The Slow Dance of the Korean Street Fashion Paepi: Performing Hypermodern Corporealized Agency through "Hip(g)nosis"

Here, her clothing is a focused statement of alterity  comprised of a semiotic vocabulary of imposed meanings taken from consumer society,  which she literally embodies as a hypermodern melange of unmoored meaning. 

Here, her clothing is a focused statement of alterity  comprised of a semiotic vocabulary of imposed meanings taken from consumer society,  which she literally embodies as a hypermodern melange of unmoored meaning. 

The main argument here draws from Melissa Blanco-Borelli's fascinating and facile theory of "hip(g)nosis" that allows an understanding of the performative sartorial acts of the Korean paepi to be understood, in sum,  in three ways:

  1. as signifying acts marking them as a site of agency.
  2. a record of Korean modern history, industrial development, and massive structural changes. The paepi are, inevitably, a record and product of Seoul's rapid, forced, and fraught development. 
  3. a body technique.

One might ask the question of why a concept from critical dance studies should be applied to the case of street fashion paepi in South Korea, especially when the term evolved from a critical analysis of race and gender in the markedly different context of nationality, geopolitics, and the politics of race/gender in Cuba. An examination of Blanco Borelli's own explication of the term easily makes clear why it is an extremely facile theoretical tool that brings together the notion of gender,  corporeality, and performance:

Critical dance studies articulate the reality of the embodied experience. As a result, the term corporeality functions as a way to read the body along the social, cultural, and historical processes that shape studies allow the mulata to emerge as an active corporeality—a lived body with experiences in the material world—rather than as a static product of national discourses...(Blanco Borelli, 14)

Put simply, and parsed through the needs of this article, this theory from a field far, far away allows the performative, sartorial acts of individuals to be understood in the context of, as the result of, and in discursive opposition to the far larger forces of national identity and its neo-liberal reiterations,  the imperatives of marketing, advertising, and (self-)representation , and the consumptive relations of production. Put actually far more simply, it allows a closer understanding of individual identity expression within the context of far larger ideological and structural forces that try to shape people into units of production/consumption. It is my argument that the Korean paepi are engaged in the struggle to productively navigate and even resist these forces.  Their sartorial acts of identity performance are significant moments of ongoing efforts to make sense of the self within a veritable whirlwind of mediated messages, ideological imperatives, and X. The moments of that struggle are writ large and unapologetically on the (almost exclusively) young Korean bodies and interpellated into meaning through the use of many cameras connected to the greater social mediascape.

It is only in this mediated, photographically interpellated way that what many young, Korean, individual social actors can guarantee that what they do in their individually-invisible social life will indeed echo in eternity. (Do I have to quote this?) In this way of interpellation, it is not the the Althusserian notion of ideology mediating between large, incomprehensible societal structures working to define/control them, but rather an active, purposeful act of agency in which clothing and the camera can join in/at the realm of the corporeal to allow individuals to make sense of themselves outside of the strictures of the forces that would make sense of them. Inevitably and in this way, the sartorial acts of the paepi are ones of defiance. And even if there is no actual defiance either consciously or subconsciously involved, it is possible to say that even the act of actively trying to interpellate oneself, by and for oneself,  is one that is inherently defiant. And in the final analysis, quite un-Korean. 

In the bigger picture, this paper approaches the putative "paepi" as members of an increasingly youthed culture that focuses, crystallizes, and stages the performance of their hypermodern, corporealized agency, writ sartorially large on their bodies, as part of a struggle to make sense of an irrepressible, always interpellating self that is more than just the sum of various social forces, and is an attempt to offer a way of understanding who they are without the common tendency to theoretically overdetermine their identities as mere passive consumers, trend robots, or even kids of the "counterculture."  

Why Korean Street Fashion Is Important (And It's not because of the "K")

There is a tendency to dismiss fashion and its concerns as superficial, trivial, and in the end, inconsequential. There is also the sense that fashion -- especially "street fashion" -- is too sqaurely located in the market itself, too near the ground, and hence too unfocused through the more evolved critical faculties of society's cultural elites or more cultivated and connected aesthetes. And in that sense, street fashion is too unruly, too uncontrolled, and too unfocused to really make any real sense out of. All of these things seem to be true if a look at most of the existing literature on Korean popular culture is any guide, which is exactly why a look at street fashion, especially in the historically layered, compressed development-turbocharged, culture industry-driven petri dish that defines South Korea is crucial necessity at this point in the theoretical conversation.

