If Vina Jung has her way, the next Gangnam-size hit out of Korea won’t be a music video, it’ll be trendsetting, fetish-friendly lingerie.
The Seoul native proudly claimed the title of South Korea’s first home-grown fashion lingerie brand last month with the launch of Vina J. Lingerie, an edgy (and very Western) collection notable for its generous use of chains, zippers, clasps and stretchy straps.
The debut set is called Fetish Versailles, reflecting some of the influences that Vina picked up over the past decade while honing her design skills in Europe.
Working mostly with black mesh and elastane, the collection features plenty of graphic cutouts and geometric panels complemented by metallic hardware. It’s the sort of look that would be on-trend in Paris or London, but Vina knows it’ll cause a stir in the conservative Korean market.
“Here in Korea there are no lingerie designers because women are too shy to show off themselves,” Vina told Lingerie Talk by telephone from Seoul.
“Women are really shy about buying sexy stuff. In Korea, women want to be seen as innocent and girly.”
As a result, she said, erotic fashion-forward lingerie has little profile in the consumer market and whatever designer brands are available are imported from the West.
That paradigm is familiar across the Asian lingerie market, but it began to change in Korea — radically and suddenly — two years ago when British erotic brand Agent Provocateur opened a store in Seoul.
“Magazines and stylists when crazy over their designs,” Vina said. “It shocked everyone. But since then, Korean women’s attitudes about lingerie have become different, more open-minded.”
Vina admits it was Agent Provocateur‘s trailblazing move that inspired to return to her homeland and launch her own label.
Now 29, Vina and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 19, then settled four years ago in the Philippines. But Vina resisted her parents’ wishes that she go to medical school and instead moved to Paris to study fashion design at ESMOD.
In 2009, Vina’s young career got a massive boost when she won the French national finals in the Triumph Inspiration Awards for student lingerie designers.
She competed in the international finals in Milan and saw her work profiled in such magazines as Vogue Italy and Madame Figaro.
And while she didn’t win the grand prize, the exposure brought Vina her first big client — pop star Katy Perry, who had seen Vina’s designs and asked her to create a bespoke piece for her to wear (above) while hosting the MTV Europe Awards.
The first Vina J. collection includes four style ranges — Nobility, Extravagance, Boldness and Antoinette — all of which were inspired by Vina’s visit as a student to the lavish Palace of Versailles. All those parallel straps, for example, are meant to emulate the walkways of the Versailles gardens.
Vina says she views fashion lingerie as “an environment that surrounds the human body like architecture” and as a medium that allows women to express their desires and needs.
Now she just has to convey that message to Korean women, who are more accustomed to treating “underwear as a necessity.”
“Korea women don’t spoil themselves,” she said. “I want to let Korean women know there is a different, sexy lingerie market available. I really just want to make their minds sexier.”
Vina J. Lingerie launched launched with an online store and is available in several Korean boutiques. Vina is currently working on some lingerie-inspired dresses for her Spring 2013 collection, and eventually hopes to bring the brand to North America.