korean fashion

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!

Why Street Fashion Is Part of the "Creative Economy" and Will Be the Next Part of the "Korean Wave"

This is a high-resolution scan from the inaugural piece in this series on fashion culture, which was published on Sunday, May 8, 2016. 

This is a high-resolution scan from the inaugural piece in this series on fashion culture, which was published on Sunday, May 8, 2016. 

Preface: My Original Title was "Why Street Fashion Is Sociologically Important", but a lot got changed in the process. A translator -- Korea University professor of Sociology Oh Ingyu --  did the Korean. 

Much to my surprise, I have become known as a street fashion photographer. In my academic work, i have mixed in my photography to call myself a “visual sociologist.” Even though I do a lot of “street fashion photography,” I don not consider myself a fashion person because I am actually not interested in clothing as fashion objects. I am more interested in clothing as wearable cultural texts that are important because clothing, taken as wearable cultural texts, is quite a special thing, a category worthy of special consideration.

Clothing is special in that it is inherently personal in how the wearer makes an active choice to participate in a public, semiotic conversation in which fashion items not only have cultural meaning, but the items themselves are chosen as part of a statement that says something about the wearer. Fashion items are individual objects possessed of various meanings that have been societally assigned to them, much like words within a language, with the wearer choosing to construct these various objects into a greater whole, much like a speaker constructs words s/he learned elsewhere into a sentence. There are grammatical rules that govern the sentences we make, such that they are understandable to other speakers of the language, but we are free to make the statements we want. We can play with the rules, make puns, construct poems, or even choose to obfuscate meaning for rhetorical purposes. And there are myriad styles of speech, some formal, some filled with slang, and some that even purposely violate grammar and usage rules so as to make a certain kind of point. But inevitably, we tend to know what the speaker is trying to say, even if it is unconventional or even sometimes difficult to decipher. And it is sometimes in the violation of these rules, or their reworking or purposeful misapplication, that the fun in language lies.

What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And totake 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 the only 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. 

I found this young woman, Gyu-eun, a 3rd-year high school student presently in the final stretch of preparing for the all-important Korean college entrance exam coming up this November 17th, of particular interest this past Seoul Fashion Week (SS 2016) mostly because of her inversion of a basic piece of fashion grammar by her wearing of her shirt backwards. It is a surprising choice, and technically "wrong" (bad fashion grammar), but it works quite well and naturally to the point that I did not consciously notice the choice until I had already decided to start shooting her. Subconsciously, I may have noticed something peculiar, as it may have caused my initial interest in her look, but it was not a conscious reason I chose to photograph her. Her goal of appearing fashionable and unique (despite her having gotten the idea from the fashion pop icon Kim Na Young) was accomplished, but with "bad" fashion grammar. Still, it succinctly and successfully conveys the point, and with a great deal of eloquence that cannot be conveyed with mainstream, "proper" grammar. 

Fashion is sociology-in-motion, is a sartorial text worn and displayed on the body, and is more than just a mode of consumption, but is a social conversation that is even possessed of a discernible grammar. In any case, it is certainly indicative of social change, and especially in Korea's case, a marker of how definitions of gender and the modes of its performance are shifting, how basic social norms are metamorphasizing faster than many people can make sense of. And it is through street fashion photography -- the visual medium -- that one can track the actual markers of these changes in a concrete, presentable way, as raw visual data. 

Therefore, our project looks at Korean street fashion primarily through the lens of sociology and takes up closely looking at Korean fashion not out of any interest in the pieces of cloth themselves, their branding, prices, or their sale, but rather out of interest in considering their importance as social texts, as ways of knowing how identity is constituted, communicated, and consumed, and how this changing discourse marks significant patterns of social and cultural change.

