The Mother of South Korean Men’s Wear Rides the K-Wave

The Mother of South Korean Men’s Wear Rides the K-Wave

Her clothes are worn by stars like Lee Jung-Jae of “Squid Games,” Choi Woo-Shik of “Parasite” and associates of the K-pop feeling BTS. But when the South Korean manner designer Woo Young-mi manufactured her worldwide debut in 2002, couple of persons believed high-conclusion manner could come out of a nation identified for its war-torn heritage.

Ms. Woo, or Madame Woo, as she’s frequently referred to as, is arguably one of the most successful Korean designers. She is the main executive of the Reliable Corporation, a organization that controls two successful labels: Reliable Homme and Wooyoungmi. She turned the initially Korean member of the French Federation of Vogue in 2011, and her Wooyoungmi line is now a staple at luxury merchants like Le Bon Marché, Selfridges and Ssense.

Ms. Woo has lived on and off in Paris for about 20 years, and has experienced entrance row seats to South Korea’s emergence as a cultural juggernaut. It is a phenomenon that she has contributed to and benefited from during her career, she mentioned.

Born in 1959, Ms. Woo grew up in Seoul throughout a time of speedy economic growth that followed the finish of the Korean War. “The countrywide motto was ‘work tricky and are living properly,’” she stated. “Caring about manner was viewed as a social evil, specifically for adult males.”

But Ms. Woo experienced an unconventional upbringing that gave her a all-natural affinity for the arts. Her mother, an artwork teacher, dressed her and her 4 siblings in special, homemade clothes that designed them stand out at college. Her father was an architect with only occasional do the job who socialized with American soldiers, gathered scarce products and invested in his overall look. Among his belongings, she recalled, were being pieces of Bauhaus household furniture, European vogue publications and a prolonged, leather-based coat reminiscent of one Clint Eastwood could have worn.

“At that time, 95 per cent of adult men dressed the exact,” she explained. “Fathers wore suits and uniforms to their places of work and factories, but my dad expended 80 per cent of his enthusiasm on wanting superior,” she said, citing him as the explanation she finally pursued men’s don design and is frequently encouraged by art and architecture.

“Honestly, I felt ashamed by all of it — the way our dwelling was embellished, the clothing I experienced to don — but wanting back again on it now, I imagine my father was a extremely inventive, pretty amazing man or woman,” she claimed.

Inspite of her qualifications, she never considered of currently being a trend designer since, she explained, “words like ‘fashion designer’ did not exist in Korea then.” She unsuccessful to move an test for entry to regulation college, which she referred to as “fate.”

Ms. Woo mentioned she experienced “momentary illusions of genius” all over her vogue courses at Sungkyunkwan University, but it was not until finally she was invited to contend at the 1983 Osaka Manner Selection that she begun to dream big.

Hyunji Nam, the lead editor of Korean written content at Ssense, claimed that when it arrived manner, Japan and South Korea were being on quite different playing fields at the time. “By the conclusion of the 1980s, Japanese vogue was already getting identified overseas since of the function of names like Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake,” she explained. “But South Korea did not have the countrywide electricity to assist manner in or exterior of the place, and most designers, regardless of how gifted they were, had couple possibilities to clearly show their perform in or exterior of Korea.”

The trip to Osaka was Ms. Woo’s initially abroad, and she was intimidated, not only as a competitor but also as a Korean amid a host of nations with additional proven trend histories. She remembered the other countries coming in groups — coalitions of men and women from Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore — and she, a lone Korean. She stayed up the night time prior to the level of competition, a needle trembling in her hands as she accomplished her minimalist acquire on hanbok (classic Korean costume). She was shocked when she was awarded the prize.

“In Korea, no 1 cared that these kinds of a competitiveness existed, and no a person cared that a Korean was able to get, but it encouraged me to consider massive about style,” she explained.

Ms. Woo bounced about a several Korean vogue conglomerates ahead of beginning her initial company in 1998, a small boutique in Seoul, with her youthful sister, Jang-Hee. “She was the one particular who usually instructed me I could do it, when I felt like I couldn’t,” Ms. Woo claimed about her lifelong enterprise lover, who died in 2015.

They known as the ready-to-don men’s put on label Strong Homme and explained it as dresses for their suitable guy. “I imagined him to be straight and slim, the sort of good man most ladies would want to marry,” Ms. Woo reported. The effects were thoroughly clean-cut, minimum appears to be that quite a few at the time explained as metrosexual.

Ms. Woo stated the label hit the industry at the proper time: just ahead of the 1988 Summer months Olympics in Seoul. Foreign travellers and Olympics attendees had been flooding the money, and Koreans ended up turning into fascinated in how non-Koreans looked and turning into more open up-minded about a range of types, she claimed.

