Korea: beauty and fashion evolution
In recent years, the world has witnessed an exponential growth in the Korean economy, which has established itself through the technology and cosmetics markets. In fashion, in particular, Korea has been able to establish itself with a unique style that emphasizes its individuality, in stark contrast to what still happens today in North Korea.
All these innovations have arrived in the West with the name of Korean Wave (or Hallyu), or the cultural phenomenon characterized by pop culture made up of drama, music, cinema and cuisine. A real new trend that has inspired the rest of the world, which in recent years has been addressing and studying South Korea to understand and embrace the styles of the future.
But before reaching this result, which is typical of the new millennium, Korea has undergone profound socio-economic transformations that are still the basis of many critical and historiographical studies.
What fascinates the whole world so much has a starting point that is suffered and still little known today, interesting and fundamental for understanding the dynamics that are changing today's world.
Three Kingdoms period (57 BC - 668 AD) and Goryeo dynasty (918 - 1392)
The history of Korean beauty began precisely in this long period, when people began to take care of personal appearance using the first cosmetics, which were stored in celadon (a precious type of ceramic very popular at the time).
However, in this first moment the care of the body was not intended from a purely aesthetic point of view, but holistically by virtue of the precepts of Buddhism.
Joseon period (1392-1897)
The Joseon period was characterized by reaching the pinnacle of Korean culture (Hangul, the Korean alphabet was in fact created), science and technology, leaving a great legacy to the culture of modern Korea, in terms of etiquette, social norms and attitudes.
Confucianism became the state religion: according to the various precepts, the body had to be respected because the outward appearance was the mirror of one's soul. The ideal of pure and innocent beauty was expressed through the display of a white and diaphanous skin, without any kind of alteration. For wealthy women this was very easy to accomplish, as they didn't need to work outdoors or leave the house - their job was simply to look after their husbands and children.
More generally, it can be said that altering the body was considered a "sin", so much so that it was even forbidden to cut one's hair: women used to wear them in very long braids gathered on their heads - it can be said that hairstyles had the same role of affirmation as status as in Marie Antoinette's Versailles.
The canon of beauty was a round, clear face, large nose, thin eyes and small mouth. At the end of the eighteenth century Hyewon, one of the most famous painters of the time, created the famous painting "Portrait of beauty", where these aesthetic canons were emphasized.
As for clothing, the hanbok (traditional dress) was omnipresent: consisting of a shirt (jeogori) and a wide skirt (chima). The same type of clothing was worn by men, who however wore trousers (baji), the richest also a special hair ornament called sangtu and / or gat, a typical hat of the time.
Fashion in the Joseon period was meant to express integrity, innocence and nobility. It is interesting to know that both the rich and the poorer social classes wore the same type of clothing, which differed in the type of material used: cotton and silk for the nobles, hemp for the poor. The color of the clothes instead indicated the status, age and marital status.
The hanbok was actually worn in Korea until the 1970s, when Western clothing was massively introduced - today it continues to be worn for formal occasions or special occasions.
During the nineteenth century Korea strongly opposed with the closure of the borders to the continuous interference and foreign influences, especially French, American and Japanese. From the Joseon it passed to the Korean Empire.
Towards the end of the 1800s the isolationism of Korea was severely tested due to the great mass conversion of Koreans to Christianity (due to the numerous French missionaries), the continuous American and above all Japanese incursions. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea to its empire according to a Japanese-Korean treaty whose legality was never accepted by Korea, both because it was not signed by the emperor, and because it violated the international convention on foreign pressure on treaties.
From that moment on, Korea went through the saddest chapter in its history. The Japanese in fact dismantled the Joseon hierarchy, exported rice crops to Japan (causing terrible famines in Korea), killed all those who did not pay the heavy taxes and enslaved many Koreans by forcing them to forced labor in the mines and the first factories. Japan also suspended all publications of Korean newspapers, imposed Shinto as the state religion, replaced the Chinese calendar with Gregorian, imposed Japanese as the national language (used for teaching and bureaucracy) by banning the Korean language.
