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Wooyoungmi emerges as 'new luxury' menswear brand

The high-end designer brand partners with Samsung smartphones to appeal to millennials in Korea

By Nov 02, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Youngmi Woo, CEO of menswear brand Wooyoungmi
Youngmi Woo, CEO of menswear brand Wooyoungmi

When South Korean menswear brand Wooyoungmi had the highest sales in the men’s fashion hall of Paris-based luxury department store Le Bon Marché last year, surpassing prominent brands such as Ami and Valencia, industry watchers took notice.

This is how Wooyoungmi, 17 years after first showing its collection at Paris Menswear Week in 2003, has proved that a Korean designer brand can succeed in Paris, the world’s fashion powerhouse.

“The status of Korean fashion brands in Paris has dramatically changed over the past 20 years,” said Wooyoungmi brand Chief Executive Youngmi Woo said.  In the early 2000s, people in Paris would ask me if I were Japanese. Today, they ask me first about Korean fashion.”

In 1988, Woo launched a small boutique Solid Homme in Seoul and started her menswear designer brand. Focusing on the brand’s own identity and value, she aimed to develop a high-end fashion brand rather than focus on short-term sales. “I could have chosen an easy way to grow the business, for example, promoting the clothes on TV channels or selling the brand's license. In the end, taking the long-term perspective to focus on a high-fashion identity proved right,” Woo said.  

The brand’s reputation in France has rapidly grown since it opened a store in Le Bon Marché in 2008. In 2011, Wooyoungmi became the first Korean brand to become an official member of La Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculine, the governing body of the French fashion industry. The Korean brand currently operates 45 global stores in 20 countries in Asia, North America and Europe. While COVID-19 hugely impacted most of the fashion industry, the brand's sales rose to 54 billion won ($46 million) last year, up 8% from 2019. 

Wooyoungmi boutique in Le Bon Marché, Paris
Wooyoungmi boutique in Le Bon Marché, Paris

While the brand has a stronger awareness abroad than in Korea, Wooyoungmi is becoming more and more popular among Korea’s younger consumers. Koreans in their 20s and 30s are enthusiastic about its brand identity, classic and high-end, but also experimental and modern. 

To target Korea’s young consumers, Samsung Electronics partnered with Wooyoungmi to collaborate on its latest smartphone model Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 limited editions last month, after collaborating with US fashion designer brand Tom Brown for years. At the time, Samsung said it is partnering with the Korean fashion brand that the young generation is calling the "new luxury."

“The times of K-fashion led by Korea’s younger generation will come,” Woo said. “Many foreign designers and buyers often say Korea’s street fashion is the best. I firmly believe that Korean fashion can be higly successful all around the world.”

Write to Jeong-Cheol Bae at bjc@hankyung.com

Jihyun Kim edited this article.

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