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[Weekender] Conglomerates foster own luxury brands

O’2nd collection (SK Networks)
O’2nd collection (SK Networks)

Korean conglomerates are gearing up to nurture the future Louis Vuitton or Chanel, which will not only secure them with profits but also a luxurious corporate image and high social status.

Hoping to become the next Bernard Arnault of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy or Francois Pinault of Kering, business tycoons and their heirs are vigorously buying up designer brands or nurturing future star designers.

LVMH owns Louis Vuitton, Dior, Saint Laurent, Donna Karan and Celine, among others, while Kering has Gucci, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and others that generate millions of dollars of profits and help maintain the image of an invincible luxury empire.

Samsung Everland has had the most success by far. The CEO of its fashion department, Lee Seo-hyun, graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and has scouted renowned fashion designer Jung Ku-ho and Jung Wook-jun to diversify the company’s portfolio, shifting it from import-driven to homegrown.

Jung Ku-ho has used his signature architectural, minimal designs for KUHO and hexa by kuho. Under Samsung’s financial support, KUHO’s sales reached 90 billion won ($85 million) last year, compared to 7 billion won in 2003, when it first joined Samsung. Hexa, KUHO’s edgier brand, is now featured at New York Fashion Week.

Jung Wook-jun’s menswear collection Juun.J has been displayed at Paris Fashion Week and became the newest darling in the fashion scene with Karl Lagerfeld and other moguls expressing their support. Juun.J was also featured in the Hollywood smash hit “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and is sold at more than 65 stores in 30 countries, including Harrods in London and Barney’s New York.

“Lee always stresses that we need to have a Korean brand that is noted in the world. That’s why I am here. It is my mission to create a global brand in Korea,” Jung said.

SK Network, a fashion subsidiary of SK Group, has been particularly popular among overseas high-end lines with its O’2nd, by renowned designers Kang Jin-young and Yoon Han-hee.

The collection is now sold at top department stores in 17 countries including the U.S., China, Russia, Singapore and Japan. Kang and Han, famous for their classic but modern designs, said they decided to sell their brands to bring the company up to a global level, and that it has paid off.

“We have studied the market thoroughly and sought to position the brand high rather than bloating its volume. For example, when we ventured into the Chinese market we went for top-tier department stores only and limited the logistics to go exclusive,” an SK spokesman said.

Having started as a manufacturer that used nylon and other textiles, Kolon stretched out its business in 2012 by acquiring Jardin de Chouette, run by up-and-coming designer Kim Jai-hyun. It acquired the trendy shoe brand Sue Comma Bonnie last year and high-end purse brand COURONNE in 2010.

Sue Comma Bonnie is now sold in 19 countries while COURONNE has introduced its products in the U.K., France, Japan and Italy.

Jardin de Chouette and its sister brand Lucky Chouette are reportedly seeking to expand overseas, too. “We are absorbing the brand history, the know-how of production and exporting as well as its retail platforms and pumping up the volumes. This will have a win-win effect for all of us,” Eom Jeong-geun, an official at Kolon Industry, told The Korea Herald.

The Korean fashion houses’ advancement into the global luxury market is still in its early stages. “Money isn’t everything. There needs to be storytelling to create a brand image and quality control of universal design … It’s not easy,” said a fashion insider. “Especially when creative people are trying to work with businessmen. But I do see potential in the partnership, too. We can hope for more Korean luxury brands in the future,” she added.

By Bae Ji-sook (
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Korea Herald daum