Korea In The Global Beauty Flow

by Liz on January 28, 2015

in Fashion


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.


Blonde Asians

by Liz on August 3, 2013

in Fashion,Opinion

Model Xiao Wen Ju. Photographed by Tim Walker

There’s a new breed of Asian trendsetters in fashion magazines and on the streets, and they seem to pop up everywhere.

Asian blondes are probably nothing novel. No matter where you go these days almost all people dress as they please and dye their hair to their tastes.

It’s a bit harder to say why they are increasingly visible.

I think about Saskia Sassen’s theories of transnationalism and how globalization’s most potent effects manifest themselves in the denationalization of the national. The networks of surveillance and biofeedback that holds the threads of commercial civilization together have become so embedded in the daily life of even the most atomized individual they allow her (or him) to defy the heavy gravity of national identity and join the floating world of mobile apps, sound bytes and downloadable movies.

Some may say the mimicking of European hair color among Asian women is a post-colonial kow-towing to a Western standard promoted by Vogue or Swiss watch advertisements. I don’t entirely disagree with this observation. But if we are increasingly shedding the old Orientalism and trading it in for something a bit more cold, unblinking and sterile, we realize the blonded Asians are a visual metaphor for experimentation, though one that’s boxed in and limited to the superbrand sponsorship that has the final say about everything, including, dare I say, the color of our hair, no matter how off-key it may appear to the untrained eye.

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Graphic Origami | Kenzo Spring 2012

by Liz on November 29, 2011

in Fashion

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Takada Kenzo that I’m so drawn to, and I think what it really comes down to is the designer’s legacy of color, vibrancy, and fabric expressions of a love for life. The sway of a Kenzo skirt or a floral scarf flapping in the wind is certainly the material substance of good advertising, or a glimmer of a reason to get up in the morning, but if there are fashion editors out there who try to justify their work by conveniently suggesting fashion designers are the harbingers of things to come, or a thermostat to the reckless mood of the times, then the House of Kenzo should give them a reason to think again. For Spring 2012, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim paid tribute to Kenzo’s legacy with a no holds barred display of color, cut and proportion. Theirs is a fashion universe of orderly cheerfulness, an interesting concept to play around with in a world where we must constantly worry about what tomorrow may bring.

Fashion, like any other creation, seems to tell a story about a designer, or in the case of the Spring 2012 collection, his legacy. For decades Kenzo has been a Japanese designer shrouded in the whirlwind that is Paris couture, but for his fans he always stood out with his ever-so-subtle expressions of Japanese aesthetics. For myself, it’s something of a guilty pleasure to find a hint or two of Eastern influence in the mist, like the accessories shown here, re-envisioned for a fashion crowd with a discerning eye. The House of Kenzo is a rest stop for the weary, perhaps even the fashion-weary. And I wonder if it’s because this collection is a nod to influences in the designer’s childhood, when he read through his sisters’ magazines in Japan. It’s an outlet of happy escapism that looks backward rather than forward at one designer’s transcultural legacy.

A reminder that sometimes even nostalgia is enough to move us forward.

All photos courtesy of

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Prabal Gurung FW 2011

by Liz on August 28, 2011

in Fashion

It’s interesting to think what scientists have proven to be true — that viewing a beautiful work of art can affect the brain as much as being in love.

Apparently art triggers a surge of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, that results in feelings of pleasure. Perhaps even happiness.

If that’s the case, I really should be paying more attention to fashion designer Prabal Gurung, a Nepalese New Yorker who began his own breathtaking collection as recently as 2009. And he’s been gathering accolades like berries off low-hanging trees ever since.

And who could blame those who worship at his feet? Gurung clearly knows what he’s doing.

For Fall Winter 2011, Gurung sought and found an unlikely muse in classical literature. The dresses in this collection were inspired, he says, by the heartbroken Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. To Gurung, heartbreak is something that’s also transcendently beautiful.

I love the dresses and the accompanying details, and the bold use of red, a color in Himalayan and Tibetan prayer flags that denotes fire. Here it seems to highlight Gurung’s passion for what he does. There’s also black leather belts anchoring many of the pieces in place, a latter-day nod to the Japanese obi that also have all the elements of timeless chic.

(All photos via


The New Shanghai

by Liz on October 5, 2010

in Travel

Chairman Mao presides over a jewelry store

I’ve been absent from blogging due to a whirlwind 8-day tour of Asia: 2 days each in Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore, with air travel in between. Almost every moment, I ate, I saw, and captured moments with my Nikon.

There’s so much I want to say, but before I upload my other photos, here’s some night shots of Xintiandi, Shanghai’s hip fashion and dining district. It was here I enjoyed a mango mojito, coveted the hyper-expensive goodies at Shanghai Tang, but most of all took in the new Shanghai. (That could or could not mean I let fine particulate matter seep through my pores.) Foreigners mingled with locals, and it seemed like everyone who was anyone was out and about, lubricated but not morose.

Here are some snapshots of Xintiandi, in all its seductive nighttime glory.

Lantern festival.

Xintiandi's courtyard, surrounded by beautiful colonial architecture.

Mascara power!



Asian-American Fashion Designers on Front Page of New York Times

September 5, 2010

Early bird that I am, even on a Labor Day weekend Sunday, I stopped by the neighborhood bodega to pick up a copy of the Sunday Times, which in the Internet Age is purely irrational behavior. Why drop hard earned money in the bucket to read articles available online and outdated by the last paragraph? […]

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Dior’s China Gamble

August 13, 2010

The couture houses are obviously in love with China (see here and here), but like an awkward adolescent fumbling for expression, their odes of love are also getting tangled with clumsiness and impulses of another kind. If it’s not Prada’s implacable mandarins, then it’s Chanel’s take on take-out! Clearly, these companies are trying to break […]

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Jason Wu

July 24, 2010

Are you ready to be inspired? Jason Wu’s 2011 Resort Collection is a delicious exploration of classic French style à la Coco Chanel. Each piece suggests what it means to be a 21st-century lady. Of course, no one is better equipped than the Taiwanese-born Wu to define what a lady is. Wu came to fame when […]

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