Korean TV idols set tone among Chinese fashion consumers

By Andrea Fenn

SHANGHAI — “There are tens of million people watching them, they have become more popular than the evening news”.

Lin Yu walks down the aisles of Korea Museum with the two hands encumbered with shopping bags. The logos on the bags read “Korean dream”, “Korean movie star” and have writings in both Chinese and Korean characters.

Like many young Chinese consumers, she is enthusiastic about Korean fashion. And like most of them, the source of this enthusiasm is chiefly one: Korean television series.

The popularity of TV series from South Korea has grown so big to influence a whole generation of young Chinese in their lifestyle and consumption choices. As a consequence, Korean style is increasingly in vogue among youngsters, and clothes from Korea are extremely well received among Chinese consumers.

S&S Fashion Plaza is a department store in Shanghai. Among those who work and shop there, it is better known as ‘Korea Museum’, as it is one of the fashion malls catering to Korea enthusiasts and selling chiefly Korean produced and designed clothes, which now operate virtually in every big city in China.

With more than 100 shops, roughly 60% exclusively selling Korean fashion, assistant manager Hou Yibin argues S&S Fashion Plaza is one of the biggest Korean department stores in East China.

“There is a great demand for Korean-design clothes, and we serve customers and shops in most of the Yangtze Delta region”, says Mr. Hou.

Visiting the shops in S&S Fashion Plaza, it is almost immediately clear why Korean clothes stand out compared to the local garments.

Owner of one of the shops Liu Jianxu is sitting at the counter sporting one of his flagship items: a shocking blue fur jacket that would not go unnoticed on a fashion runway in Seoul.

Despite being nationally Chinese, Mr. Liu belongs to the North Korean ethnic minority of Heilongjiang and he is very proud of his roots, as well as of the designs he sells.

“Korean clothes have deeper colors, a better fit on the body and more pioneering cuts”, he explains.

However, more than the sophisticated materials and design, the main reason for the success of Korean clothes seems to be the huge influence of Korean TV series among young Chinese.

“All my friends love them”, customer Lin Yu, 25, explains. “And we all want to dress up like the characters in the series”.

In recent years, Korean drama series have achieved widespread popularity in China. A February 2011 report from the Korean Culture and Information Service shows TV series are the element of Korean culture Chinese people are most satisfied in.

The success of Korean TV – which has generated the new term hanliu, literally “Korean frenzy”- results in high views and sales of Korean video products. Li Fujing, a DVD seller in Shanghai, says Korean TV series “My Princess”, currently one of the most popular Korean dramas in China, is so requested that DVDs have been sold out for the past two weeks and it is virtually impossible to find in video shops around China.

Chris Berry, professor of television and film studies at Goldsmiths, University of London and International Research Center for Cultural Studies IFK, Vienna, reckons Korean TV dramas are popular because they are centered on topics that are congenial among young Chinese, chiefly urban women.

“Korean dramas involve love and family life, things that Chinese feel culturally close to and can relate to”, he says.

Prof. Berry argues through Korean TV, Chinese young middle-class feed their aspirational interest towards Korea and its glamorous capital Seoul.

“Chinese audience see in Seoul and in the characters of the dramas what China and the Chinese people might be in the future”, says Prof. Berry. “From these dramas, people imagine a glamorized and idealized idea of Korea they are fascinated by and aspire to”.

According to Prof. Berry, the success of these TV series is often linked to actual consumption, and adds in the growing popularity of Korean fashion in China. In 2010, Chinese imports of finished garments from Korea grew by 37.8% to USD 152m.

Korea is now the second biggest single exporter of clothes to China after Hong Kong. And fashion coming from Korea seems to be one of the products that Chinese consumers are most attracted to because of these television dramas.

“There are online shops where you can buy exactly the dress that one actress wore in that one TV series”, Prof. Berry recounts. “And they are extremely popular”.

Popularity allows Korean clothes to enjoy unconditional favor among drama lovers, even though the retail cost tends to exceed that of local products.

According to shop owner Mr. Liu, while there is a growing number of brands producing fashion directly in Mainland China, the majority of Korean clothes in China is still manufactured in South Korea. And this, naturally, brings retail prices higher.

“When clothes are made in Korea, quality is better and the design is more refined”, says Liu. “It’s natural that the price is higher”.

However, there is also who thinks the frenzy about Korean TV is leading to unbalances in the market, as sometimes clothes from Korea are merchandised at a higher price than the average only because of the connection with television dramas.

According to S&S Fashion Plaza’s Mr. Hou, Korean clothes sold in his department store can be up to 3 times more expensive than same quality clothes produced in China, yet customers still seem willing to pay the difference.

“Chinese consumers have a strange attitude, sometimes they are more willing to pay more for something rather than less”, he admits. “And this is an exemplar case”.

If the influence of television on youth is often regarded negatively, in the case of Korean TV series it might at least be bamboozling the consumption choices of several Chinese young fashion consumers.

Via: Korean TV idols set tone among Chinese fashion consumers.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Scot Oerther
    Jun 14, 2011 @ 07:37:50

    That’s great, I never thought about Nostradamus in the OR


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