If one is to speak meaningfully of popular culture in the Cultural Studies sense, it is important to note that the "K-pop" and "K-cinema" incarnations of Korean popular culture are difficult to difficult to describe as such, given how little most of these fields' manifestations are rooted in the work and workings of everyday people. Along the lines of how Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer described the "culture industry," the "K-pop" and other commercial, corporate formations in the economy are best described as simulations of natural, popular cultural formations more than entities that are an organic part of society themselves. As windows into the workings of lived reality of everyday people, as a peek into the content of their social norms and values, a close look at the specific cultural products in these fields are not especially revelatory in themselves; rather, the more useful way of looking at these formations of capital production is in terms of the responses and forms of engagement they engender from normal people. Which is why the study of various fandoms is important and has accelerated and intensified in the way that theorists such as Stuart Hall would find critically useful to the syuudy of "pop culture." 

And this is exactly why Korean street fashion and its constituent paepi are important as social phenomena to theorize. Because, of all the things worthy of the attention of the Cultural Studies theorist that fall within the realm of the widest definition of "popular culture," the street fashion field/phenomenon/formation is the most truly organic and naturally-evolved realm of linked social actions that aren't controlled by a very monied and interested few. The field of Korean street fashion includes the least number of political/governmental motivations to subsume this popular endeavor into the nationalist frame and signifier of the "K." Far too much academic effort has been made to rationalize the appending of a K-prefix to  words describing popular social phenomena, with little thought given to the inherent contradiction of studying the predations of political interests or the concatenations of capital as actual "popular" culture. Simply put, the productis of these formations are popular in their consumption, but not in their creation. And this limits their utility as a marker of what is really going on in the real of social action. As this paper will show, what is especially interesting about the street fashion paepi is how they have engaged in linked social actions that have come to define a field unto itself by turning consumption into creation. And that is the purest sense of how Cultural Studies ur-theorist Stuart Hall might describe the "Special K" signifier often assigned by institutionally-interested parties as the ultimate "discursive formation" of top-down, oppressive power, whereas the much more organic, bottom-up discursive formation signified by the term "paepi"  -- by the Signified themselves -- would mark the proper regard -- and theoretical approach -- to the serious consideration of the vibrant, sartorially-oriented community that has formed amongst South Korean youth. Such serious consideration should be a matter of course given their status not as a mere "subculture" or "tribe," but as a "scene" of the sartorial staging of consumption-as-creation the likes of which the world has never seen. This analysis would be in line of Shane Blackman's excavation and explication of Steven Miles' far more theoretically useful notion of "lifestyle" as the best descriptor of what's is happening with the paepi:  

The work of Steven Miles is comparable with that of Bennett to the extent that he proposes a theory of lifestyle based on a critique of the CCCS theory of subculture and identifies consumer culture as offering individuality for young people. Miles’s interpretation is more structural; he argues that ‘lifestyles are not individualized in nature but are constructed through affiliation and negotiation . . . Lifestyles are, in effect, lived cultures in which individuals actively express their identities, but in direct relation to their position as regards the dominant culture’ (Miles 2000: 16). This argument is a reconfiguration of the CCCS theory of subculture with its implicit use of Gramsci’s ideas where he asserts the desire to speak about the dominant culture in terms of institutions such as school, the labour market and ‘power structures’ (2000: 9). For him youth identities are constructed through stable commonalties: ‘through consumer goods, which allows them to feel unique’ (Miles 1995: 42). It is clear that Miles wishes to promote an understanding of youth subcultural identity as stable, which offers agency, but he sees adherence to particular forms of collective solidarity as more ephemeral due to conditions of postmodernity. (Blackman, 122)

As those on the inside of it know, "paepi" is an aspirational lifestyle, marked by conspicuous consumption and sartorial display as the locus and point of the social activity itself, rather than as mere markers of other social norms or values outside of the consumptive acts themselves. 


