Korea In The Global Beauty Flow

by Liz on January 28, 2015

in Fashion

Neighbor

Fashion editorial from South Korean magazine Neighbor (2009)

Makeup is an interesting gauge of modernity.

At least, that’s what I thought after discovering the work of makeup artist Seong Hee Park, a South Korean beauty professional based in New York.

Park is an artist with the blush brush. She’s done work for major Condé Nast publications, ELLE magazine, and South Korean fashion editorials.

Elle Korea

Fashion editorial from Elle Korea (2012)

And, if you’re in New York, you can catch her lecture at the Korea Society, at 6 p.m.

Park knows a great deal about Korea’s beauty culture, having served at the forefront of its transformation for 12 years. What’s really illuminating though is her own transformation as she worked with scores of South Korean celebrities and models, including K-pop group Wonder Girls and TV star Yunjin Kim.

“Applying Western beauty (principles) to Korean actresses was not natural and even decreased their beauty,” Park told me by e-mail of a key realization she gained over time. She added that living and working in New York made her gain a renewed appreciation for a more natural look for Asian women.

Park’s professional realizations confirm broader themes of beauty globalization that have historical roots in Asia.

In Korea, for example, beauty standards of the West were vigorously pursued because of the influences of Hollywood after the Korean War. American media’s definition of beauty, such as the ideal of the blonde bombshell, was narrowly defined and was probably not congruent to preexisting notions of female beauty in Korea. But fair skin, while previously prized, became even more laden with meaning. It symbolized cleanliness, hygiene but perhaps most importantly – with postwar progress that emulated America’s.

Of course, beauty values have changed in Korea because of globalization and with it, a movement toward preserving cultural integrity.

Having been sold a Western concept of beauty for decades, in a boomerang effect South Korean cosmetics companies sometimes take an Eastern approach to the packaging and presentation of their own products. Could the tide be turning?

Sulwhasoo, for example, which Park recommends (“it’s my favorite Korean cosmetics brand”), is an upscale line of herbal-based products – that’s in trend with going green but also uses a traditional Korean ingredient, ginseng.

And if the popularity of South Korean skin care lines in the rest of Asia is any indication, it might just be a matter of time for Korean brands to enjoy a regular following stateside.

All photos courtesy of Seong Hee Park.

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