In short, I am interested in fashion objects as part of a greater discourse, a greater social conversation. And in this way, we see the official event of Seoul Fashion Week as important now because of its accidental role in the formation of what we see as far more culturally important: a social institution centered around fashion, what I like to call “Seoul Street Fashion Week.” In fact, my main reason for regularly covering SFW these days is to cover the street fashion. And I am not the only one.  The movers and shakers in this sartorial community are of tantamount importance now, of greater interest to the overseas fashion press than the shows themselves, as recent stories filed about Korean fashionin both the NYT and Vogue USA (both of which completely ignored the runway shows) demonstrate. They’re concerned with the Korean paepi.

In short, the new Korean paepi (패션피플=패피=Korean for "fashion people" or its shortening pae +pi) are engaged in a creative remixing of sartorial grammar on both the individual and group levels.  In this sense, they are being quite creative as they express their individuality in a social space that has been long regulated by not just other members of society, but by even the state itself. The sartorial realm has become both a site of identity assertion and contestation for paepi youth, complicated yet even more by the consumptive and commercial nature of fashion as a social endeavour. 

Their power isn't in each one being the best dresser ever, or being completely original, but in the act of dressing up itself, in the choice to create a new identity related to the consumption and wearing of clothing. From this culture of consumption, they've created a new class of creative consumption, of asserting identity through clothing in a way new to Korean society.

In this sense, the creative act here Like a 1930's jazz musician in a club, or a early 1980's rapper performing at a local block party, it's not just what they're performing, but the social bravery in the performance that sets the paepi apart, that gives the creative act of riffing or remixing meaning. This is the source of a new kind of creativity in Korean society, a real part of a “creative economy” that is completely missed in the idea that creativity can only be found in traditional institutions and hierarchies such as large jaebeol or large, well-funded professional organizations. The next part of the “Korean Wave” will be found in organic, underground cultures such as the so-called “paepi” as opposed to the runway, in dark, dirty, underground hip hop clubs playing “trap music” as opposed to the military-like training regimes of entertainment conglomerates, and in street food stalls that only take cash within a shadow economy, as opposed to the official food campaigns of large companies trying to package Korean food like western fast food franchises. This is not the culture that will sell overseas; in the new Youtube-enabled, reality TV-influenced media culture, people want the Real. They want authenticity. Culture packaged in plastic isn’t going to go far in the future. We need to look at the cultures of the street right in front of our eyes. 

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 SELCAtorial: The Sukajan Jacket

The "selfie" has become a ubiquitous part of our smartphone camera-enhanced, Internet-superconnected, instantly shareable, memeable, happy-enough-to-be-Upworthy, socially mediated Hyperreality. While the West thinks it invented the "selfie" with the advent of the Apple smartphone and all its technological progeny, it was actually either in Japan (if you query Japanese sources) or South Korea (if you ask the Koreans, or Samsung), and I know for a fact that Koreans were doing SELCA (SELf-CAmera) as far back as 2004, since I was always taking pictures of them doing it, anywhere and all the time, while Americans and Europeans were still obsessing over their Nokias.

Seoul, circa 2004. 

Seoul, circa 2004. 

I'll just say it outright. Ain't nobody on ERF better than Koreans -- especially Korean women -- at SELCA. If SELCA were an Olympic event, Korean women would dominate that shit more than they do women's archery today. Now, it's tough to explain why Korean women are so good at archery in any reasoned, logically compelling way, but talking about Korean young people and their photographic practices is something that can be reasonably and easily explained. 

Seoul, 2008. 

Seoul, 2008. 

Korean photographic practices amongst youth have developed into a highly developed habitus (in the sociological theory of Bourdieau, a set of skills/habits/abilities that are ingrained and become a skillset that allows for utilization in life as a part of what he calls embodied social capital) after having grown up in an era of Internet, free Photoshop, and ubiquitous cellphone cameras) that developed in a culture of the selfie, as beauty portrait studios, cosplay cafes, and studios have been ubiquitous in korea since the turn of the millennium and that's all true without even getting to the advent of the sticker picture machines coming out of Japan after 1995.

