"The varnished aspect of the Young-Girl's physiognomy must be explained by the fact that as a commodity she is the crystallization of a certain amount of labor expended in order to make her meet the standards for a certain type of exchange. And the form in which the Young-Girl appears, which is also the commodity form, is characterized by the concealment, or at least the voluntary forgetting, of this concrete labor." -- Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun, Chapter 4
There is little doubt as to the fact of the laboriousness of beautification.
Indeed, Melissa Blanco Borelli speaks to this -- without the pervasive, subtle misogyny that serves to ruin Tiqqun's otherwise ingenious work of gendered consumption and consumer culture Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl -- when she states, quite simply, that "Beauty appears laborless, its affect magical. Part of deeming something beautiful is erasing the labor that went into its production; effortlessness adds to ideas of successful beauty." (Blanco Borelli, 19) Blanco Borelli's theory of hip(g)nosis comes from an analysis of the mulata body, which is a decidedly different context from Korean street fashion and the paepi, but what is of particular relevance and use is the way hip(g)nosis theorizes embodied experience and the body as "a site of discourse." (Blanco Borelli, 15)
It is in this way this paper will approach the performative self-stylings of the paepi. As the analysis progresses, it will stay centered around the easy to overlook yet obvious "corporeality." Again, mirroring Blanco Borelli's incisive concept of hip(g)nosis in critical dance studies, we will also "see the body as an intelligent materiality" and present the body "as an intelligent, powerful materiality that can(re)write history, comment on socio-political situations, and question the construction of its identity and bodily inscriptions." Of course, Blanco Borelli, in her important work She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body, she is engaged in a decidedly feminist discourse about femininity that resists masculinist, colonialist regimes of control and domination that posits this resistance to external articulation from above as prima facie demonstration of raced, gendered agency, but that particular specificity in her theory of hip(g)nosis does not make the theory any less applicable for the purposes of this study of the agency of the Korean paepi.
Essentially, the discourse on the Korean paepi is inherently, deeply gendered. No matter the popular, ostensive reason for looking at the Korean paepi, their main point of interest, from many angles, is the extent to which gender codes, boundaries, or even gendered modes of sartorial self-representation are challenged or actively broken. In a typical report covering the most recent Seoul Fashion Week (which, importantly, conflates both high fashion and street style in its analysis). Indeed, as he opines in British GQ that "Koreans Do It Better," writer Anders Christian Madsen waxes sociological:
"In a time of androgyny and gender-neutrality - embodied by Alessandro Michele's collections for Gucci over the past year - the look and attitude of Seoul's male youth makes total sense. While homosexuality is legal in Korea it's still somewhat taboo, paradoxically creating a youth scene of free expression where a certain look isn't necessarily associated with a certain sexuality.
It enables young men to dress up largely without prejudice, a scenario that's virtually unimaginable in the West. In Korea the term 'kkonminam' - flower boys - has long been used to describe the male look perhaps best known from K-Pop where elfin- looking young men transform themselves into effeminate porcelain roses ; without sexual connotation, mind you. Justin Bieber is a man's man compared to these boys, but girls still scream for them. For Seoul's fashion industry and its poster boys, the new menswear revolution is a reality." (Mansen in British GQ)
Gender transgressiveness, many reports on Korean men's style concur, is why Korean male fashion is the fashion scene to watch. And the referent on which the analysis depends is usually that of the putative inflexibility, narrowness, and hence conservativeness of maleness and its associated sartorial options in the "West."
Indeed, even in more general coverage of Seoul Fashion Week in extremely popular online magazines such as High Snobiety, such as in its most recent story/slideshow "The Street Style at Seoul Fashion Week SS18 Was Next Level", most of the images provided seemed to focus on (as it does in many western-based outlets covering Korean fashion on gendered sartorial acts such as couples clothing or gender-transgressing men and women as found in androgynous looks and significant signifiers, when not focused on the expected subjects of "striking patterns, bright colors and trending statement pieces", which are themselves also often contextualized as gender-transgressive. (High Snobiety, October 2017)
Indeed, in my own photographic practice, the question often comes up as to why I tend to shoot women in my portraits. Besides my standard, pat response that "women are generally the active subjects (doing) and objects (of) the fashion gaze" as a field, since my interest in street fashion portraiture is largely rooted in identity and gender in Korea, it makes sense that my own ethnographic and photographic gaze tends to skew female, as does the frequency of female subjects when counting my pictures. And when I do also take pictures of male subjects, it also generally tends to be through the discursive lens of gender and identity as I parse the image-interaction into sociological data.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Staging of Korean Street Fashion
It should almost go without saying that one does not perform a dance, play, or put on another performative act, alone or without an audience. And more often than not, connecting with an audience or onlookers is facilitated by a stage. This section will talk theoretically about "staging" from performance studies and more specifically, about the role of the DDP in socially focusing or enabling certain kinds of action in terms of architectural theory. (Patrik Schumacher, Zaheerah Yun)
How Bodies Move Through Fields
In the bigger picture, this part of the article is both a response to and enhancement of ideas put forth by John Levi Martin (Martin).
What Martin is talking about is an extended metaphor taken from the physical sciences for use in social science, simply stated. And it has great utility as an explanatory metaphor, especially when explaining many far-ranging and diffuse social phenomenae.