On the Putative "Paepi"

This short section needs to be the definitive, yet succinct and brief explanation of the informal slang term "paepi" as both the portmanteau term from the first syllable of the Korean pronunciation of the English words for "fashion people" (pæ-piː /pae-pee) and also as a concept centering on people primarily (or greatly) concerned with fashion. But the explanation must also include the insight, gleaned from years of asking apparent paepi what they think of the term and whether they consider themselves a person within the category, that the term and concept itself is heavily fraught, contested, and approached with some degree of suspicion, even as it is highly facile as a referer for the purposes of easy, everyday discussion.


An Overview and Critical Backgrounding of "Street Fashion" -- The First Wave and Generative Moment of Japan

Given that haute couture fashion has always been a white, European space in its origination and articulation as a field, albeit one marked by brief and occasional interruptions by fleeting "guest appearances" of raced alterity brought with, on, and through colorful bodies, the inherent whiteness of the (high) fashion field has never been significantly interrupted. 

But in the lower realm of "street fashion," raced bodies have held a different valence in a field with a far shorter history, marked by most scholars of the subject from the first appearances of the "straight-up" fashion portrait in i–D Magazine in 1980 (Rocamora, 185).  It may be obvious that it is likely no coincidence that "street fashion", as an ongoing procession of the weird, found its origination and eventual articulation in the popular imaginary, as both a field and popular practice, through its first, Japanese iteration. 


But even the appearance of the vaunted Fruits in 1997, Japanese street fashion in the 1990s eventually found comfortable, permanent reception in the West as a part of the Orientalist view of "Wacky Japan" (Wagenaar) or even "Cool Japan" trope (Leavitt) One reason this is true has to do with the reception of the particular styles in question being essentially in-the-street manifestations of mostly Harajuku or Shibuya fashion as haute couture fashion objects with very little connection to real life sartorial uses or concerns. They were always objects of nearly pure spectacle, and there was a particularly Japanese warp and woof to "street fashion," especially as that was often embodied in  the "Harajuku girl" look, as well as a very particular trajectory to the structural forces, demographic shifts, and cultural manifestations as exemplified and incorporated by the kogaru in Japanese society that explain how the street fashion kids in Tokyo started appearing in the first place. (Suzuki et al) The origins and articulations of Japanese street fashion placed Japanese street fashion into a haute couture space of spectacle defined by extremely raced bodies through the work of photographer Shoichi Aoki (Black, 239) before settling, as a category, into a default, not-as-heavily-raced category that eventually became a normalized, photo-sartorial practice through the work of American photographer Scott Schumann. 

The Age of The Sartorialist:
The Normalization, Globalized Aesthetic Standardization, and De-racing of "Street Fashion"

Here, we need to talk about street fashion as a normalized, heavily mediated and commercially interpellated,  photo-sartorial practice. Scott Schumann played a huge role in this.

(insereted from another piece here)
Too often, fashion editorials focus on only one extreme of aesthetic reality, namely the tallest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the sexiest -- all statistical outliers. But there's a very large middle range of height, style, and level of social normalcy. So we decided to do a concept on a look that really defines the dead center of a relatively conservative Korean women's fashion code. This idea comes from Korean comments that a lot of the paepi fashion and photographs of them are pleasant, haute couture thought pieces but are so far removed from many people's sartorial and social reality that the subjects don't even seem Korean.

Which is a very Korean thing to say. But there's something to that idea. What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And to take this line of thinking even further, what is even particularly Korean about Korean street fashion, if it's not all particularly Korean material, patterns, or even brand that we are looking at? Does this mean the only true Korean fashion is the traditional hanbok? What is Korean fashion, really? This is the crux of the existential problem with street fashion of any kind, especially if we are looking at fashion as a window towards understanding culture. And it also invites the inevitable epistemelogical question of what can we know about any society through a lensed view of it? This was exactly the problem when world-renowned street photographer Scott Schumann visited Seoul several years ago and took some shots of "Korean" street fashion. 

