Where is the local in an entity whose popularity mostly comes from its globality? Where is the specific, the Koreanness, within an aesthetic system whose very logic and language is expressed in universal terms? Whhat I find fascinating about understanding culture through fashion in Korea is looking at aspects of Korean fashion culture that have remained essentially unchanged for decades and are largely unaffected by greater global changes in preferences, or even by many more fleeting, specific trends; certain looks and genres of clothing are like the control group in an experiment, the constant, common factor that helps place into sharp relief that thing that you're looking for. If one is concerned with Korean fashion, one has to think about this control group, the pure and unchanging Korean fashion points and what they indicate. 

This look, in it's social innocuousness, its demureness (shoulders MUST be covered!), and its sheer, unabashed femininity, is  oh, so Korean .

This look, in it's social innocuousness, its demureness (shoulders MUST be covered!), and its sheer, unabashed femininity, is oh, so Korean.

But there's a quiet charm to the girl waiting on her date under the cherry blossom tree. And it comes through despite even the thick stockings, and real fear of looking improper without something to cover her bare shoulders. Change the angle, you might catch a different nuance to the message that's being conveyed in the communicative act of fashion consumption.

But there's a quiet charm to the girl waiting on her date under the cherry blossom tree. And it comes through despite even the thick stockings, and real fear of looking improper without something to cover her bare shoulders. Change the angle, you might catch a different nuance to the message that's being conveyed in the communicative act of fashion consumption.

So I had the idea to bring the content, and not just the aesthetic, into the realm of the everyday, with the cliched concept of a photo shoot with cherry blossoms, which is something lots of Korean women want to do around this time of year. But with a specific hook. "Sogaeting (blind date) in Spring." A blindingly normal and desperately nice young lady waiting on her blind date partner, who doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon -- Korean dating culture is rife with stories of people who show up to a blind date only to be scoped out and categorically dismissed from a distance, at which point the dastardly date in question does a disappearing act resulting in a no-show from the point-of-view of the hapless, lonely soul who politely waits far past the appointed meeting time. 

Even nice ( chakhan ) Ji-hyun starts to wonder if something's amiss...

Even nice (chakhan) Ji-hyun starts to wonder if something's amiss...

News of her fate seems positive, as a non-committal message chalks the lateness up to traffic...

News of her fate seems positive, as a non-committal message chalks the lateness up to traffic...

And what might a Korean girl do with all this extra time? Selfie!

And what might a Korean girl do with all this extra time? Selfie!

SELCA (SELf CAmera/"Selfie") by Ji-hyeon (Charlene) KWON

SELCA (SELf CAmera/"Selfie") by Ji-hyeon (Charlene) KWON

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Time to kill? Strike a pose!

Time to kill? Strike a pose!

Don't think this guy is coming...

Don't think this guy is coming...

So, one must make the most of a little cherry blossom find in the middle of the city, even iff it has to be enjoyed alone. 

So, one must make the most of a little cherry blossom find in the middle of the city, even iff it has to be enjoyed alone. 

Whutchagunnado? Life gives you lemons, time to serve up some lemonade. Might as well enjoy the moment!

Whutchagunnado? Life gives you lemons, time to serve up some lemonade. Might as well enjoy the moment!

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MODEL: Ji-hyun (Charlene) KWON

STYLING: Ji-hyun (Charlene) KWON (green dress), Saet-byeol HONG (white sweater) Michael Hurt (stockings and shoes)

BRANDS: All clothing were non-brand items.

