Forget Psy, Meet the Real Gangnam Style
Psy and his neon green suit may have made headlines during the Super Bowl, but his style is not trending at the real Gangnam district in Seoul — at least not this season.
Gangnam's trendy areas like Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong are known more for fashion-forward street styles than blue tuxes and red jumpsuits. The streets are deluged with high-end European boutique stores, and fashion is very much a part of Korean culture. In fact, some luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton have pre-introduced new products to the Korean market, to get an early gauge of a product's popularity.
Now it's time for Korean designers to infiltrate the Western market.
This year, among the runway shows at the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week was Concept Korea 2013 Collective. The show, which was held on the opening night of the week-long event, was a chance to get a glimpse of Korea's up-and-coming designers. Despite the blistering cold, it was a full house.
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This season's Concept Korea was its sixth show at Fashion Week, and its biggest presentation yet with five Korean designers — Lie Sang Bong, Choi Bo Ko, Kathleen Kye, Song Jung Wan and Hongbum Kim — showcasing their work at the coveted event.
Asian designers have already paved their way through the New York fashion scene – names like Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang and Jason Wu have now become household names. But celebrities are already eyeing some of Korea's rising stars; Lie Sang Bong's clients include Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Choi Bo Ko has Whoopi Goldberg as one of his clients.
"Korea's fashion designs have become a part of a new cultural wave along with appliances by Korean company Samsung, K-Pop by Psy, and has had a great impact in the global market," Cindy Hahn, executive director of Concept Korea told CNBC.
While Psy burst onto the global scene last year with his Youtube hit "Gangnam Style," K-Fashion is slowly making its way to the same global platform.
"[Korean] Music, fashion, movies, they are all starting to make their way into Western culture, and Western culture is adapting our cultural contents, and that we are proud of," Choi told CNBC. While his clothes reflect styles from the West, his collection was inspired by stone art from the East.
"No matter what I do, I have to adapt internationally, so I always have that concept at the back of my mind when I am designing," Lie said.
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Lie, a veteran designer in Korea, said the emergence of Korean designers can be attributed to the rising presence of Asia in global commerce. "I think it's the culture. Asia has become an integral part of society, and fashion by Asian designers are following suit," he said.
It is not only the Korean designers who are adapting, but Westerners are adapting to their Eastern counterparts as well. It has become a two-way street, and the divide is fading.
"There is no more the concept of 'Western' 'Eastern' design anymore," said Cres e Dim designer Kim.
From department stores to the White House, Korean designers are being embraced. Doo.Ri is sold at Saks and Neiman Marcus, and Michelle Obama recently wore the Korean designer's clothing for a state dinner.
No doubt Korean designers will have a growing influence as their audience grows. It is already hard to overlook the impact of the homegrown Korean luxury market, which has seen luxury spending rise an average of 12 percent each year since 2006. According to consulting firm McKinsey, the high-end market in Korea is a $4 billion industry and Koreans spend about 5 percent of their income on luxury goods.
But to truly be a force in the industry, a designer needs to capture the U.S. market.
"The U.S. is the center of the [fashion] world, and U.S. fashion has lots of energy and is constantly transforming, and they are constantly producing new designers," Lie said.
Lim, Wang, Wu, Lam. Ten years ago, these labels never dared to displayed next to a Prada or a Lanvin. Times are changing. If you thought Psy gave you a taste of Korean culture, stay tuned for these rising stars.
-By CNBC's Sally Shin
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