Heart and Seoul

How Korea Conquered Culture

Since early 2012 the influence of Korea on the Western culture has been undeniable. It all started with K-pop. Gangnam Style, the catchy and unusual pop-song, paved the cultural trail for the K-wave, filling the radio, dancefloors and TVs around the world with flawless, perfectly groomed Korean beauties.
Instead of a fleeting one-hit-wonder, this started a love affair with Korea that has spread into entertainment, beauty and fashion, and which shows no sign of slowing down.

K-beauty burst onto the Western stage and has been gaining popularity amongst cult beauty followers all over the world for some years. As an industry it is out-performing many of the country’s other key exports such as cars and steel. Now, virtually everything on a typical dressing table has been influenced by South Korean beauty trends. Whether ingredients, innovation, processes or packaging, the influence of K-beauty on Western cosmetics in unmistakable. But is the K-wave a fad or is it here to stay?

International brands have realised the influence that Korea has on Asia and the rest of the world, and they want a piece of the pie. In 2015, South Korea exported £1.85billion worth of cosmetics, almost 40% more than the year before. By 2020, the K-beauty industry in South Korea is expected to exceed $13 billion (up from $11.6 billion in 2015), predicts Euromonitor International. Ever since they introduced the world to BB and CC creams, British and American consumers have been quick to buy into the Korean aesthetic of almost preternaturally flawless skin. Add in the fascination with their notorious 10-step skincare regimes, and a constant creation of cutting-edge ingredients and new products, often in kitsch, Instagram-friendly packaging, and it’s easy to see how the phenomenon was born.

Prestigious beauty houses including Lancôme and Dior have formed partnerships with Korean beauty brands to develop their products whilst middle-end and economy retailers including Barneys, Nordstrom, CVS and Target are turning to K-beauty to get customers in the door and help boost sales. A recent The Future Laboratory report concluded that “Korean beauty fuses function with fun and efficacy, which is why it’s so popular there, and now in the US and UK” – a true sign that Korean-inspired cosmetics are set to infiltrate the Western mainstream for years to come.

The influence of Korea in the Lifestyle space doesn’t stop at beauty. Aspirational international lifestyle brands have been quick to seize the opportunity that Korea proposes. Chanel held it’s 2015 cruise collection in Seoul in 2015; Christian Dior opened a six-storey flagship store in Gangnam (the biggest Dior store in Asia) in 2016 and media giant Condé Nast held its annual international conference in Seoul in last March.

It would seem then, that the K-wave is still on the rise as more and more brands take advantage of the exoticism, novelty and aesthetically-driven nature of K-inspired fashion and beauty.

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