The Relationship Between K-Beauty and the Catwalk

When one travels to or through South Korea, it’s good to save suitcase space for one thing: the plethora of K-beauty products that can be scooped up from the very many beauty outlets and emporiums that tantalise with their abounding must-buy sheet masks and skincare potions – the trends and hype for which, it might surprise you, are often actually made on the catwalk.  

“You may notice a lot of people in the front row at the shows are K-pop stars or influencers. It [the beauty trends] starts here,” mentioned Mikyung Jeon, Seoul Fashion Week’s executive director, who has a background in fashion magazines and marketing. “There is a strong relationship between the runway and the mass public – those influencers, through Instagram, let the world know the trends they see,” she pointed out – and, as a result, the trends they will try out and wear for themselves.  

“The celebrities come to the shows and then do what they see on the catwalks,” agreed hairstylist Hong-Z, who is the head of hair at O|MIN, the original hair and makeup agency in Seoul, a pioneer in the field, in fact, when Seoul Fashion Week started out some 30 years ago. The team can work on up to 30 shows across the fashion week and will often also work with the K-pop stars who attend the shows (the five-piece girl band AOA, for example, were among the K-pop stars we clocked sitting front row this season) on their own hair and beauty looks. 

“Last Spring/Summer 2019, rosy cheeks were very popular on the runways. It rapidly became a very big trend, and products quickly cropped up,” said Pa Yeon, O|MIN’s head of makeup. With 15 years of experience under her belt, she pointed out that now there is a real focus on the texture in terms of base and that the natural look is most popular – both on the catwalk and, accordingly, with the greater public. On hair, the natural look is also in – more rugged than tousled or wavy, to mimic a Western sort of laissez-faire.

“Seoul Fashion Week is not just about fashion; it’s about K-beauty,” emphasized Jeon, noting how Seoul’s youth energy contributes so much to that. And perhaps why, according to makeup artist Yoon Dan A (who worked on the award-winning Maxxi J show), fun things like huge fake eyelashes are so popular among the K-beauty scene right now. “They give the effect of making the eyes look deeper,” she explained. 

Yet, she was also inclined to think that the catwalk is not so entwined with K-beauty, instead noting it to be more of a personal stylistic from the designer to capture their world rather than something that filters down to the masses. Which is something, certainly, we’re more familiar with experiencing at the international collections. The answer, it seems, lies simply in which K-pop stars you do or don’t have at your show. And just how many followers they have. 

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