THE SEOUL-TOKYO FAST FASHION CONNECTION AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE KOREAN PAEPI
The Korean textile/fashion industry has played a much larger role in the development of Asian fashion than many know. When talking about Korean fashion, it is easy to see what's apaprent, what you see. Some might mark a point, perhaps 2006, 2009, 2012, when Korean street fashions were perhaps worth looking at. Some liketo only look at the high fashion sector, at the designers and their fashion designer associations, or focus solely on Korea's premier fashion event, Seoul Fashion Week. However, these ways of looking at things only focus on the easily visible, the parts of fashion that are easy for the eye to see, the parts that even the neophyte can easily observe.
There two main points to consider here, by way of infrastructure and backgrounding the cultural evolution of the Korean paepi:
The importance of pronto moda fashion technology and infrastructure in the 1990s as a result of Korea's close relationship with the growth of Japanese street fashion as the crucial aspect of Korea's textile industry that would allow the development of an environment in which the paepi would flourish cannot be underemphasized. That the QR (quick response) technologies of the uniquely Korean PBHs (private-branded hives) housed in Dongdaemun actually enabled the production of the diverse and unusual styles, accessories, and accoutrements worn and used by the street fashion-leading kogal of Tokyo in the 1990s. In short, the researchshows that there would have been no Japanese street fashion movement -- no Shibuya and Harajuku in the way we know them today -- without Dongdaemun, its silent economic partner. And even today, the growth of the PBH's (from Migliore to Doota to APM) predominance in Korea's fashion economy would not have happened without Tokyo street fashion and the Japanese market as its major client. It's a two-way street, so Korea's DDM and the PBH evolved in an environment that required (and shaped) its evolution; here would be no growth in Korean street fashion in the way we see it today on the streets of Seoul without the QR-cycle-battle-hardened, fast fashion market sharpened, fickle fashion cycle honed PBH style of production in Dongdaemun. You don't get the ludicrously cheap prices and buffet-like extreme variety of fashion choices (often illegal knockoffs of looks taken directly from picture on ther Internet) that enables young Korean women to look exactly like and wear the clothing Sienna Miller was wearing in a picture of her within 48 of its being updloaded and disseminated across the world without the accelerated QR/pronto moda/fast fashion technology of the DDM PBH complex and places like it. And you don't get the latter without the 1990s Japanese street fashion market driving and sharpening it. (Kim and Kincade, 2009)
It is also crucial to understand and consider the demographic/societal changes that affect how the paepi are and how they came to be as agents of street fashion culture today. As in most things development related, the Japanese either experienced it first or set it into motion before Korea, but in a very similar way, given the demographic similarities and direct developmental connections between the two countries. Kawamura points out that in the Japanese case in the 1990s, an economic recession had destroyed not only old ways of thinking, but forced a shift to lower prices and a move away from the older way of branded items and outlets. This, along with the beginning of a sharp population decline, changed the way teens saw their futures. In combination with the prospect of probable unemployment even with a college degree, not to mention relative decrease in competition for spots in universities, create the social possibility for exploring life paths and identities outside of the study-college-job-marriage matrix for young girls. Hence, the environmental conditions for the eventual evolution of the kogal. (Kawamura, 2006)
In short, the existence of the paepi and the Dongdaemun fast fashion complex are inextricably linked, made possible by an 8-cylinder, turbocharged, fast fashion super-engine housed in the middle of the capitol city, the center of commerce and culture for South Korea. Even as South Korean society has evolved into the government's always shifting ideational plans for an segyehwa (globalization) and an "idea economy" based primarily on consumption as nearly a patriotic duty, the place of youth in a new economic order dictaated by high youth unemployment, one oft the lowest birth rates in the world, and a rapidly aging population, old promises and new forms of subjectivity themselves have changed the way youth exist in Korean society. This is a relationship and a phenomenon I plan to explore with both visual and sociological data in an extended form, based on extensive ethnographic research.
I initially conducted 7 structured, formal interviews in my office on the Hongik University campus, which was a process facilitated partially from my reputation and good personal rapport with several paepi after having photographed them and developed a working relationship with them, along with the reputation of Hongik University as the premiere arts university in the country, in which I was then teaching a course called "Understanding the Art of Photography." This set of interviews was both foregroundded and followed up by countless planned meetings, chance encounters, and photo shoots with paepi on the streets and also repeatedly at the recurring fashion event Seoul Fashion Week (hereafter, "SFW"). It in this capacity that I can describe my interaction with my many informants as "participant observation," although this relationship was never formally defined as such until recently, shortly before the writing of this article began.
