Why Puffer Jackets Are on the Centre of Korea’s Class Divide | World Currents

Why Puffer Jackets Are at the Centre of Korea’s Class Divide | Global Currents

SEOUL, South Korea — With temperatures now hovering at single digits, adopted by reviews of first snowfalls, a curious development is taking off in South Korea: the puffer jacket. Its presence is ubiquitous and is worn by everybody throughout the nation, from elementary faculty youngsters in Busan to Okay-pop celebrities like Suzy Bae and BTS in Seoul. However the jacket is greater than only a piece of sensible cold-weather put on; it’s an important trend assertion that has turn out to be a marker of sophistication divide.

Just a few years in the past, the craze was particularly for North Face jackets. They’re sometimes called “backbone breakers,” as a result of “mother and father’ [financial] backbones are ‘damaged’ by having to purchase these ridiculously high-priced jackets for his or her youngsters,” explains Celine Hong, a Korean photographer and videographer whose shoppers embody Vogue Korea, Dazed, Hypebeast and MM6 Maison Margiela.

Whereas the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics this Feburary helped increase the latest development for puffers, additionally it is a cultural difficulty with which means that goes far deeper. “It’s a syndrome phenomenon past trend. [It] begins with the center faculty and highschool uniform tradition of Korea; college students who put on the identical clothes on a regular basis started to put on padded jackets,” says Mo Kim, normal director of the multi-brand idea retailer Uncommon Market.

A visitor at Hera Seoul Trend Week at Dongdaemun Design Plaza | Photograph: Getty

The kind of puffer jacket somebody chooses to put on is vital. “Every model, model and colourway signifies a sure social subgroup,” he continues, explaining that playground hierarchies are decided by the selection of puffer jacket worn. It’s just like how shoppers in want of standing use loud luxurious items to sign to the much less prosperous that they aren’t one in every of them.

In latest many years, Asia has turn out to be a area of extremes: as of 2018, 4 of the world’s 5 most costly cities are in Asia, with Seoul coming in fifth place. But, a wealth hole, pushed largely by wage disparity and differing ranges of entry to training, has opened up. It has in flip led to a vastly fashionable phrase amongst younger individuals in South Korea, which is “hell joseon (헬조선),” roughly translating as “Korea is near hell and a hopeless society.”

Whereas the nation has typically been championed as an financial success story, because of the worldwide reputation of South Korean tradition often known as hallyu, revenue equality in Korea is the worst within the Asia-Pacific area, in keeping with a 2016 report by the Worldwide Financial Fund, dispelling the parable that everybody right here is prosperous, when the truth is, there’s a system of hidden social strata and wider revenue disparity points that aren’t seen from a cursory journey to the capital metropolis.

Just like Japan, there are historical codes of social hierarchies that decide so much in Korean life. Subsequently, something that highlights this — just like the standing image of a coat — might be highly effective, as a result of it shines a lightweight on a subject and feelings which can be not often mentioned brazenly however that individuals really feel. Based on native media, the puffer jacket fad has precipitated issues in colleges like theft, aggressive bullying, counterfeiting and cash extortion. Some mother and father are even mentioned to have purchased their youngsters costly puffer coats to spice up their vanity, however merely find yourself competing with different mother and father.

Whereas change is afoot — President Moon Jae-in was elected on a wave of shock over this rising inequality and has begun work to reverse the development — the actual fact of the matter is, “each teenager I do know has not less than one puffer jacket,” says Hong. “It’s the preferred merchandise within the winter season.”

Dad and mom educate their youngsters that by not standing out an excessive amount of, they’ll be secure. It’s why Koreans are likely to look alike.

However what’s actually driving this development?

It’s no secret that Okay-pop, Okay-dramas and Okay-beauty have turn out to be wildly fashionable over the previous decade in Seoul and abroad. Many people look to their favorite Korean stars for inspiration, so when the boy-band members of BTS step out in Puma’s down padded coats, it’s possible {that a} legion of followers will comply with. “You see celebrities on TV reveals; after they’re capturing exterior it’s very chilly and so they have to remain exterior for a very long time, so that they put on these puffers and it turns into a giant development,” says Jung Kuho, government director of Seoul Trend Week, held on the Zaha Hadid–designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza. “My nephew is 13 and he actually needs a protracted puffer jacket this winter. It’s turn out to be like a uniform for that era.”

Nonetheless, for the older era, the puffer’s attraction has much less to do with following Okay-pop traits and extra to do with discovering consolation in conformity fairly than individuality in South Korea’s culturally homogeneous society. “Many mother and father right here educate their youngsters … that by not standing out an excessive amount of in a bunch, they’ll be secure,” says Kuho. “It’s why Koreans are likely to look alike. Individuals right here like to comply with traits, whichever method it goes, and a majority of individuals go after the identical factor: they go to the identical eating places, hearken to the identical music.”

