Backstage Romance: Behind the Scenes at Seoul Fashion Week

Korean models at Seoul Fashion Week.

Put your backstage pass around your neck and get ready to take a look behind the scenes of Korea’s biggest fashion event.

Story and photos by Peter DeMarco

A slowed-down acoustic cover tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” blares from the speakers as Korean models line up backstage. They are so tall and wispy that they remind you of the blue creatures from Avatar. Munchkin-like minders in black hoods scurry around them unloading bottles of hairspray, tying bows, painting on lipstick, and buttoning blouses. The show is about to start.

The model at the front of the line jokes with her friends behind her, waiting for the go signal to strut down the catwalk. Camera flashes from the press pop around her as if she were a movie star. The models keep joking and laughing with each other. Julia-Roberts-like smiles spark another burst of camera flashes.

Today they are living out their Cindy Crawford fantasies. When there aren’t any fashion shows these young models are students or work in part time jobs. They can make hundreds of dollars in just one show but it’s obviously not about the money.

Time to Work It

“Ready…” says the director, holding back the model with her arm. Like an Olympic athlete, the model’s expression and stance change instantly. She pulls back her shoulders, straightens her back, and puts on her model face. Her lips purse and eyes become sultrier – almost burning.

“Go…” yells the director as she drops her arm. Everything about her look and the way she carries herself screams sexy confidence. Her legs and arms are so thin and long you’d think she was a praying mantis as she walks out on the catwalk. The crowd believes the outfit she’s wearing will be next season’s biggest hit as she struts down the runway.

International buyers place orders. The press take pictures and write stories. Korean pop stars sit front row next to movie stars. Older housewives in search of glamor sit behind VIPs. Younger students stand in the background behind the chairs: cell phone cameras held up high to record the fashion circus.

Fashion is Our Passion

The model walks to the end of the runway, puts her hand on her hip, and nails a pose. A bank of 40 or so photographers in front of her snap their shutters like machine guns. She tilts her head, shifts her weight on her other foot, and strikes another self-assured pose. Again shutters click like a swarm of locusts.

Fashion becomes life. Onlookers search for the next trend, the next hit style. The model spins gracefully on one foot and then glides away. The audience craves her look, her style, and will pay dearly to get it. Envy fills the air. The chorus to Lady Gaga’s song plays in the background as the model exits backstage: “Walk, walk, fashion, baby / Work it, move that thing, crazy.”


7 Days of Fashion Bliss

Seoul Fashion Week started 10 years ago to promote Korean fashion around the world. Today it is supported by the Korean government and attended by buyers and press from around the globe. Fashion Week runs twice a year at SETEC and a few other venues around the city. Visit the Seoul Fashion Week website if you would like more information or attend one of the shows.


Discovering Backstage Fashion Photography

At the show I bumped into Lorenzo from France (make sure you visit his site and click on “Ordinary People” under Photo Projects – fantastic reportage photo series on being transgender in France). He is a freelance photographer working for an Italian fashion magazine. He suggested I shoot backstage since “That’s where all the action is,” he said with a smile.

There is actually a whole industry around backstage fashion photography. Fashion magazines are looking for pictures of the models having their makeup done or posing with other models and designers for instance. These magazines pay up to $100 or more per published photo. And you get to travel around the world to these different fashion shows: Brazil, Barcelona, New York, Tokyo. What a life!


Best Korean Fashion Blogs (in English)

  • THEXOXOKIDS – This blog was started by “ChadChad”, a foreigner teaching English in Korea. He as gone on to become a model, photographer, and stylist. Check his HA:SANG;BEG after party pics –  by far the craziest event of the week.
  • Feet Man Seoul – One of the most famous Korean fashion blogs around. You can find loads of pics from the show there.
  • Kookokoreano
  • Park & Cube
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  1. Aaron Brown says:

    Great stuff, Peter!

  2. Gregory says:

    Nice piece. Love that opening shot.