HAIR AND MAKEUP: Saet-byeol HONG

PHOTO ASSIST: Saet-byeol HONG

LOCATION: A set of benches around a cherry blossom tree outside of Samgakji Station, Exit 11

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: Mom Jeans Shorts

I'm not sure if these are actually a huge trend in Korea yet. Things that get big in Korea are sometimes hit or miss and catch on for pretty random reasons. But if model Hayoung KO and photographer Zoomsniper's street fashion editorial is any indication, prepare your eyes for a lot of oversized "mom" shorts  that will converge with a converging pair of sartorial tendencies on Seoul streets these days, one being high-waisted anything, with the other being an increasingly popular taste for overt and self-conscious normcore looks, which overlap with previous trend tendencies of Korean "boko" or "revival" (read: ironically retro) clothing that was around in Korea far before "normcore" was a thing in the west. What has in the west become seen as an "ironic" wearing of old styles as a new thing has existed in Korea as a sartorial act of nostalgia and a mixing of social and personal moments of innocence in much the same why that Earnst Haeckel famously postulated that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- that the evolutionary history of a species is recapitulated in the embryonic development of each individual organism of that species.

Or one might understand youth fashion culture in Korea in terms of the similar biological concept of neoteny, which postulates that the adult form of an organism takes as its final shape that of an increasingly younger version of that species form, or to make the analogy clearer (and quite possibly, break down completely from this point), the current fashionable form takes on an earlier version of the communal dressed self to define a sort of sartorial neoteny.

In terms of human evolution, this is why our heads in our adult form has been getting larger as we evolve, and why -- although this is obviously meant to taken only half-seriously -- jeans are getting bigger, socks thicker, and waists higher on women, even as Penny Loafers come back into fashion.

NOT  ironi in the slightest, from 2007. 

NOT ironi in the slightest, from 2007. 

All of this is being done, in 2009 near Sookmyeong Women's University, without the slightest bit of irony. 

All of this is being done, in 2009 near Sookmyeong Women's University, without the slightest bit of irony. 

But the point here is that, in Korea, none of these retro tastes are really "ironic" in the way the have to be in much of the West in order to come back -- in Korea, it is simply a harkening back to older, bygone forms that carry their own, culturally-specific and loaded connotations of innocence, youth, and nostalgia. And this is where we will let Hayeong and Zoomsniper take the reins, with their quite recent and creative take on the subject, all done without irony. Indeed, to wit: 

The idea of sexually attractive young females willingly prancing around New York City in mom jeans was so unfathomable for Eugenia Williamson that she could only come to one conclusion: The “hipsters” were doing it “ironically.” The truth is that hipsters are extinct, that irony as a lifestyle choice is over, and that the kids these days are sincere. 

This is especially true in Korea, where the so-called "normcore" of the west indeed does not have to happen in the ironic mode, which seem to be the only way nostalgia fashion is understood these days there. Enjoy this well-shot and post-produced piece, which is photographed and edited in a playfully nostalgic style worthy of the model and the clothing.

Editorial Credits and other pertinent information:

Model: Hayoung KO

Photographer: Yangi HYEON, a.k.a. Zoomsniper

Location: Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park in Mangwoo-dong, Seoul. 

Hair: Hayoung KO

Makeup: Hayoung KO

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: The Tennis Skirt

Tennis skirts have been trending on the streets of Seoul for at least a year now, without much sign of abating. SSFW photographer Zoomsniper and model Hayoung KO fill us in with their editorial shoot in the heart of fashionable Hongdae. 

Working in one of the most popular and fashionable street fashion photography locations in Seoul, the little playground in the center of the Hongik University area (known colloquially as Hongdae), model Hayoung KO and photographer Zoomsniper collaborate to document the feel of not just a particular kind of clothing, but the feel of this key neighborhood-to-know that is the kernel of Korea's most reknowned arts/fashion/subculture neighborhood, and universally regarded as the most socially open and free social space in Korea. 

And here's a few alternates, in black, just to balance things out. 

Thanks, Hayoung!

Editorial Credits and other pertinent information:

Model: Hayoung KO

Photographer: Yangi HYEON, a.k.a. Zoomsniper

Location: Hongdae

Hair: Hayoung KO

Makeup: Hayoung KO

White Tennis Skirt: THETIEKINGDOM