The "sticker picture" is a fixture in the photographic development of Korean youth who now find themselves in their twenties, especially for young women. Beginning with the importation and popularity of large sticker picture booths from Japan after their invention and rise in popularity in 1995.  (Terashita et al, 87) Called purikura (for the Japanese pronunciation of purinto kurabu or "print club")(Simonitch), this photographic practice is as purely Japanese as it is linked to subculture and fashion cultures in Japan (Groom, 194). The photographic practice is still alive and well in Japan, as well as the many countries in Asia, including Korea, where "sticker picture" booths and their offspring are still ubiquitous fixtures of many public venues of consumptive socialization. The influence of sticker picture practices can still be seen in the many smartphone apps of today that allow users to add cute symbols, frames, and designs to their pictures before they are shared on social media networks. 

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

Paepi  Yoojin's sticker picture collection, a memento she's kept over the years. 

Paepi Yoojin's sticker picture collection, a memento she's kept over the years. 

This is a record not just of Yoojin's friends, but a record of both her maturity and a cultivated and constructed curated self that is confident in front of the camera and is an ongoing practice of knowing one's "good side" and other falttering poses and angles. 

This is a record not just of Yoojin's friends, but a record of both her maturity and a cultivated and constructed curated self that is confident in front of the camera and is an ongoing practice of knowing one's "good side" and other falttering poses and angles. 

This has been going on since far before the time of millennial Yoojin. This twenty-something woman was availing herself of the beautifying services of "Star Wallet" in 2002, when places where young women got magazine-style headshots of themselves were quite popular. 

This has been going on since far before the time of millennial Yoojin. This twenty-something woman was availing herself of the beautifying services of "Star Wallet" in 2002, when places where young women got magazine-style headshots of themselves were quite popular. 

Ithe "dress cafe," this one being in the Ehwa Women's University area, were places that mixed cosplay with gendered social fantasy. 

Ithe "dress cafe," this one being in the Ehwa Women's University area, were places that mixed cosplay with gendered social fantasy. 

OK -- I think we're all caught up now. Pureé this all this together in a Vitamix set on high and add to that ooze of photographic habitus the smartphone, Cyworld, Facebook, Twitter, and the hope of social network service-enabled Instafame, and you get to Korean girl in 2016 level. And in the hyper-competitive, show-me-the-money-and-results, lookism-on-digital-crack, social environment that is South Korean culture, the best-of-the-best is pretty damn good.

Since I came across model/style figure Seon-woo SONG and thought to myself that she was a paepi with the SELCA chops to feature as a pictorial in a magazine, so that's what I decided to do. I've decided that since she already produces mini-pictorials on fashion items and trends in her own Facebook and Instagram feeds, I'd just let her do what she does best and repackage her stuff in a context that makes it easier to digest if you're not living in their world. We will get to her in a bit. Almost there. 

The first item we are going to look at in Seon-woo's pictorial is the sukajan (SUKA as in the Japanese city Yokosuka and JAN as in the Japanese mispronunciation of a "jumper"-- janpa). This item, of course, has been popular with the cool kids for years, and heavily associated with gangster/tough guys/subculture youth in Japan since forever, but is a thing on Korean streets and runways now. 

The Shemiste show from this past Seoul Fashion Week FW 2016 was rocking both the baseball jacket and sukajan style, with the long sleeve thing going on these days, a thing that is bouncing around the Seoul street as well. Love how they made this jacket a mini-dress.

The Shemiste show from this past Seoul Fashion Week FW 2016 was rocking both the baseball jacket and sukajan style, with the long sleeve thing going on these days, a thing that is bouncing around the Seoul street as well. Love how they made this jacket a mini-dress.

Rocking that baseball/ sukajan  thing with the white tennis skirt. 

Rocking that baseball/sukajan thing with the white tennis skirt. 