Any type of insurrection was repressed with death and indeed, starting from the 1930s and Japan's entry into World War II, this moved towards the definitive cancellation of Korean identity as a nation: palaces, libraries, Koreans themselves had to change their names to Japanese names, numerous ancient Korean artifacts were stolen and brought to Japan, the study of Korean history was abolished from universities, and Korean books were outlawed under the supervision of the Korean History Review Committee. Throughout the conflict, Koreans were drafted into the Japanese army to fight on the front lines, while thousands of women were reduced to sex slaves renamed "comfort women".
In 1945, with the unconditional surrender of Japan, Korea was divided into two zones of occupation with the United States to the south and the Soviet Union to the north of the 38th parallel.
During the whole phase of Japanese rule, Korea was forced to an unprecedented cultural transformation, forced to a forced modernization that did not bring it any benefit.
Among the many changes made by Japan was the introduction of consumer and cultural products aimed at the obliteration of Korean ones. As noted above, the Japanese eliminated all Korean publications, including costume and fashion magazines. In fact, new models of beauty were introduced: the models in the magazines were not Korean, but Japanese who, in turn, drew on Western aesthetic standards. These models had physical characteristics completely different from the Korean ones: in doing so, Korean women were persuaded to invest time and money in the purchase of beauty products (obviously Japanese, since the Korean ones were banned as the first Korean mass-produced face powder. , bakgabun) to change your appearance. Among the changes to be made there was above all the shape of the "V" chin. It was at that moment that the obsession with the physical aspect was born, especially the face. Today it is thought that the phenomenon of heavily changing one's characteristics is a trend of recent times, in reality the roots are to be found in the period of Japanese domination.
The new model of femininity was renamed modern girl, characterized by hairstyles like Gibson Girl and The flapper, the bob cut considered scandalous at the time, the total rejection for traditional clothes like the hanbok and the use for the first time of aggressive make-up (including mascara and red lipstick).
At the basis of this change was the idea of freedom and the expression of one's personal identity through cinema, music, cafes and clothing, a totally contradictory idea and the mere use and consumption of the Japanese, who praised the freedom of expression of the Koreans, inciting them to reject all their tradition, while in fact they dominated them.
Many intellectuals of the time tried to express this strong contradiction, just as many today harshly criticize the dependence of most Koreans on plastic surgery.
In 1950 South Korea was characterized by a US capitalist democratic system (Republic of Korea). The same year North Korea invaded South Korea with the consent of Mao Tse-tung: a conflict began that caused 4 million deaths and ended in 1953 with an armistice. However, an official peace treaty was never issued between the two Koreas.
The economic conditions of South Korea were disastrous, the country was considered one of the poorest in the world: in fact it had to be totally rebuilt.
Right after the Korean War, the foundations were laid for the development of plastic surgery, now considered the best in the world: many soldiers underwent reconstructive operations on the face, as well as many girls forced into prostitution to survive they wanted to change their characteristics to to be more attractive to US soldiers of appeal.
From the point of view of costume, many clothes and especially military uniforms at the time were sold in the markets of Namdaemun (today the oldest and largest in the country) and Dongdaemun, and in 1954 he opened the first fashion school in Korea, the International Western Clothing Company in Seoul. The following year Yeowon magazine presented the "Fashion mode" column and in 1956 Nora Noh was the first Korean designer to present her own collection at the Bando Hotel during the first fashion show in Korea, thus designating a new type of employment. Noh had studied in the United States, she did not use models but actresses and even Miss Korea. In 1950 she had founded her own brand of her House of Nora Noh. In 1979 she was the first South Korean designer to enter the US market, selling her dresses at Bloomingdale's and Macy's.
The 1960s saw an initial major modernization of the country, accompanied by growing literacy and better general economic conditions.
As job opportunities were finally numerous, fashion became more versatile and comfortable. The clothing industry thus developed, which saw the production of clothes in series in the factory.
Young people listened to the Beatles and wanted to dress like Westerners, wearing sunglasses, dresses with prints and patterns but above all the mini skirt (made famous by the singer Yoon Bok Hee).
