There"s a famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep"s character icily deconstructs the path that an item of clothing (or in this case, the color cerulean) takes from the high-end runways to the shelves of discount stores. "That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs," she tells a character who scoffs at how seriously Streep and her fellow fashion experts consider which belt to use for a shoot. "It"s sort of comical that you think you"ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when in fact you"re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in the room from a pile of "stuff.""
The message (though slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect) is clear - outfitting the world is a giant job, and those who believe it"s a trivial one need not apply.
Streep"s character references the runway-to-store shelf path that most items take. Long story short: a model sashays down an Armani runway in an olive jumpsuit, the crowd gasps, fashion editors give it a thumbs up, HM stylists figure out how to mass produce a similar one at a fraction of the price in a factory in Bangladesh, and two years later a woman in Oklahoma breaks it out for her birthday party.
The movie was made less than ten years ago, and in many ways that path still holds up. High-end runway shows are still the catalysts for many trends, and discount retailers are figuring out new ways to replicate those cheaply.
But as Hallyu continues to spread at the same time that e-commerce is booming across many parts of Asia, the fashion industry must now account for the fans that aren"t looking to runways for inspiration. Instead, they"re turning to paparazzi photos of their K-Pop idols at the airport, music videos, and the social media accounts of their favorite stars for new fashion ideas.
"Koreans simply love their stars and so do the millions of K-Pop lovers around the globe," Christine, a representative of Korean e-commerce site Coco Fashion, told KPopStarz. "Once a K-Pop star wears something unique, it isn"t uncommon to find various people looking for similar designs and styles."
The K-pop style is now easy to see in everyday Asian fashion. Some of the most popular trends that have stemmed from K-pop include plaids and bold prints, breezy and casual airport fashionlooks, accessories like snapbacks, beanies, and colorful stocks, backpacks, large round glasses, high top sneakers, fleece-lined jackets, oversized t-shirts or knitwear, and patterned tights and leggings.
(Photo : KPopStarz) Yes, many of those designs and styles are still coming from the runway, but rather than a fashion editor like Streep"s character telling people what they want to wear, it"s CL or HyunA or G-Dragon that are inadvertently driving the styles and the sales. Stars of any country are often known as trendsetters, but in Korea more than many other countries, the trends that stars are squeezed into are the ones that translate into cash.
"K-pop together with Korean dramas, movies and even variety shows have a huge impact and influence on the Korean fashion scene," Joshua Lau, founder and CEO of YesStyle, an e-commerce site that specializes in Korean fashion, told us. "And the growth of e-commerce has made it easier for people from all corners of the world to shop online. Though comparable items may be available from local brands and stores, many fans and fashionistas want a wider selection of styles direct from Asia to create their own authentic K-pop looks."
Instead of replicating designs directly from the runway, then, Korean fashion retailers have their eye on K-Pop in order to keep up with the trends. The Coco Fashion team cooperates with several fashion bloggers who help keep them updated on the latest trends.
"I read articles and reports on Korean fashion and entertainment online and in magazines, and I rely on the YesStyle marketing and merchandising teams for regular updates on K-pop events and style trends," said YesStyle"s Lau. "I also use social media, especially YesStyle Instagram. Whenever I go to Korea, I make time to visit Myeongdong and other shopping areas to check what"s in stores."
Once they"ve identified an item that"s going to take off, they need to make or get it fast. Super fast. In the K-pop world, where idols, songs, and videos are fighting for relevance, retailers need to make products available before fans have moved on to the next big thing.
At Coco Fashion, the timeline works like this: an item gets the green light, executives immediately refer it to their two stylists, and either they or one of the 15 designer labels with which they collaborate figures out how to make it.
Lau from YesStyle said that his company partners with Korean brands that are also keeping their eye on the K-Pop scene, so many brands already have the item. If they don"t, their fashion team finds or launches brands that carry a similar style.
Ideally, the e-commerce giants will have items for sale on their site within a few weeks of a particular style taking off, but there are a few things they need to take into consideration before putting an item into mass production. More often than not, performers are wearing designer labels or custom-fit costumes that look smashing on stage or the red carpet, but wouldn"t be practical or affordable for the average fan. Stylists might have to find a faux fur or leather, for instance, or tweak a design so that it looks good on people that don"t have the physique of a conventionally attractive entertainer.
"Many K-pop stage clothes may not be appropriate for everyday life," said Lau. "Most of the brands we carry provide items that are of similar style to what the stars wear, but the designs and materials are geared towards regular consumers."
If that sounds like a big job, it"s because it is. Teams at sites like Coco Fashion and YesStyle, along with several other that are making the Korean e-commerce scene incredibly crowded, work hard to keep up with the fast-paced world of K-pop fashion. It may not be pretty, but to borrow from Streep"s character, one photo of a denim-clad HyunAcould represent millions of dollars and countless jobs. Pay attention, Hollywood - your Devil Wears Prada sequel is in the works, and it"s taking place in Korea.