Now, finally, to Seon-woo. I'll start her off with her picture with her in a baseball jacket-style thing, punctuated with a Japanese beverage. Cuz she's about to get all Japanese sukajan on us (even though she noted to me that it's not a "real" one, but one constructed in the bowels of Dongdaemun and sold through one of the private-branded hives there and is a Koreanized version of the look and theme, which generally includes dragons and fire and such things, as opposed to pink love hearts).

Behold -- the Korean-style sukajan, with cute flowers an colors that would do a Korean girl proud. 

Behold -- the Korean-style sukajan, with cute flowers an colors that would do a Korean girl proud. 

It's interesting to see the same  sukajan  idea done on a shirtdress but with Korean traditional art motifs. And now, it's noticeably  girly , not tough-guy. 

It's interesting to see the same sukajan idea done on a shirtdress but with Korean traditional art motifs. And now, it's noticeably girly, not tough-guy. 

I'm gonna finish off this piece with a bit of polish, with the same Korean-style sukajan modeled by our other model, Hajeong KO and shot by Zoomsniper, albeit in a very different style. Here are a couple shots.

It's interesting how a style that (apocryphally) originated with American soldiers stationed in Japan, then Japanese gangsters, then a tough-guy, Japanese counterculture got picked up and Koreanized for female sartorial consumption. 

It's interesting how a style that (apocryphally) originated with American soldiers stationed in Japan, then Japanese gangsters, then a tough-guy, Japanese counterculture got picked up and Koreanized for female sartorial consumption. 

Of course, that means sporting a pink/lavender heart. 

Of course, that means sporting a pink/lavender heart. 

And the Korean version doesn't want to kick you in the teeth, it just wants to let you "love again."

And the Korean version doesn't want to kick you in the teeth, it just wants to let you "love again."

SELCA SUKAJAN MODEL: Seonwoo SONG
SELCA SUKAJAN PHOTOGRAPHER: The model herself
SELCA SUKAJAN MAKEUP/HAIR: The model herself

STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN MODEL: Hajeong KO
STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN PHOTOGRAPHER: Zoomsniper
STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN MAKEUP/HAIR: The model herself

STREET FASHION SHIRTDRESS MODEL: Gayoung KIM

STICKER PICTURES: Yoojin
 

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

On the Inestimably Great Importance of Shooting Seoul "Street Fashion" Slow and Proper

As with anything worth declaring aloud and to a wide audience, it is best to just come out with it, in a straightforward manner. Towards this end, that is what I will do here. Put simply, most "street fashion" photographers at SFW who "shoot in natural light" always do so because they really have little other choice, with that decision being bounded mostly by the fact that they do not, in fact, know how to use a flash properly, let alone creatively, and to positive creative effect.

I came into this game as a photographer and academic doing street phototography as social documentary, and then moved in the direction of documenting what women were wearing as a way of looking at changing gender role norms, the performance of gender in the Butlerian sense, and then at items of clothing specifically. So when I do what are essentiall "environmental portraits" that happen to include take up sartorial concerns, I worry first about the background and then how that background is having a conversation with the subject. I worry about context first, the subject's personality second, and the clothing last. And in the big picture, I am trying to capture something about Korean society beyond just the rags hanging on the subject's body. 

Most of the problem with "street fashion" lies, seemingly paradoxically, in the name, in the emphasis on fashion. It also lies in the fact that most street fashion in Korea is done by fashion-oriented people who, quite frankly, don't know the first thing about a camera. To me, that is a bit suspect. I'm not trying to be a dick about this, but if you're a "street fashion photographer," you should know what shutter and aperture do.  You should know what aperture f-stops do in relation to flash brightness. I don't think this is arrogant to say I think it is all quite reasonable fact, a reality for an ostensible professional photographer, of runway, of street, of documentary, of anything. We forget, all too quickly aand easily, in our rush to be Instagram-famous and respected for one's intellectual or artistic prowess, that the root word of professional or say, a professor, is to "profess"-- in essence, to know something well. Here's my problem with "street fashion photography in Korea, cribbed from the top pictures in a Google image search for "ddp street fashion korea."

