Why White Models Sell Korean Fashion

June 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was pleasantly surprised to see images of model Daphne Groeneveld going up around the Seoul last Spring.  As the face for System, a Korean-based fashion label, her face was on billboards and at bus stops around the city, pouting her oh-so-fishy lips in the label’s contemporary streetwear.

Daphne for System S/S 11 (via FashionGoneRogue)

More Daphne (via FashionGoneRogue)

But as much as I enjoyed seeing Daphne’s perfectly pretty-ugly face on my way to school everyday, I was a bit puzzled by System’s choice of using her as their model.  Why?  Because in Korea, with a population that’s an estimated 97% Korean, nobody looks like her.  But System isn’t the only Korean company that uses white models to promote themselves in Korea.  Korean Vogue, for example, uses white models on the cover of most of their issues.  Sasha Pivovarova was on the cover last May and Gisele Bundchen was on the cover last month.

Sasha Pivovarova on the cover of Korean Vogue, April 2011 (via FashionGoneRogue)

Gisele Bundchen on the cover of Korean Vogue, May 2011

It’s fact that in many cities around the world, whiteness is beauty.  And in many ways, Korea is no exception to this.  Here, to sell clothes or beauty products, an effective strategy is to align yourself with whiteness, and the most obvious way for a fashion company to do this is to use white models in their public promotions.

But perhaps there are other reasons that Korean companies grant white models the most prized modeling spots, those being magazine covers and campaigns. One idea is that using white models allows Korean labels to participate, or at least feel like they’re participating, more aggressively in the global fashion industry.  Maybe to them, using Korean models would make them feel like they had limited appeal and that their product could only be niche.  This makes sense in light of the lack of Asian models in the American and European fashion circuits where white models dominate.  Perhaps if the fashion meccas incorporated more Asian models in their campaigns and on their magazine covers, countries like Korea wouldn’t feel like using models from their own country would compromise their company’s potential to grow into the global scene.


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