[Herald Interview] Girls’ Generation’s stylist caps K-pop fashion industry over years

By Hong Dam-young

Stylist Seo Soo-kyung talks about her career and the structural problems in the K-pop fashion business

  • Published : Oct 18, 2017 - 16:49
  • Updated : Oct 22, 2017 - 14:09

After over eight years of curating the looks of K-pop fashion icon Girls’ Generation, stylist Seo Soo-kyung is often called the ninth member of the group for her family-like bond and history with the members.

Since her initial engagement with the sensational girl group for its third full-length album “The Boys” in 2011, Seo has evolved side by side with Girls’ Generation to become a super-stylist who now has an impressive portfolio highlighted by partnerships with global stars Psy and Seventeen. 

Stylist Seo Soo-kyung poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / Korea Herald)

As a leading fashion expert who knows what’s in trend way before anyone, Seo also creates her own social media content series called “Soo’s Style.” Her sartorial opinions and fashion tips for the public are highly acclaimed and inspire aspiring stylists.

“Working with Girls’ Generation made me realize how important fashion was in the world of K-pop, and I drew many overseas fans of K-pop fashion all around the world,” said Seo during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

“My goal is to keep sharing what I know with them through my own social media content, rather than launching my own line, which many other stylists seek to do.”

Seo has been so busy these days that she barely has time for food, she said during the interview, while shoveling salad into her mouth.  

Stylist Seo Soo-kyung poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / Korea Herald)

Despite her success and fame, Seo highlighted that structural problems in the industry are major hindrances for those seeking to build a stylist career in Korea.

According to Seo, K-pop agencies and their artists do not make much money from being featured on TV shows, compared to artists from other countries like Japan and the US.

“K-pop artists and people working with them, including stylists, are usually lowly paid, while artists and their stylists in Japan and the US receive more than we do here. K-pop agencies don’t get paid much from working with TV stations either. It's a vicious cycle,” Seo said.

Seo also accentuated that it was important to elevate the status of stylists in Korea to tackle such matter.

“We work day and night for our artists, but we sometimes don’t get what we deserve from both sides. So most of our revenues come from outside of the industry, such as shooting ads. And people from advertisement complain that we stylists ask for too much money. What else can we do? We don’t get paid from our main field, which is abnormal, compared to the structure in foreign countries,” she explained.

When Seo first started working, she wasn’t paid for her job either. It took her three months to earn 300,000 won ($265) a month, she said.

Seo emphasized that another of her goals is to pave the way for a better working environment for younger stylists. She will begin by educating junior stylists and communicating with the public through the creation of fashion content. Seo has been teaching students styling at Chungkang College of Cultural Industries since February last year.

Seo Soo-kyung (right) works with Yoona (center) of Girls‘ Generation in July 2015. (Seo Soo-kyung)

Having been involved in the industry for almost 15 years, Seo has witnessed how K-pop fashion has transformed over the years. Crediting Big Bang for K-pop fashion’s ongoing worldwide fame, Seo said the boy band was among the pioneers to feature a more down-to-earth approach to fashion. The group’s wardrobe was as realistic and hip as street fashion in Harajuku -- and easily accessible to the public as well.

“Before Big Bang, K-pop artists’ costumes were literally costumes. Stylists’ job was to kind of copy the lines of famous designers and recreate them into stage outfits. But Big Bang members were different in that they actually wore outfits freshly out from a designer’s collection. The public could also dress like Big Bang. From that point on, K-pop stars like 2NE1 and BTS started to wear collections,” Seo said.

“Nowadays, it’s a bit hard to style K-pop idols stars, as their fans are usually young students. They prefer school uniforms, which they wear daily, to high-end fashion brands for their favorite K-pop stars. They sometimes don't like my way of styling.” 

(Seo Soo-kyung)

Seo went onto share what it has been like working with Girls’ Generation. She called Sooyoung her fashion muse, while naming Hyoyeon was the a challenging member when it came to styling at first.

“I always try to share opinions on outfits with the members when styling them. While each members are charming in different ways, Sooyoung, she has a perfect body that can rock any kind of costume. I can style her in whatever ways. As for Hyoyeon, she wanted to wear girlish outfits which I didn't recommend at first. But now we found a middle point and she is one of the most fashion savvy members and knows how to style herself according to her image,” she said.

Asked how she has been dealing with recent news that three members of the band Tiffany, Sooyoung and Seohyun did not renew their contracts with their agency, Seo shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t think’s it’s such a big deal, because I don’t think Girls’ Generation will disband.”

“People keep asking my opinion about the issue as if it’s a big problem. If they are to disband, I would be heartbroken too, as I’m also a huge fan of the group.”

By Hong Dam-young (