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[Weekender] Woo Young-mi seeks homegrown fashion in Paris

What makes luxury goods stand out among fashionable items? What makes a luxury a luxury?

Chinese fashion columnist Wang Er Song says in his book “Luxury Attitude” that it is the buyers’ respect for the goods. “What makes a luxury a luxury is the abundant value it contains and people’s respect for that value, the stories behind it,” he writes. 

Designer Woo Young-mi. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Designer Woo Young-mi. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

WOOYOUNGMI, a Korea-based menswear brand, fulfills these conditions perfectly.

Having started with a small boutique brand, Solid Homme, in 1988, designer Woo Young-mi has been making inroads with her eponymous brand WOOYOUNGMI since 2002 and has received rave responses from people around the world who appreciate the craftsmanship of an Asian woman who designs clothes to make “every man a man of my dreams.”

High school students who dreamed of wearing sharply tailored Solid Homme suits have grown up to wear their dream outfits and, moreover, are buying WOOYOUNGMI outfits to look modern and chic yet masculine professional, even if the garments cost as much as those of global fashion giants such as Zegna, Lanvin or Saint Laurent. Some now bring their fashion-savvy sons or nephews to present them with their very first Solid Homme and share the brand experience.

“It really surprises me that so many people love WOOYOUNGMI,” said Woo during an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday at her shop-cafe in southern Seoul. 

Woo had just returned from Paris, where she displayed her 2014 fall-winter collection at Paris Fashion Week and visited her flagship store in the fashionable Marais district. Her collection was labeled “exquisite” by Detail magazine and the store’s opening reception was visited by hundreds of influential figures including Didier Grumbach, chairman of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

But the people Woo really fears and respects are her customers, those who remember every detail of even her very first collections and follow her design traits.

“Right after the show, you can see scores of bloggers and our fans who put each piece under their fashion microscope. They would notice whether I put on the right button or seamed the sleeves just a centimeter high or low… and they would say, ‘That’s so not Woo Young-mi.’ Even before I returned to Seoul, they have already made a shopping wish list for the brand,” Woo said.

But at the same time, the customers show immense support for and trust in Woo.

“They have bought my design from the beginning of their or my career and share my philosophy ― that by this time we are all beyond ‘cool.’ They would listen to my style suggestions and would even gladly try to fit their body shape into my clothes and feel proud about it,” she said.

It’s not only Koreans who reciprocate her affection for fashion. WOOYOUNGMI has become the most successful Korean independent menswear designer brand.

The WOOYOUNGMI collection is featured twice a year in Paris and sold at renowned stores including London’s Harrods, Paris’ Printemps, Bon Marche, New York’s Opening Ceremony and others.

Woo’s creations fit another condition of luxury goods ― universalism. Apart from taking the European climate into consideration, Woo does not alter her designs for the overseas market.

“The menswear market is much more sensitive to brands than women’s fashion,” Woo said, confessing that penetrating the European market was tougher than she ever imagined.

But Woo also admitted that she has been lucky to have had a chance to enter the global market thanks to the changing perceptions about luxury fashion.

“Instead of following conventionally famous names, consumers began to search for something new. The emergence of Korea’s national image has also torn down some prejudices while more and more people have begun to appreciate values such as the quality of the textiles, design exclusivity and others, rather than where the designer came from,” Woo said.

“I think the doors are now wide open for more Korean designers to enter the global luxury market,” she said.

By Bae Ji-sook (