Often, people seem to treat social phenomenae as something discreet and definable, akin to something "real" that one can pick up and touch with one's hands. However, the problem here is defining something that is inherently difficult to see, which is the defining characteristic of most social phenomenae -- you can't see the ism itself, but only its effects. Sure, sexism and racism, like gravity, all exist; but you can't see those things themselves. Like Isaac Newton in the apocryphal story connected to his name, he didn't “see” gravity, as indeed no one can or ever has, but could clearly see its effects in the apples falling from the tree. If one goes up into a tower and drops an apple, a rock, and a feather at the same time, we know that they're going to be pulled down, as all mass is inside a gravitational field. Einstein complexified this difficult question by stating that gravity is not a force transferred by some medium or particle across empty space. And that was the essential problem. What is the medium of transference of energy within a field? Is there some movement of a magical ether or some other mysterious thing that we can't see? No, says Einstein. Gravity is the warping of space-time around any object possessed of mass. And that leads us to the major aspects of field theory that will define the theory for us and explain it.
Within a field, there are 5 rules or conditions to think about objects that fall within its influence. The field, in both the physical sciences and social sciences senses:
1. Causes "changes in the state of some elements but involves no appeal to changes in states of other elements."
2. “Changes in state involving interaction between the field and the existing states of the elements" and
3. "The elements have particular attributes that make them susceptible to the field effect.”
4. “The field without the elements is only a potential for the creation of force."
5. The field itself is not directly measurable; its existence can only be proved by its effects.” (CITATION)
In the end, according to Martin, “Field theory, then, has several generic characteristics no matter what the domain of application." And that is key to our purposes here, as social scientists trying to explain phenomenae in social fields. (CITATION)
So, moving from the ideas of gravitational or electromagnetic fields in physical science, let's postulate that the social field defined by its effects on agents within it is one that is shot through with the “global fetish”, an aspiration to a vaguely-defined “global” that is shared by all agents within the field and indeed has come to partially define the legitimacy of the field itself. We should also not forget the way that Bourdieau imagined the field in his employment of field theory, as the arena of struggle for primacy within it, with cultural capital as the deciding factor of success.
For the sake of ease of discussion, let us try to compress the lengthy idea of an intertwined and cross-permeated field of fashion in Korea that is shot through with global aspirational desire -- with a certain globality -- parallel to the way that the related forces of electricity and magnetism have come to be expressed as electromagnetism. The resulting field generated within and defined by agents in the Korean aspirationally global fashion complex (KAGFaC) affects agents as diverse as Korean high fashion designers, the fashion design associations they constitute, overseas and domestic fashion buyers, international and local press outlets, and the paepi that are a major point of concern of this paper in a variety of different ways. The field -- and its global charge -- affects the nature and behavior of the agents, which then interact with one another in terms of their altered characteristics and resultant different self-interests.
Before moving on from a review of theory to a discussion of the paepi and the field of fashion they enter, it is necessary to take a brief aside to mention a South Korean societal phenomenon that charges the field of fashion with a specific and peculiar valence.
THE “GLOBAL FETISH”
It is useful to remember the concept of sadaejuui when we look at the way in which the commercialization and commodification of Korean culture and the desire to promote and export it outside of Korea’s borders, which scholar Hyunjung Lee has crystallized into the notion of a “global fetish” in staged cultural productions. She points out how the notion of the “global” in South Korea has become so highly prioritized that it has become its own rationale, one capable of explaining just about anything, or alternatively put, has become a rationalizing framework able to give meaning and worthiness to just about anything put into it, to the extent that the object promotes Korea or Korean culture in the global realm, or functions to “globalize” South Korea. Seoul Fashion Week has certainly been overcome with just such a "fetish" and it certainly informed my initial ability to enter the field as a non-Korean foreigner possessed of almost no fashion-related cultural capital worthy of granting my access to most fashion weeks in other parts of the world...
THE KOREAN ASPIRATIONALLY GLOBAL FASHION COMPLEX
A FIELD INSIDER
It is useful to begin an explication of what I will call the "KAGFaC" field with Seoul Fashion Week (SFW), the industry event that brings all major players in the field together in a highly organized and controlled way, with the goal of gathering the global gaze as a given. Here, I'll use the insightful example and theoretical framing of Joanne Entwistle and Agnès Rocamora's 2006 field theory analysis of London Fashion Week "The Field of Fashion Materialized: A Study of London Fashion Week." Therein, the authors were able to enter the major event in the field, a "fashion week" as fashion researcher academics. In my own case, I have been attending Seoul Fashion Week every season for more than a decade as a member of the field -- a freelance photographer for organizations from CNN Travel, The Korea Herald, and The Huffington Post as a participant-practitioner who is able to make even more in-depth analyses from the "inside." In addition to the several hats I have worn as a freelance photographer, I was already known during those years as the first street fashion photographer and blogger in Korea, having shot street fashion publicly since late 2006. Also, by around 2011, I had also begun working as the house and/or backstage photographer for at least three Korean fashion designers, namely Yang Hee Deuk (양희득), Doii Lee (이도이), and IM Seon Oc (임선옥). Lastly, I have been covering SFW as press under the auspices of a local fashion industry newspaper called TINNews (The Industry News) to provide highly stylized street fashion portraits, which has allowed me to enjoy great latitude in gaining access to other field members.