In parallel, the make-up industry was launched, numerous fashion magazines (including Uisang) and in 1964 the first school for professional models opened.
The dominant canon of beauty was determined, which has come down to us today: lunar skin, small face with "V" chin, light and slender body, nose with the upturned point.
In the 1970s, clothing took on even more importance, with the formation of fashion-related corporations such as JDG (Joong Ang Design Group) and the opening of malls and multi-brand stores.
The hippie culture also reached South Korea, characterized by flared trousers. wedge shoes and even shorter miniskirts, so much so that checks are required! Thus was born street-style: for the first time, street fashion inspired designers and not vice versa.
Young people used clothing as a political purpose, to rebel against the system: the 70s were in fact characterized by the authoritarian and repressive regime of Park Chung-hee, the architect of the denial of many civil and political rights, but also of the transformation of Korea into economic power.
Park also banned numerous foreign cultural products including rock and pop music for their connection to sex. In any case, it can be said that the affirmation of foreign music in Korea has always been a cause for conflict.
The oldest form of Korean pop was trot music, born shortly before the Japanese occupation and developed in those years: due to its supposed links with Japanese enka music, it was banned by Korean nationalists. Young people who grew up in the postwar period had the chance to listen to American folk music, changing words into Korean - only the wealthy could afford this luxury, as they were the only educated, who knew English, and who could listen to American music in the university. Park, during his tenure, also banned folk music as well as hundreds of Western songs, instead promoting joyful melodies that praised the nation - hated instead by young people who continued to listen to Western rock and pop secretly where they could, such as on military bases. Americans.
From that period we remember Shin Joong-hyun, considered the "godfather of Korean rock", arrested in 1975 for a marijuana scandal.
During this decade, color television was introduced in South Korea which created a seductive new appeal in young Koreans, who wanted to become stars of cinema and entertainment. But the real revolution came with the 1988 Seoul Olympics: for the first time in Korea, an unprecedented amount of Western products, such as Nike, Rebook and Adidas clothes and accessories, arrived in mass. Sport, not surprisingly, became the fundamental pastime (the Korea Baseball Organization was established in 1982) and with the increase in per capita wealth, the boys wanted to customize their style as the Americans did, putting aside school uniforms and showing off sporty looks with hip-hop influences (denim-on-denim, baggy pants, t-shirt, bomber)
The 80s were also those of the "disco boom", of bright and bright colors in make-up and the dawn of K-pop.
In 1991 South Korea joined the United Nations and in 1993 it had for the first time in history a civilian president with no previous military career: Kim Young Sam.
Although it had finally come to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the Korean economy took a serious hit in 1997 due to the Asian Crisis that hit many countries, including Japan (I talk about it here, here and here).
To cope with this major financial crisis, the government sensed that one of the industries in which to invest to increase exports and income was that of the entertainment industry: large sums of money were allocated for what was configured as K-pop (I'm talking about it in detailed here) and that in a short time allowed the whole world to get to know South Korea, hitherto almost totally unknown.
The idols of K-pop stood out for a style that over time defined the country thanks also to the rise of Korean designer brands who presented their collections during the Seoul fashion weeks. Among them all stood out Andre Kim, the first South Korean designer to have paraded in Paris in 1966 and who designed the uniforms of Korean athletes at the 1988 Olympics.
The 90s in fashion in Korea also marked the return of the hanbok but in a modern key (as demonstrated by Leesle brand): once it entered the world, South Korea wanted to make its culture known, distinguishing itself in an innovative way.
Until that moment there was no real fashion industry, it developed massively in the second half of the 90s: its influence was so great that in 1996 Vogue Korea was founded.
While pop music and fashion were the two main vehicles to cope with the recession, exporting its products abroad, a niche developed in the city of Seoul between the end of the 90s and the beginning of the new millennium. based on the breaking of traditional aesthetic canons - I remember that despite the changes in customs in Korea there is still a respectability of Catholic heritage, characterized by modesty and the search for an excellent job to have a stable and respectable marriage.
The scene of this restricted underground theater was the Hongdae district, famous for the prestigious Hongilk University art college and a destination for street artists (as evidenced by the numerous graffiti) and indie musicians (such as the bands Sister's Barbershop and Crying Nuts).