Some of these have appeared in Vogue, even. Frankly, as a photographer, I am constantly surprised at how low the standards are for street fashion photography. But I am obviously biased and would feel this way as a photographer with an interest beyond just the clothes, but I still fail to see what's interesting about models -- people who've won the genetic lottery and are in the top 1 percentile of desirability and appearance in society -- wearing clothing that is considered the top of the local field in which they find themselves -- I found it hard to believe that the pictures are so damn boooorrrrrring. It's obviously not the model nor the clothing, so what else is there? 

It's lazy "photographers" who are making the same mistake made in the street fashion photography field in 1990s Japan. In that case, too, people fetishized the clothing, which was often incredibly wonderful and whimsical, but yet, in being focused on the clothing only, it's all we remember about Japanese street fashion. No one remembers the photographers, nor much specifically about Japanese society and culture. And there's a reason for this. It was, in the aggregate and retrospect, a mindless act of slavishly recording pieces of cloth on random human bodies. Amateur street fashion photographers in Korea -- and especially at Seoul Fashion Week since around 2013 -- seem to be engaged in this slavish documentation style of photography. In fact, it would be safe to say that the same thing is happening to street fashion photography as happened to fashion show photography, since there was a major change from the style of small, intimate affairs for a select group of people who had no idea what they were about to see and the photographers who documented the clothing there according to myriad, individual photographic styles, to the present, mechanical style of runway photography in an age of a corporatized fashion industry and the photographers who shoot in its service, with little room for photographic expression and whose main photographic imperative is that of unvaried, robotic consistency for lookbook editors who want each leg at the same angle, an unvarying consistency in lighting, et cetera

Guy Marineau for CHristian Dior in 1998.

Guy Marineau for CHristian Dior in 1998.

An Lie Sang Bong show from Getty Images in 2015. 

An Lie Sang Bong show from Getty Images in 2015. 

Something similar is happening in "street fashion" photography, which is so much about the fashion that it has forgotten that it really isn't done in the street anymore, in any real sense. In the case of SFW, it is telling that this simple and obvious fact is forgotten about as photographers run out to "do street" in a Dongdaemun Design Plaza area that is as far removed from street as imaginable, the "street fashion runway" being a concrete area nestled deep within the complex itself, surrounded is a sea of featureless concrete and steel walls, with only a small window of sky even visible. to provide "natural light." It is just about the worst place imaginable to shoot real, lived culture in the original sense of the "street" that one can imagine. Essentially, the DDP is a hermetically sealed, culturally sterilized zone of spatial homogeneity. Which is exactly why it has become so popular with Korean amateur street fashion photographers, especially in the age of hallyu. This is because hallyu itself privileges cultural commercialization that presents "culture" in hermetically sealed, sterile, semiotically homogenous, stylistically pasteurized packaging that allows for ease and consistency in production, packaging, and even (perhaps especially) its final, finished form. This seems to be why the DDP lower entrance area has become a place popular for "street" fashion photography that isn't anywhere close to the street. This fact reflects a very Korean way of handling cultural packaging and presenting itself to the outside world. Just as with most hallyu cultural products, both the process of production and the final product must be finely and minutely controlled, with almost no room for error, and unfortunately individual creative expression. Because to insert one's on style on the product requires veering dangerously off a safe, well-traveled course, which is uncomfortable and requires a specific confidence enough to do so at least, but also the technical skills to do so as well, which are often quite lacking in the kind of photographer who is not only perfectly comfortable shooting what everyone else is shooting, but actually prefers to do so. 

It nearly goes without saying that I will be comparing the uninspired and mechanical style of street fashion photography in the DDP concrete studio negatively against my own. 

