This is the second installment in a series introducing key fashion neighborhoods in Seoul, Korea, which has become quite a fashion hub and a hotbed of street fashion, although you may not have heard this yet. It's my goal to familiarize Western readers with the fact that parts of Seoul are now hotter than Harajuku in terms of fashion creativity and dynamicism, even if it lacks the Cosplay flash. But that's what makes the street fashion in Seoul all the more real and interesting. These are the fashions of everyday Koreans and those who follow them sartorially, and these are streets worth watching.
Ewha Woman's University is one of the oldest universities in Seoul, founded as many were by American Protestant missionaries, and considered to be one of the top universities a woman can attend in general, right behind what Koreans call the "SKY" universities, which is short for Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei Universities. Doesn't fit into the acronym, but it's up there bumping shoulders of those universities in terms of quality and reputation. Now, despite being a women's University, one has to remember that Korea is still defined by the gender norms of America in the 1960s. Boys are boys and girls are girls, especially at a women's University, with the social norm being to wear heels and a dress, full-on makeup, and have every hair on the head in perfect place. Ewha Woman's University is infamous for what's students only half-jokingly called the "9 a.m. morning fashion show" in which the front gate is stormed by freshly dressed and fashionable women rushing to their first class of the day amidst a cacophony of click-clacking high heels. This is not to say that every woman in Korean college dresses this way, but I think it would be safe for the non-initiated to completely eliminate any idea of the American-style undergraduate rolling out of bed and into class in one's pajamas and slippers or without at least a long session spent in front of the makeup mirror.
I started out shooting a bit of Ewha Women's University front gate for this story, with three student interns in tow, when a lady with the best Korean-style sports jersey dress ever pops into view. This is one of the most popular styles on the Korean streets this summer and it was apropos that she appeared on the scene just as we arrived, so I had to snap a surreptitious shot of her outfit just in case she decided not to pose for camera willingly.
After one of the student interns bravely grabbed her and got her to pose, it turned out she wasone of the many Chinese tourists who are legion at the Ewha front gate these days, which is apparently a major tourist destination for the Chinese who come to Korea, which made sense since we spotted entire tour groups led by guides with flags right in the area we started shooting. This young lady turned out to be a confident street fashion model possessed of a Mona Lisa smile. Turns out she's an exchange student studying somewhere and Seoul and bought her sports jersey dress in Korea.
You can get a sense of how the mesh works and its transparency with a closer picture using the wide-angle lens, which is more my style, anyway.
Her and her companion were quite the couple and comfortable with the camera. We were actually pretty wise to arrive on campus around noon time, since we are able to find several real students to shoot in their natural environment actually going and coming from class. The Idae area (as it is known to Koreans by its Korean abbreviation of "Ewha" and University" (ewha+dae-hak-kyo="idae") is renowned for its young female fashion, but this is often a misleading place for street fashion photographers to shoot since is a major watering hole for women wanting to be fashionable, whether their students are not. So after school hours or on the weekends, most of the women in the area are not representative of young Korean female student fashion. We made sure to be on the spot during the prime hours for actually catching students attending the campus.
We immediately spotted some girls in a coffee shop we went to have a quick meeting and noticed the "West Coast" sports jerseys and were debating whether not to approach them for picture when I noticed that they were wearing matching jerseys T-shirts and that's cinched it. We had to get them. Find and it turned out they were also Chinese tourists who had just bought T-shirts in Dongdaemun, which they let us know through Google translate, and were eager to show us the very store where they had just seen these shirts earlier and were eagerly pointing it out as I was taking the pictures. They actually wanted to walk us over and show us the shirts on the rack. However, we didn't have time.
It seemed like we were mostly catching Chinese tourists, and we were hoping to get more actual students from the University. Since it was lunchtime, we decided that moving in toward the center of campus would yield more Korean students actually attending the university, who would be walking out of classes toward the surrounding area. However, given the fact that most of the Chinese tourists and exchange students we were catching seemed to be very big fans of Korean fashion and were actually better models for current trends than even the Koreans were, this turned out to be a good thing. All of the young Chinese women we caught on film were eager to tell us where they had bought their clothes -- and the new Dongdaemun Design Plaza seemed to be a major stop on the fashion train for all of them.
We came across something pretty rare these days on the Korean university: an actual demonstration! Well, actually it was more of a quasi-demonstration, a sort of information session designed to get people to sign a petition. I was actually more interested in her hair and her T-shirt then the actual content of the petition drive, and it seemed very much along the lines of something students do. Ewha fashion!
Upon asking this young lady whether or not I could use her picture for the purposes of a street fashion piece, she said that she preferred to not use the picture with her posing without the sign. However, in all honesty, I was more interested in her cool hair color and her T-shirt. But we wish her luck with her cause and in getting more money to janitorial workers in her University, which is I think one of the goals that I heard being mentioned.
More toward the interior of the campus, we are bumping into more everyday students doing everyday things, such as carrying their cups of iced coffee. This young lady is wearing one of the most popular skirts in Korea this summer season and we had to ask her to pose.
No matter how far we got into the campus, tourists were still legion. These two young ladies were walking through campus and more than happy to have their pictures taken by a street fashion photography crew.If anything, the many tourists both in front of and actually on campus were testament to the power of the so-called "Korean wave" in Asia. Korea, at the very least in Asia, has definitely become a place known for being modern, fashionable, and very cool.
We were now bumping into more Korean students coming out of or going into classes, and we caught this young fashionista on the way into campus, and she was easy and relaxed in front of the camera, a natural model.
She's a natural model, like many Korean girls who were trained on a diet of sticker pictures, private photo booths, and cell phone cams. South Korea coined its own word for "selfie" back in around 2004. Young Korean girls our well-trained in the fine art of "selca" (SELf+CAmera) and were uploading their super selfie portraits to eoljjang (best face) sites that became popular around that time as well. The average female Korean college student has about as much de facto amateur modeling experience as the average Western amateur model who has seen the inside of a photo studio.
We ended our little foray into the Ewha Woman's University with a bit more conservative, representative fare for the Koreans students these days. And her heavily-ornamented gladiator sandals are definitely the thing with the kids these days.
That's the way you end a street fashion photo foray!
As soon as the day ended and I was sitting in my office, as if on cue, our "awesome" model from a few hours earlier sent me a message about her pictures and we quickly decided that it would be cool to do an impromptu studio session since I had my studio equipment sitting in a box in my office ready to go and all you would need to do is find a white wall in a hallway somewhere. Considering what we had to work with, but also the find the picture we came up with but also surprising. but also, considering the natural talent and these which our model possessed, it's not really any surprise we got what we did. Definitely one of the best street fashion models I've ever bump into -- and I don't think it's any coincidence that she is a true-blue Ewha student.
P.S. Many thanks to my Seoul Fashion Report interns Charlotte Gryson, Yubin Lee, and Junha Kim, without whom I would have had a lot of trouble shooting for this story.