SEOUL CONNECTION: The South Korean Wave

27 May 2022

Ushering in a new era of South Korean brands, END. take a look at “hallyu” - otherwise known as the Korean Wave - to trace the country’s meteoric rise as a global cultural tastemaker.

In recent years, South Korea has become a premium destination for cutting edge menswear with its own distinctive aesthetic properties – typified with the coupling of classic streetwear details, an oversized and boxy fit, military influences and a touch of collegiate styling.

Clothing, however, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and this seemingly newfound interest in the country’s clothing brands has a deep rooted and long running history tied to South Korea’s greater cultural exports and their rise to prominence as a purveyor of music, television, cinema, food, make-up and more. Symptomatic of Korean culture’s continued growth on a global level, brands such as Uniform Bridge, CAYL, FrizmWORKS, LMC, thisisneverthat & Wooyoungmi have developed a cult following for their unique perspective on modern clothing – delivering their South Korean design heritage through a streetwear lens.

Termed hallyu, or the Korean Wave, Korean music, film and television has steadily found favour with overseas markets since the late 1990s. With Korean pop music – more commonly known as K-pop - steadily spreading into nearby Asian countries throughout the early noughties, the West continued to remain ignorant of the delights being produced by the country – something that would drastically change in 2012. With the viral moment of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” piquing the interest of global markets, the outside consumption of South Korean culture rose to formidable levels as Western countries became introduced to Korean culture, food, and lifestyle products in a more intimate way. With the increased presence of social media, streaming and video platforms as vital modes of consuming, sharing and celebrating culture throughout the late ‘00s and the ‘10s, the Korean Wave continued to rapidly grow, building a fervent and supremely dedicated K-pop fanbase in the West.

Following the monolithic rise of K-Pop overseas throughout the past decade, which has seen artists like BTS, BLACKPINK and Big Bang reach exceptional heights of popularity amongst millennial and Generation Z consumers both in the domestic market and abroad, a greater interest in Korea’s culture in general arose throughout the subsequent decade, most obviously elucidated by Bong Joon-ho’s darkly comic 2019 satire Parasite – which followed the director’s previous seminal films Memories of Murder and The Host ­­- and Hwang Dong-hyuk’s masterful series and surprise hit, Squid Game, for streaming giant Netflix. Delivering a uniquely Korean perspective on drama, tone and style, these productions expertly presented their specific approach, avoiding diluting their sensibility and outlook to champion South Korean film and television without pandering to external influences or redefining themselves for overseas audiences.

Further extending its influence within the global culture, Korea’s fashion exports have quietly been expanding, cultivating an idiosyncratic sense of individuality, and engaging with their myriad influences to create a new and exciting form of streetwear style. From South Korean mainstays Wooyoungmi and thisisneverthat to modern pioneers Uniform Bridge, CAYL and FrizmWORKS, South Korea continues to develop its own language of style that seamlessly translates to the world stage – an emblem of the country’s creativity and innovation as a truly modern cultural leader. Drawing influence from American vintage clothing, Uniform Bridge sees collegiate branding twinned with military inspired silhouettes, boxy fits and outdoor appeal to deliver a melting pot of style that in turn offers its own statement that speaks to our continually globalised lives. CAYL – an acronym for “Climb As You Love” – for example, was born from the brand’s founders passion and love of outdoor pursuits, a passion clearly evidenced by their dedication to providing exceptional garments designed to withstand the stresses of a life spent in the natural world. While LMC – or Lost Management Cities – captures the multiplicitous nature of contemporary design, pulling elements from a plethora of sources from past and present generations to reflect the dualities of living in the postmodern world.

The perfect encapsulation of South Korea’s innovative outlook and inspiring approach to contemporary clothing design, each of these brands represents a piece of what has led to the continued proliferation of hallyu – a statement of South Korea’s creativity and the country’s collective influence within the world of fashion and beyond.