Swedish Fashion, And Why It's Booming In Korea

Hasung Gim tells us about South Korean fashion culture,
and why Swedish design is making an impact.

 
Hasung Gim, currently working at American Apparel in Seoul. Previously a student of AMFI - Amsterdam Fashion Institute.

Hasung Gim, currently working at American Apparel in Seoul. Previously a student of AMFI - Amsterdam Fashion Institute.

 

 

Walking down the streets of practically any city, you'll encounter restaurants, cafés and coffee shops within arms reach of each other. But what's peculiar about Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is the amount of places you'll find decorated with Swedish furniture and design. And while you're strolling around, chances are you’ll bump into people dressed to the teeth in clothes from Swedish brands like ACNE, Cheap Monday and COS.

Swedish design is making a name for itself in South Korea, and we wanted to figure out what the deal is. We had a chat with Hasung Gim, an alumni from Amsterdam Fashion Institute now working at American Apparel, to hear his thoughts on the somewhat curious, cross-cultural phenomenon.

 
 

Hi Hasung! What’s the deal with Swedish design?

"Swedish design has many good aspects to it. You can expect a lot of originality and uniqueness from many Swedish brands, but the most distinguishable Swedish design feature I think is its minimalism and modernity combined with a clever sense of functionality and comfort."

 
 

We humbly thank you for the kind words — why do you think it’s being noticed in South Korea?

"Sweden, in South Korea, is a good brand in itself. We perceive it as an honest, healthy and beautiful country which really helps people trust what Sweden’s producing."

"But we’ve been experiencing western fashion waves in Korea for a long time now. I call it the “first fashion flood” — Japan has helped many European fashion houses make their introduction here, but people are starting to turn to the more niche market. We’re all becoming more and more individualized here, and that has led to a change in Korea’s consuming culture."

The fashion district, Gangnam

The fashion district, Gangnam

There’s definitely been an influx of Swedish fashion in the capital of South Korea, Seoul, over the past couple of years. Swedish skate fashion brand WeSC has been around town for a long time (with a total of 14 stores around the country), PLATFORM, a big fashion store in the Gangnam district, houses brands such as Uniforms For The Dedicated, Daniel Wellington and Cheap Monday. COS opened up a store in the spring of 2014, and just a couple of months ago, in September, Acne Studios opened their first flagship store (designed by London-based architect Sophie Hicks) in the fittingly futuristic capital city.

 
 

"Swedish culture prizes modesty and discretion."
- Sophie Hicks

Acne Flagship store in Seoul

Acne Flagship store in Seoul


Interestingly, Scandinavian countries and their cultures were still relatively unknown to most Koreans just 10 to 15 years ago. So how was South Korea introduced to all the Swedishness? See, it dates back to a couple of decades ago, and Japan has played a big role in it.

In the late 80’s (around the time when the Berlin wall came down), western culture was introduced to South Korea after the government so kindly allowed its people to travel overseas without special permits. Koreans were, of course, eager to travel all around the world, and enrich what they already had with foreign arts and culture. South Korea and Scandinavia never really had any direct cultural exchanges, though — which means diving into Scandinavian films, products and art as a Korean just 10 years ago, was very unusual thanks to the geographical distance between the countries.

However, 20 million japanese and koreans visit each other each year. Many Japanese tourists, designers and entrepreneurs were big fans of Swedish (and Scandinavian) design, and brought a lot of it with them to South Korea. The trend has been developing ever since — so much that the Scandinavian-ness is now no longer even consider a trend — but a style on its own that’s established itself in Koreas cultural landscape. With a phenomenon named "The Scandinavian Fever", it looks like it's here to stay for a while. 
 

Kafé Nordic, Seoul

Kafé Nordic, Seoul

“You’ll expect to see lots of cafés and restaurants that are decorated with Swedish furniture here.”
— Hasung Gim

Would you say the fashion interest in Korea has become bigger over the years?

Yes, but it’s not necessarily just fashion — people find interest in the actual product, and try to find what others don’t know about. It becomes more and more important to be different to the crowd.

So what does Korea think is special about Swedish fashion?

Swedish fashion is very much like their furniture design. It’s not loud, but it gives you comfort and function in true style without any unnecessary additions — something that I think is unique to Scandinavia on the market. It’s a big reason why people like it. You don’t have to wear something loud or eccentric to feel confident in your clothes. Keeping it sleek works just as well.

"It is timelessly modern and chic at the same time.”
- Hasung Gim
 

Low Classic, Seoul

Low Classic, Seoul

It’s hard to believe, but South Korea only eclipsed North Korea economically in the late 1970s. Seoul has moved from functionalism and necessity to form, comfort and aesthetics over the past decade, and has for many years now been perceived as a city of the future. If there’s any truth to the saying, Swedish fashion brands are in for a continued booming and interesting ride.

Thanks, Hasung.

 
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Gustav von Platen
Art Director at Selvage
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Victor Fagerquist
Editorial Writer at Selvage
Photo credits: Hasung Gim, Low Classic, Acne, Design-Milk, Retail Design Blog