The reason I chose the paepi for the present anlysis is quite simple. The paepi is the clearest and most obvious case study tool with which to explore the question that is the concern of this special edition, that of "The Role of Human Capital in Societal Progress in Asia." In choosing to explore this topic, I elected to redefine the new social imperative and paradigm of Progress laid down in South Korea by the Pak Geun-hye administration in its effort to prioritize the fostering of human capital in line with the new state goal of building a "creative economy," which has become the new buzzword of the day.
Methodologically speaking, what might be unusual about this analysis is how it brings together ethnomethodology, semiotics, and a bit of film theory into an integrated visual sociological analysis in order to establish individual actors' motivations within a larger theoretical framework grounded in Bourdieu's field theory approach to understanding social interaction. In this way, a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach offers a unique and powerfully integrated approach to explaining a new form that so-called Creativity has taken in South Korea.
The Problem with Social Capital in Organizational Analysis
I'll begin the bulk of the analysis by defining a problem with the way Bourdieu and his idea of cultural capital is generally employed in management theory, business, and organizational analysis, beginning with a block quote From researchers Mustafa Emirbayer and Victoria Johnson's article "Bourdieu and Organizational Analysis" to get the ball rolling.
Despite some promising steps in the right direction, organizational analysis has yet to exploit fully the theoretical and empirical possibilities inherent in a relational perspective upon the social world. In particular, it has yet to explore in systematic fashion implications for organizational studies of the writings of the airport though, perhaps the most important of all recent contributors to the project of a relational sociology. Bourdieu has had virtually no impact on organizational analysis, perhaps in large part because, despite extended analyses of organizations... To be sure, certain concepts associated with this thought, such as field and capital, two of the cornerstones of his sociology, already widely known in the organizational literature. However, the specific ways in which these terms are being used provide ample evidence that the full significance of his relational mode of thought has yet to be apprehended. Moreover, the almost total inattention to habitus, the third of Bourdieu's major concepts, without which the concepts of field and capital (at least as he deployed them) make no sense, further attests to the misappropriation of his ideas and to the lack of appreciation of the potential usefulness. (Emirbayer et al, 1-2)
Harvard sociologist's frank followup to Emirbayer and Johnson's shot across the proverbial bow of the an organizational analysis field engaged in the misappropriation of Bourdieu's theoretical framework simply must be read directly as the touchstone and beginning point for my own analytical additions.
The relational theorist Mustafa Emirbayer and the organizational scholar Victoria Johnson have thrown down the gauntlet to American organizational researchers, arguing that as a field we have not taken Bourdieu’s insights about the world of organizations to heart and that our theory and research are impoverished as a result. Their central argument is that while components of Bourdieu’s ideas have been picked up here and there, Bourdieu’s great power comes from its integration of the theory of the individual (habitus), the theory of social structure (the field), and a theory of power relations (the various forms of capital). The whole of this theory is more than the sum of its parts and so the potential of the theory has not been realized in American practice even if some of the parts have been embraced. Moreover, we have not explored the power of the theory as an approach to understanding a single organization, from the perspective of field, capital, and habitus. Where Bourdieu’s insights have been picked up, they have been considered at the interorganizational, not intraorganizational, level. (Dobbin, 1)
The "Extended Self"
First we should begin with a discussion of Russell W. Belk's notion of the "extended self." He begins his article on "Possessions and the Extended Self" by saying that
"We cannot hope to understand consumer behavior without first giving some understanding of the meaning that consumers attach to possessions. The key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as part of ourselves. As Tuan argues, "our fragile sense of self needs support, and this we get by having and possessing things because, to a large degree, we are what we have and possess (1980, p.472)" (Belk, 139)
Basically, what Belk is saying is that in consumer societies, our objects that we possess become actual extensions of ourselves, which is why we feel so devastated after a fire destroys our home and worldly possessions, or why theft often so viscerally feels like such a invasion and attack, like a violation. Indeed, Belk goes on to say that "Sartre maintains that the only reason we want to have something is to enlarge our sense of self and that the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have." In this way, if one thinks upon the growth of American consumer culture and Conspicuous consumption in the 1950s, it makes sense that the automobile became a major mode of defining the extended self in United States culture for men, in the same way that fashion consumption came to play a much larger role In the way that women to find themselves in the processes of expanding concerns of fashion down from the rarefied air of the elite into the mainstream for many American women. Belk makes interesting note of how
"...mourning for dead loved ones also may be interpreted as grieving for loss of self. The prior possessions of the deceased can be powerful remains of the dead person's extended self. These remains are often the focus of normal and pathological morning. (Volkan 1984)" (Belk, 144)
It did not take much effort to update his update his own theory to keep up with important changes in media and self-mediation, as encapsulated in His article "Extended Self in a Digital World."