Over time it will develop as a district of music (YG Entertainment, one of the major K-pop majors, is based here), of vintage and second-hand fashion - in 2016 it was listed as one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world .
The look of the boys here was basically relaxed and unexpectedly punk: in 1997 the first Korean punk compilation was secretly released (the skinheads had also worked on the project) and since then other bands such as the Koryo Aggro Boys were formed.
As we know, rock music in South Korea has almost always been banned: with the opening to the West, young Koreans discovered a kaleidoscope of styles and trends they had never known before. Lots of guys approach American rock by listening to Green Day, Offspring, Blink 182, Bad Religion, NOFX, others the harder sounds of Metallica and Mega Death, while still others produced hardcore.
Underground artists were tired of conformism and social pressure, of the highly selective and competitive school (the Korean system is one of the toughest in the world), of the compulsory conscription policy for males, they were even against Korea's hatred of Japanese (they perceived historical events far from them, not having experienced them firsthand) so much so that they wanted to include young Japanese artists in their bands.
Punk was then used as an escape from the school books, which listed the atrocities that the Japanese had done to the Koreans, from the slavery of work, from the lack of a real national culture.
The South Korean punk scene was and is very limited (there were some bands also in Busan, but they were mainly skaters), all the material of Western origin had however passed from hand to hand through pirate cassettes. Really expressing such a rupture idea was definitely difficult, yesterday as it still is today.
After exporting successful products such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and K-pop music abroad, South Korea changed the rules of cosmetics and, more generally of beauty standards, through one of the greatest revolutions in the world. cosmetic industry of all time.
Numerous companies, thanks to important tax relief by the state, produced an immeasurable quantity of skin care products, establishing over time a real ritual to be followed theorized in the famous "10 steps" of the beauty routine.
Korean cosmetics were immediately advertised as natural, the result of massive technological and scientific research and to be applied several times a day, adopting the idea that doing so was a moment of relaxation, a complete luxury experience.
If until the end of the 90s France was the undisputed world leader in beauty, from the 2000s the situation changed completely: the shelves of shops all over the world were invaded by serums, BB creams, illuminants, exfoliants, foaming cleansers, essences, scrubs, color correction, fabric masks and creams, all containing unique ingredients such as snail slime or "horse oil" - it is estimated that in 2015 alone, products worth over $ 2 billion were exported, which is why in the in recent years many western brands have decided to make products inspired by Korean cosmetics (an example is Jowae).
The make-up market also affected male customers: embracing an idea of androgyny, in Korea it is considered absolutely normal for men of any age, sexual orientation and social class to wear make-up to take care of their appearance, and since compulsory conscription many companies have proposed specific products for those in the military.
Seoul itself has been organized in order to develop the new cosmetics tourism: the Myeong-dong district has been transformed into the beauty district, a conglomerate of dozens of specialized shops where foreign tourists are welcome thanks also to the hiring numerous clerks who speak perfect English and Chinese.
South Korea has also established itself as the country with the largest number of plastic surgeries in the world. The message of maniacal attention to face and body care has always been conveyed through television dramas (where both women and men busy with creams and masks are always shown) and K-pop music, but to reach certain standards of "perfection" Koreans have increasingly turned to cosmetic surgery - not surprisingly, most actors and singers are forced to undergo contract surgeries. The obsession with appearance is so ingrained that it has long been considered normal to even retouch passport photography.
The external beauty in South Korea is an important factor because in the common feeling it indicates the economic and social status, as well as very often facilitates the development of one's working career. The so-called Korean "beauty standards" translate into extreme thinness, tall and slender body, small face with "V" chin, lunar and luminous skin like porcelain ("mul gwang" or "glass skin"), large eyes and straight eyebrows. In short, since the days of Japanese imperialism the canons of beauty have not changed and this homologation (because in fact everyone tends to change their characteristics in the same way) has been harshly criticized by many intellectuals in recent years.
But the development of cosmetic surgery is in fact incessant, so much so that it has produced a real dedicated tourism.