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Korean male fashion models on the rise

Jae Yoo (CHOII Entertainment)
Jae Yoo (CHOII Entertainment)

They defy the common prejudice that Asian men are short, less fit and less fashionable than Asian women.

With faces smaller than the size of a palm and incredibly long legs on top of good communication skills and strong English ability, Korean male fashion models are emerging as the newest darlings of the global fashion scene. The new breed of clotheshorses sashay down the catwalks of internationally acclaimed fashion houses, pose for globally circulated magazines, and are featured on advertisements for powerhouses, breaking the prejudice and establishing the brand image of Korean male models.

The outcome has been impressive. Jae Yoo became the first Asian male model to run for Calvin Klein Men and starred in advertisements for Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany & Co, Hugo Boss and others. Park Sung-jin was ranked 27th on the influential site for his appearances in Calvin Klein, Uniqlo and Iceberg ads; and Kim Han-su walked for shows by Vivienne Westwood, Missoni and Dirk Bikkembergs.

“It is true that there is still a sense of unfamiliarity and unfriendliness toward Asian male models, compared to female models. Some shows do not even audition Asian male models at the beginning,” Kim Tae-hwan, a budding male model, told The Korea Herald. “But it is getting better.”

Kim Tae-hwan. (CHOII Entertainment)
Kim Tae-hwan. (CHOII Entertainment)

The 21-year-old has strutted for DIESEL, Neil Barrett, Dries van Noten, Phillip Lim, John Galliano and Kenzo’s 2014 Spring/Summer collections this summer, his debut season. The 187-centimeter-tall model’s very different images ― with his hair combed back he boasts of masculinity but when he lets his bangs down, he turns into an ethereal teenage boy ― have satisfied different clients who have been hesitant in hiring models with a less-familiar look.

Fashion insiders say the growth of Korea’s fashion market has contributed to the increased popularity of Korean male models. According to a report by Bain & Company, Korea is the eighth largest so-called luxury fashion market, valued at around 12 trillion won ($11.3 billion) as of last year. Naturally, the demand for models who can represent the customers of this important market has grown, they say.

“Boys these days have become taller and well-proportioned, with smaller faces, longer legs and lean but muscular bodies,” said Choi Joo-soo, head of CHOII Entertainment, the agency of Kim Han-su, Kim Tae-hwan and Jae Yoo. And the looks clients prefer reflect Korean reality, too, he says.

“In the past, designers (were) out for typical Asian (male models) ― with long single eyelids, big cheekbones ... but look at Kim Tae-hwan and Jae Yoo, they look like the cute boys on the streets of Seoul. This is a good sign,” he said. “And the models are eager to work overseas ― it seems to be kind of a dream come true for them,” he added.

But still, the number of Asian models active in the international fashion circle is small, compared to Caucasians, Africans and others, Choi said. “There are still lingering doubts about the models, and casting staff place tougher and stricter demands on them, such as requiring for them to be taller than 186 centimeters, be thin and well-built, and more, whereas they’re more generous to Caucasian models,” he said.

Apart from luck, endless effort seems to be the only key to a breakthrough.

“I have studied all the brands that I want to work for ― what kind of design and image they feature, which model types they prefer ― and prepared my looks according to their preferences. I would sometimes have to dress bulkier, sometimes show skinny legs, lose or gain weight in a very short period of time to match the needs of different brands while taking care of my personal fashion style to look trendy and chic,” he said.

“There is always the chance of designers canceling your booking at the last minute so you always have to be prepared and alert,” he added.

“I recommend for all models to be able to speak some foreign language at a certain level because when they go overseas they are just left there alone and have to climb the ladder on their own,” Choi said.

By Bae Ji-sook (