25 years ago, when Belk (1988) presented the concept of the extended self, theere were already personal computers. But there were no webpages, online games, search engines, virtual worlds, social media, Internet, e-mail, smart phones, MP-3 players, or digital cameras. Today, with these and other digital technologies, the possibilities for self-extension have never been so extensive. There is nothing deterministic about the effects of technological change, and current digital technologies are merely the latest in a human technological history that began in Paleolithic times. Nevertheless, it is evident that the current wave of digital technologies is fundamentally changing consumer behavior in ways that have significant implications for the formulation of the extended self. It is time for an update. This is not meant as a challenge to or repudiation of the extended self, which remains more vital than ever in the digital world. Rather, it is meant to consider what is similar, different, and in need of change, that is, an update.
It is at this point that we come to the face. Before we move to the inevitable issue of Facebook,i want to foregroundsuch a discussion with the fact of a hypermodern South Korea that grew to adulthood within the pressure cooker of the Cold War, a culture of unfettered and unapologetic capitalism, and what many scholars refer to as the "compressed development" that formed a society that endured the development pangs of other industrial capitalist societies that often took more than a century or two, but which South Korea barreled through in a span of time not evenhalf as long, often within the single lifetime of a some octogenarian who have lived through it all.
For South Koreans, the massive changes that came with the advent of the Internet and Internet-enabled, so-called "social media" is not so fundamentally different then the changes brought about by having access to clean running water, private automobile ownership, hot water From the tap, and high-speed bullet trains, in progressive order of decades after the Korean War. By the time the 1990s came to pass, the advent of the personal computer wasn't such a shock to Korean sensibilities, in the same way that a population that hadn't even known email in the middle of that decade boasted of high-speed broadband Internet access in nearly every home by the beginning of the new millennium. So the fact that the first decade of the 2000s brought with it YouTube, smart phones, Facebook, and other means of extending the self is not something that came as a great, fundamentally jarring, nor existential surprise to many South Koreans.
Before moving on from the concept of the extended self in general to a consideration of what this means for the Korean paepi, we should first move to a consideration of how the Korean concept of chemyeon -- the social "face" -- is culturally situated within contemporary Korean culture. To do this, to attempt to measure the social value of the face in Korean society, requires the employment of heavy theoretical tools borrowed from one of sociology's greatest recent thinkers, namely Pierre Bourdieau. Generally, Bourdieau's explication of social capital is most useful here, despite the fact that it tends to be employed without much consideration to one of its most potentially powerful points of theoretical sharpness, that of the embodied cultural capital and habitus, and the crucially linked idea of field theory. (reference) We will return to the concept of chemyeon after sufficiently reviewing the basics of field theory so as to remind ourselves of its crucial importance to the concept of cultural capital.
TAKING FIELD THEORY LITERALLY
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 behaviour 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 characterize the way in which the commercialization and commodification of Korean culture and the desire to promote and export it outside of Korea’s borders fits in terms ofHyunjung Lee's notion of a “global fetish”, in which she points out how the notion of the “global” in South Korea having become so highy prioritized that it has become its own rationale, one capable of explainingjust 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 functionsto “globalize” South Korea.
THE KOREAN ASPIRATIONAL GLOBAL FASHION COMPLEX
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 organised and controlled way, with the goal of gathering the global gaze as a given. 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 districtof 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 beng 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
[Integrate London fashion Week reference here.]
Superstructure – The Image Society
Towards embodied cultural capital
One of the most popular discussions of the Korean face that occurs regularly within Western media, generally revolve around the issue of plastic surgery, both in terms of the size of the industry and the cultural symbolism belied by its popularity in Korean society. One of the best discussions of these discourses is the overview provided by Holliday and Elvfing-Hwang, (Holliday et al, 76) differentiates between domestic Korean version of the eoljjang ("best face) that would include a definition of a colonialist aesthetic mindset in terms of the desire to alter the face along the lines of media influenced notions of beauty and a desire to alter the face out of reasons related to the Korean notion of gwansang susul, which can be roughly translated as physiognomic surgery, which is motivated not as much by Western notions of beauty but by Korean cultural ideas of ideal facial features based on older, Korean, neo-Confucian norms.(Holliday et al, 70) Here, the idea that the traditional notion of women's place in society is one of being possessed of the "subjectless bodies" that must be placed into the service of literally reproducing and propogating the state in the biological sense is crucial to understand here, which is one reason it the choice to invest in improvement of that body by converting fiscal capital into embodied cultural capital can be seen as a completely rational one. Although Holliday and Elving-Hwang point out that only seeing women as the subjects of the desire to consume and invest in the self doesn't see the problem of consumption for the trees, since men are also under social pressure to invest in the same plastic surgery to increase embodied capital, for the purposes of the present paper, I would suffice it to say that the traditional Confucian emphasis on the bodies of women as biological vessel and as a subject whose value comes from the body is the most salient point in any effort to understand why women in particular are collectively pressure to obssess over appearance in general and the FACE more specifically. (Holliday, et al, 75-76)