Korea is fast becoming a test bed for luxury labels, whose success here is seen by many as a litmus test for other status-conscious Asian consumer societies.
Luxury brands often rush out products for the Korean market first and set up flagship stores here to test the response of Korean consumers.
Fendi recently released three limited-edition handbags here. "Koreans are very fashion-conscious and are Asia's trendsetters, so we decided to introduce limited editions here", a spokesman said.
St. John, a clothes brand favored by former U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton, also recently released a coat with a label that identifies the product as being sold exclusively in Korea.
In May, Chanel held a fashion show at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza for global VIP clients, and Dior held a major event there the following month celebrating the opening of its biggest Asian store.
One reason for the trend is the popularity of Korean pop culture elsewhere in Asia. The Korean Wave has prompted Chinese tourists to throng to Korea to buy luxury and beauty products.
"One strategy these days is to expose luxury goods on a Korean TV series to generate strong sales in China", a marketer said.
Korean celebrities are popular across Asia, and they are powerful salespeople for consumer goods.
Shinsegae International, which imports products from French luxury brands Celine and Givenchy, is being inundated with questions from Chinese buyers about which products are going to be shown on Korean soaps.
One of them, "My Love from the Star", about a woman's romance with an alien, took China by storm last year and did wonders for the dresses and accessories worn by star Jeon Ji-hyun, like Celine dresses and bags, Jimmy Choo shoes and Yves Saint Laurent lipstick.
Kim Young at Shinsegae International said, "There was so much demand for bags Jeon carried in the drama that we ran out of stock. Chinese buyers nowadays first check to see if a product is popular in Korea before buying it".
The company says strong sellers in Korea are now guaranteed good sales in the rest of Asia, so luxury brands will continue to focus on the country.
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