Scott Schuman, Seoul, 2009? 2011? (Double check)

Scott Schuman, Seoul, 2009? 2011? (Double check)

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Power, History, and Sadaejuui
What Scott Schumann surely didn't know about Korean culture -- and allowed Korea to fete his visit even as it scratched its collective and figurative head at his actual pictures -- was that certain key socio-historical frames of thinking were responsible for the extremely warm welcome he was given in a country where most everyday folks and fashion civilians had barely even heard of him. Korea in the modern era and for a good several centuries before it has always been affected by colonial or neo-colonial relationships with vastly more powerful sponsor states. This was true for China, which was never a conqueror or a sovereign over ancient Korea (Joseon), but a suzerain. The first great articulator (and architect) of modern Korean history, Shin Chae-ho, called this relationship (and the lackeyesque attitude/identity it engendered) sa-dae-ju-ui, a four character Chinese term that means "deference to the greater power") "Korea" had enjoyed a mostly beneficial suzerainty relationship with "China" for a huge stretch of historical time by the time imperial Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910 and officially ended Korea's political independence and forced Korea into a traditional, exploitative colonial  relationship that would last until the Japanese empire's resource needs clashed with that of the United States, causing the ill-fated political decision to "brush back" the US with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a war that would end with the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the Japanese military empire, and suddenly thrust a newly liberated South Korea into the controlling hands of its former vanquisher's vanquisher. To allow sadaejuui to make sense of all of this, as the greater power changed from China to Japan to the United States, the language of power changed from Chinese to Japanese to English. The race of the Powerful Ones changed, as did the ideologies which justified and rationalized their cultural power, and the common sense ways of making sense of the world also changed, from the pure Han Chinese ideal that overlapped quite well with Korean notions of ethnicity and aesthetics, to one that privileged the pure, Sun God Ameterasu-descended, pure Yamato race of Japan, to that of the American notion that "White is Right", since the fact that the racial hierarchy of their new occupiers mattered in how things got done and who got to do them was not lost on Koreans. The fact that few blacks were officers were black and almost all blacks were enlisted men was not lost on Koreans, and even Korean prostitutes knew not to cross the racial lines dictated by their clientele; you either took black guys or white soldiers, not both. Add to this the powerful messages sent by Hollywood films and American television, magazines, and popular music and it makes for quite a heady Cocktail of Western Power. 

The "Global Fetish"
And yes, Koreans had to imbibe that special cocktail of geopolitical-cultural power, to drink that special flavor of the neo-colonial Kool-Aid. And it was within that general historio-psychological frame of sadaejuui that Korean national development took place, with the concrete assistance and support of the USA (and former colonizer Japan, many Koreans like to conveniently forget), while that development process found internal validation through external markers. Symbolic GDP levels of 10,000 or 20,000 per capita GDP were important psychological moments for Korea, as were the 1988 Olympics, which was both an impetus and a symbol for Korea becoming modern, or at least, being seen that way. This sadaejuui pattern of thinking backgrounded everything Koreans did on their own, internally, with validation of these efforts coming from the outside, most importantly, the White West, and even more importantly, the USA. So, as the "global" has become more than just a pipe dream and a reality for a Korea with not just a highly developed infrastructure in heavy industry, factory production, and ideologies of anti-Communism that have served the Republic well, but which now has a highly developed popular culture infrastructure in music, film, food, and fashion, there is now a discernible "global fetish" that undergirds and validates Korean cultural projects. The recent "Premium Korea" ad from the CJ group is a perfect case with which to illustrate how sadajuui has evolved into a "global fetish" (a brilliant concept articulated by scholar Kim Hyunjung) that both undergirds and validates all commercial and cultural endeavors in Korea, as well as the Korean national project itself. And this mode of thinking imbricates the Korean fashion field as well, from the runway down to the street.

