updated 30 Apr 2012, 14:58
user id password
Mon, Feb 06, 2012
Korea Herald/Asia News Network
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Korean fashion brands breathe fresh air into luxury trend
by Lee Ji-yoon

When Seok Jeong-hye launched her accessory brand Couronne back in 2009, the Los Angeles-based designer said she once considered hiding its Korean origin.

In Korea, where people are very conscious about brand names, especially those of European fashion houses, many were doubtful about the likelihood of success of a home-grown handbag brand.

"There were some people who called to ask about the brand and just hung up after realizing it's a Korean brand. But I had confidence in product quality," Seok told The Korea Herald.

After three years, her expectations have proved right.

Starting with the flagship store in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, the number of outlets increased to 23 as of 2011.

Sales also soared from 1.7 billion won (S$1.9 million) in 2010 to 12 billion won last year, with Couronne becoming the best-selling local accessory brand at Hyundai Department Store.

"It's old-fashioned to call a brand 'home-grown' now. People care more the product quality than origin," she said.

"Korean consumers are changing, although slowly."

Even though Koreans' fever for foreign luxury goods shows no sign of abating, local accessory brands are enjoying popularity especially among young office workers as they seek chic but affordable items.

With the whole handbag market growing about 10 per cent last year, some Korean brands saw a growth rate more than double the average figure.

Dominant players are still the nation's top four "masstige" brands (prestige brands targeting the masses) including MCM, Louis Quatorze, DAKS and Metro City.

The Munich-based MCM has posted more than 20 per cent growth every year since Korea's Sungjoo Group acquired it in 2005.

In 2011, the company logged 340 billion won in sales to Korean customers, beating global rivals such as Gucci and Chanel that sold 194.2 billion won and 188.1 billion won, respectively.

"We aim to become one of the top global luxury brands within five years," said Sohn Hyun-joo, marketing manager at MCM.

"Our global operations are also benefiting from the K-pop sensation in Asia."

MCM, which operates some 200 stores in 35 countries, will open more than 40 new outlets in overseas markets this year.

More recently, young designer brands like Couronne are emerging to bring a breath of fresh air into the local market with their new and fashionable experiments.

The color palette of Couronne bags was one of the wow factors here where most handbags used to come in black or brown with golden chains.

Its candy-colored Stephanie tote, coupled with its relatively low price of some 500,000 won, is considered an "it bag" among young women.

"A growing number of customers are making a reasonable purchase and we want to appeal them with our 'casual luxury' concept," said Seok, who is currently serving as director at the company after selling the brand to Kolon Industries, a local fashion retailer, in 2010.

Now many local brands, based on their strong performance in Korea, are hoping to gain new momentum in overseas markets. They first target European markets to cultivate a premium image and then aim to enter Asian markets for business expansion.

Considering the soaring luxury sales in Asia, industry watchers say the "Made-in-Korea" label is no longer a negative but helps their products better appeal to foreign clients.

"Unlike the common belief here, foreign clients are open to Asian brands as a growing number of their customers are coming from Asia. Product quality, not origin, is their priority to consider," said Joo Young-jin, a Kolon official.

Couronne also opened pop-up stores in London and Paris to gauge the reaction of European customers.

Thanks to the positive review at Harrods, London's upscale department store, the brand has been invited to the Vendome Luxury in March, a women's luxury ready-to-wear fashion event held in Paris. It is also planning new openings in Italy within the year.

Seok admitted that the brand still has a long way to go but believed firmly in its market potential.

"Skills of Korean craftsmen and designers are the world-class level. But the local industry has long failed to treat them according to what they deserve, leading to a decline of the whole market," she said.

"More local designers will come up with their own brands. I want to set a good example for them."

readers' comments

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.