Korean mannequin Irene Kim sporting an Ienki Ienki puffer jacket | Supply: Ienki Ienki

“There’s a tendency for individuals right here to comply with key traits en masse,” agrees Caroline Kim, chief working officer of Stable Company, an export-trading firm in Seoul, but in addition added that “aside from the plain purpose of freezing temperatures throughout the winter, Koreans are usually very influenced by world traits. The recognition of streetwear and avenue manufacturers has led to elevated buyer demand for [puffers] in Korea.”

Hip-hop and related visible representations have just lately exploded into Asia’s mainstream, prompting a hip-hop-influenced, high-end streetwear obsession. However it’s a phenomenon that isn’t restricted to the continent. (Earlier this 12 months, rap overtook rock as the largest music style within the US for the primary time.) Now, it’s beginning to take over airwaves in South Korea, although the nation is best identified for its monumental Okay-pop scene.

The primary extensively recognised Korean music containing rapping appeared in 1989, courtesy of Hong Search engine marketing-beom, a reasonably fashionable rock musician. Then emerged Jinusean, a pioneering Korean hip-hop duo backed by YG Leisure — the expertise company of Huge Bang, G-Dragon and 2NE1 — and rappers Tiger JK and DJ Shine of Drunken Tiger, who emulated prevailing black music traits in America. Nonetheless, Korean hip-hop — abbreviated as Okay-hop — caught world consideration in 2016 when Coachella introduced it could host a Korean group for the primary time in its 17-year historical past. To the shock of many, the invitation was not prolonged to main pop idol teams like EXO or Ladies’ Technology, however to various hip-hop group Epik Excessive.

“Whenever you watch Korean TV, it’s all about R&B and hip-hop. Rap is tremendous fashionable proper now,” says Kuho, citing fashionable South Korean TV present “Present Me The Cash,” a contest present the place everybody from underground rappers to mainstream artists battle it out to deliver dwelling a money prize. (The programme’s reputation has prolonged to neighbouring nations like China, resulting in profitable spinoffs like “The Rap of China.”) “Whenever you take a look at rappers, their model and the way they costume, they love massive puffer jackets,” Kuho continues.

The South Korean market presents a significant alternative for trend manufacturers, with designer attire and equipment roughly price $5 billion and rising 7.2 p.c on common every year. And the puffer jacket phenomenon has been a boon to outerwear manufacturers within the nation.

Friends at Hera Seoul Trend Week at Dongdaemun Design Plaza | Photograph: Getty

Within the first 9 months of 2018, Moncler’s gross sales in Asia grew 39 p.c, a spokesperson on the firm informed BoF, noting that China and Korea have been the strongest performers. “Moncler’s down jackets are a luxurious must-have … particularly for the Korean market. This model is presently one in every of our hottest classes.” The Italian label presently has 24 instantly operated shops within the nation.

Canadian outerwear model Nobis opened store in Korea six years in the past and at present, it has 33 direct retail shops throughout the nation. “We launch two to 6 new kinds, unique to the Korean market every season,” says Nobis co-founder Robin Yates, who previously served as vice chairman of Canada Goose. In the present day, it counts Korea as amongst its high 5 performing markets.

Based on a spokesperson at MatchesFashion.com, Moncler, Canada Goose, Herno, Burberry and Prada are among the many luxurious retailer’s finest performing puffer manufacturers and the model is amongst its high 5 classes in Korea. Manufacturers similar to The North Face, K2, Descente, D-Antidote, Youser, That is By no means That and Ienki Ienki have additionally been fashionable with Korean consumers.

Launched in 2016 by Kiev-based Dmitriy Ievenko, who additionally co-founded Asthik Group, one in every of Ukraine’s quickest rising luxurious retail firms, Ienki Ienki’s down jackets start at round $700 and go as much as $1,500. But, the excessive price ticket hasn’t dented demand. “In our retailer, Ienki Ienki offered out immediately in its first season,” says Uncommon Market’s Kim.

In the present day, the Ukrainian outerwear label is stocked in 315 shops throughout 30 nations — in Seoul, it may be present in 10 Corso Como, Uncommon Market, Breaker, Boon the Store, Cherbebe and House Mue. “Every season, our orders in Korea rise about 20 p.c,” founder Ievenko provides.

The puffer can be Korean menswear label D-Antidote’s bestseller for the Autumn/Winter season. “For Autumn/Winter 2018, we introduced 4 to 5 puffer kinds and three,000 items have been ordered from worldwide retailers,” says D-Antidote designer Park Hwan-sung. The model launched in 2014 and at present has over 35 stockists worldwide.

Many Koreans are prepared to spend on a model title due to its perceived worth, says artwork director Gary Bradnick, who has spent a number of time within the nation. “A center class demographic has been forming over a couple of years … on this occasion, the worth tag turns into extra vital, because it turns into much less about how low-cost did you get it for, however extra how a lot you paid to personal an genuine merchandise, which after all is a press release of 1’s wealth.”

“It’s fascinating as a result of Koreans purchase puffer jackets to slot in, but in addition to face out and differentiate [themselves],” says Kim.

Disclosure: Kati Chitrakorn travelled to Korea as a visitor of Hera Seoul Trend Week.

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