The East Strikes Back:  Korean Street Fashion and the Paepi as a Site of Photo-Sartorial Performance 

We are talking Korean street fashion, in the wake of the standardization and normalization of the genre by and through the Sartorialist, and how the Korean aesthetic, as one developed from the peculiar and particular cocktail of cultural hybridity, textual impurity (Dal Yong Jin), and postcoloniality (YYY) enabled and amplified by the "social mediascape"  in the context of describing the success of hallyu, was able to quickly metastasize into the de facto street fashion aesthetic standard by which all others are now judged. To some extent, this must have to do with the fact that the original street fashion body was, in its initial iteration, Asian. In a similar way, the West has long been engaged in a relationship comfortable with a longing (and often Orientalizing) sartorial gaze towards the East.  (develop this)

Talking about the Korean paepi necessitates a conversation about the body as a site of cultural production. It is, therefore, useful to reference Melissa Blanco -Borelli's theoretically facile notion of "hip-(g)nosis." The body is a site/tool/act of, or a way to act out culture -- to produce it -- they are not mere passive conduits for culture to be produced through or on them. (Put some Stuart Hall on it here.) Most importantly, the paepi embody a hypermodern, corporealized agency created as the result of a self-actualized remix and rearticulation of imposed aesthetic, structural, and cultural signifiers, focused through a South Korean emphasis on body techniques (Tae-yeon Kim)

"If the body exists as a rich site of embodied knowledges determined and shaped by lived reality and socio-historical contexts, then hip(g)nosis is a theoretical method through which to understand it." (Blanco-Borelli, 42)

"If the body exists as a rich site of embodied knowledges determined and shaped by lived reality and socio-historical contexts, then hip(g)nosis is a theoretical method through which to understand it." (Blanco-Borelli, 42)

On the Invisible Labor of Beauty,  Hip(g)nosis, and the Photo-Sartorial Gaze

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"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. 


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...


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. 

Doii Lee fashion show at Seoul Fashion Week SS2011 (Taken October, 2010)

Doii Lee fashion show at Seoul Fashion Week SS2011 (Taken October, 2010)

At SFW, Korean high fashion designers do what they know how to do, which is to stage fashion shows (often through the industry event known as Seoul Fashion Week, which is partially supported by the city and national governments) and hope to garner international attention via the global gaze of overseas press and, to a lesser extent, overseas buyers. However, the main function of buyers within the commercial fashion field is to possess as many commercially viable items as possible to offer for resale in the stores and showrooms of the venues they represent. Since the obvious goal of high fashion designers is to sell clothes, mainly to buyers, designing runway shows to appeal to them while making the clothing easy to photograph for members of the media and commercial catalogues, the entire structure of the fashion show has shifted from that of a small, intimate affair designed to show clothes to a small, powerful elite gathered in a small room to one designed to have clothes paraded before a large, professional photo corps positioned at the end of a long runway, with the intention of having each piece of clothing shared as widely as possible in magazines, TV programs, and other forms of media. To this end, both still photographers and videographers not only expect but demand to be placed as close to centre runway position at the far end of the long runway, with general “house,” then designer “house” official photographers getting first priority for shooting placement before the beginning of each show, followed by photographers with official press passes from other outlets on a first-come, first-serve basis. The photo press clustered together at the end of the runway are the main focus of the show, since their role in getting the designer’s end product — the clothing — out to the world in a concrete way — through their photographs and recordings — is crucial to making sure the event has any impact at all outside of the halls of the venue, which has now become permanent and official, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), housed in the fashion/textile district of Dongdaemun, the traditional garment district that has been officialised by the Seoul city government as the center of fashion in Seoul, and hence, the entire nation.  Fashion writers and other members of the non-photographic press are seated, along with buyers and VIPs, along the side of the runway so as to facilitate being able to see all details of the garments on the runway, from types of stitches and materials to cuts and how the garment flows and falls upon the models’ bodies. Both photo and non-photo press are categorised into overseas and domestic categories, with the overseas press being given higher priority by being seated or allowed entry before the domestic press, since Seoul Fashion Week, supported as it is by funds from the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, has prioritised the elevation of SFW into greater global prominence and gives special care to facilitate the jobs of members of the overseas press, even to the detriment of the functioning of the local press that is actually more responsible for documenting and promoting the work of the designers in question. VIPs such as famous pop stars and actors are crucial to adding to the social capital of designers who can successfully invite them to their shows, even as glitterati attendees benefit from the glamorous boost to their respective images in being photographed in a front row fashion show seat. It is worth noting that only SFW