This image is interesting on several levels. First, because girl is wearing her shirt backwards. And second because it totally works. And third, it's fascinating that a Korean 2nd year high school girl is so STUDIED a omin her command of media representat

That being said, my assertion here is not that I am the best street fashion photographer ever, but simply that I am an actual photographer, possessed of the technical skills and inclination to turn random people I meet on the street and the environments in which I find them into powerful images with palpable visual impact and are full of style – a style, my own, in particular – to the point that anyone can look at one of my photographs and say "John Smith took that." Or, "That is defineitely a John Smith picture." That should be the goal of any photographer engaged in real artistic production. And if street fashion photography is indeed an artistic endeavor to any extent, with photographers engaged in it calling themselves professionals with picture that are their signature, one look at a picture should invoke the photographer's name. If you can't do that, you're not doing your job as a photographer. Also, if one looks at an image and can't identify the location (especially in something called "Korean street fashion"), what's the point. Good street photography should be an equal balance of the street (environment) and the photograph (the subject and clothing) in relation to one another. It's what's called an "environmental portrait", after all, and is an old, established genre of portrait. Photographers – doing street fashion, documentary, formal portraiture, whatever – should at least know these basic things. Because it's not just about the clothing and who's wearing them. Because fashion isn't just about clothing; fashion is part of a larger conversation, it is a cultural text, it is about social norms and value, social structures, all in the big picture, defined as what we call culture. If you can't see all that in a street fashion picture taken in Korea, something major is missing. 

Keep boing into sitting girls I think are like some kinda somebody, like some highfalutin', rootin' tootin' high roller, but it turns out to be a high school student who knows how to dress tack sharp and come bask in the fashion Sunshine at SFW. SHE's a f
"This is how we Duier it..."

Since the "street" at SFW has essentially been turned into a runway, there isn't much photographic variation or real, long-lasting creativity. This lack of longevity in the street fashion photography field does not bode well for the prospects of Korean fashion, in the end. And it should be of concern to professional photographers who take either their own creative prospects or the promotion of Korean culture as a central concern in their work. 

This is not what we want, street photography turned into a runway, separated from the street, done out of convenience and to bolster one own's sense of authority as a photographer. In my case, at any rate, this isn't the kind of photography I want to be hemmed into doing. 

Because real street is in the street, not locked in a concrete shooting gallery below ground. And it needs to say something, has to have VISUAL PUNCH

Sometimes people say my pictures are too pregnant with an obvious male gaze. I don't disagree with that. I just don't deny that it's there and I use it to connect with those possessed of a desire to be gazed at. And if one is interested in constructions o

If you're not actually in the street, in culture, in context, and talking beyond just the broader boundaries of mere clothing, you're not saying much that will be remembered after the season is over. And even in within the boundaries of the concrete DDP complex, one can still shoot interestingly:

Keep boing into sitting girls I think are like some kinda somebody, like some highfalutin', rootin' tootin' high roller, but it turns out to be a high school student who knows how to dress tack sharp and come bask in the fashion Sunshine at SFW. SHE's a f

In this age of carefully cultivated and curated identities, politically correct trepidation, the digital discount that the ease and speed of photographic production produces in the value of images themselves, not to mention the commercial incentive to please the most people and get the most "LIKES", along with the mechanization of the productive processes themselves, there isn't much room left for a truly distinctive photographic style anymore, as contradictory as that may sound in a field that deals with fashion. But that's where this all has brought us. Still, any effort to keep things real, especially when looking at fashion items, must be protected. After all, what's the best way to deal with an outfit in which socks and sandals are the main point of the look? You focused on what's important, even as you try to present an aspect of the subject's character and personality in context. And sometimes, this means taking a photographic subject "off the grid" and away from the maddening crowd, lowering the camera to a crazy angle, and letting the shutter fly. And you end up letting an ongoing conversation between colors, character, and composition make a picture pop off the screen. 

Repeat customer this season, Hyeran from yesterday was rockin Dim e Cres to three favorite show that day, the high fashion version of the street brand. Cres E. Dim.  She is quite the fashion trooper. And quite a model. She was deserving of the red carpet