In specific, Reliable Homme caught the eye of two groups of trendsetters. The initially were being identified as Orenji-jok (Orange tribe), a group of wealthy young adults and 20-somethings, often from the Gangnam district in Seoul. They had traveled abroad and were intrigued in manner with a Western edge.

The next had been Korean music’s first ballad singers, like Lee Moon-sae, Lee Seung-Chul and Yoon Sang, who catered to largely female audiences. Good Homme grew by means of phrase of mouth and celebrity publicity.

“Solid Homme and Wooyoungmi have been go-to makes for male Korean famous people for as extended as I can keep in mind,” mentioned Gianna Hwang, a stylist for shoppers like Lee Jung-Jae, Eric Nam and Song Kang. “It’s not simple for a men’s put on company to realize this kind of gentle but gorgeous glance that each these brand names have. Her clothing are a bit oversize, as for every the development currently, but general, they have an astounding healthy, which is the most crucial issue if you are dressing men.”

These days, with additional Korean famous people touring overseas for style shoots, there is a escalating dialogue about introducing hints of Korean model to outfits. “There are a great deal of worthwhile Korean manufacturers today, but neither Stable Homme or Wooyoungmi are just Korean manufacturers,” Ms. Hwang mentioned. Ms. Woo, she added, is “a great designer who only happens to be Korean.”

Fourteen decades into Reliable Homme’s achievements, Ms. Woo said it wasn’t plenty of that she was undertaking very well in Korea. She needed to make a luxurious model for a much more complex and sensitive adult, unafraid to be susceptible. And inspite of friends and acquaintances expressing worry, she preferred to do it in Paris, the manner capital of the entire world.

“They told me I was nuts,” she explained. “First, they explained I could not do it simply because I’m Korean. Then they stated it’d be all the far more not possible because I was a lady.”

Many others advised that if she desired to attraction to Europeans, she need to engage in up her label’s Korean-ness and make apparel that looked much more visibly Asian. “They stated it was like attempting to offer croissants in Paris,” Ms. Woo said.

“If you want to make it as a Korean, you have to offer tteok,” she explained, referring to Korean rice cakes. “You have to make some thing they really don’t previously have. But what could I do? I wanted to make croissants.”

The French vogue scene did indeed turn out to be uninviting to her. At Paris Style 7 days, Wooyoungmi’s exhibit time slot was rescheduled many moments — even right after invitations had been despatched — and versions she experienced hired have been scouted by other designers, she explained. The selection eventually debuted on a Sunday at 10:30 a.m., the early morning just after the major Fashion Week functions, to less than 150 visitors. Have been it not for one particular favourable evaluation in Le Figaro, she stated, she may possibly have presented up altogether.

Ms. Woo vowed to grow to be a comprehensive member of the French Federation of Fashion, believing a seat at the table was the only way to safe the label’s potential at Paris Trend Week, but the route there was not uncomplicated.

Right until 2009, her staff operated without the need of an workplace in Paris, introduced every little thing — scissors, needles, thread — from Korea and worked out of resort rooms. On several instances, she was turned down by showrooms that would not choose a prospect on a Korean designer. A single of the most humiliating experiences, she mentioned, was at a meeting with a showroom in which the owners spoke around her in French — “Korea? Do you know exactly where that is? Are Koreans accomplishing fashion now?” — as if she could not recognize.

“I held it jointly until eventually the conference was above and cried and cried afterward,” she said. “But I showed there, did properly there and remaining on my very own accord just like I promised myself I would.”

In the very last ten years there has been a change in how Korean manner, and men’s fashion in distinct, is talked about.

The South Korean luxury market boomed and now ranks the seventh biggest in the planet, according to Euromonitor, a market research company. Profits of men’s pores and skin-treatment products and solutions on your own greater 44 p.c amongst 2011 and 2017. And, of study course, as Korean men invest extra time and cash on fashion, the environment is viewing a lot more of them.

“It’s not like 1 factor happened following one more,” Ms. Woo reported. “It’s that all these things interacted with 1 yet another.” Then she extra, “It was also me.”

Wooyoungmi now has 44 suppliers throughout Asia, Europe, North The united states and Australia. Ms. Woo has expanded into jewellery, extras and women’s dress in. Past yr, she collaborated with Samsung on constrained editions of Wearable Wooyoungmi things. In accordance to knowledge by Korea’s Fiscal Supervisory Support, the Good Company earned 548 billion gained ($46 million at the time) in 2020, up 20 percent from two yrs previously.

“Wooyoungmi elevated the notion of Korean manner abroad by proving it could be accomplished,” Ms. Nam, of Ssense, said. “A Korean designer could be a common at Paris Manner 7 days. A Korean brand name could be bought at luxury office shops.”

Ms. Woo, she added, “paved the way for foreseeable future designers to come.”