In the 90s, South Korean film director Kim Sung-su captured the mood of a lost era. His repertoire of gloomy, teenager-driven films — described as “scruffy Wong Kar-wai lite” by fanatics and haters alike — have generally been neglected these days, but a single in distinct, Metropolis of the Growing Sun (1998), spoke to a technology who were increasing up in the aftermath of the Asian Fiscal Disaster. It is also, coincidentally, jam-packed with juicy, irresistible menswear, and built house for the male fashion phenom of the time: the flower boy.
Starring IRL besties Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung, the movie traces an unlikely friendship between Do Chul (Jung-jae), a wannabe boxer who just can’t swing a punch to save his life, and Hong-Gi (Woo-sung), a hunky conman with exceptional pizazz. The sales opportunities slink close to Seoul in suits that would make TikTok’s comfortable boys froth at the mouth.
The supreme himbo, Hong-Gi has a flavor for figure-hugging tank tops, shrunken tees, ravey sunglasses and precision-cut tailoring. You either want to day him, be him or discover some other way to get into his wardrobe. Failed fighter Do Chul is significantly less adventurous — help save for the eyebrow piercing that decorates numerous a black eye — navigating the rat race in army surplus equipment, cargo pants and trend flip flops.
Just a 12 months prior to, Woo-Sung had risen to fame thanks to his portrayal of a schoolboy gangster in Sung-su’s previous film Conquer (1997). This time, the bad boy had gravitated to far more white-collar crimes, spending his swindled hard cash on hair gel, cigarettes and skimpy little ensembles. But what did this shift from no-fucks-specified to flamboyant suggest?
In her guide, writer Sunlight Jung clarifies that in the late 1990s, the macho gentlemen who had at the time dominated screens both bloomed into very boys or shed attractiveness to a lot more gentile male sales opportunities. The phenomenon, Jung explains, coined the time period ‘kkonminam’ or ‘flower boy’, a fusion of the text ‘kkot’ (flower) and ‘minam’ (a stunning guy). The fad stemmed from a growing obsession with the male people in Japanese shijõ anime and manga. The androgynous, elfin-type qualified prospects are known as bishõnen (beautiful boy), and all share very similar features: they’re tall with slender female faces and possess prolonged, glowing Rapunzel-like locks.
Just before 1998, Japanese culture was formally banned in Korea. As soon as the federal government phased it back again in, the forbidden fruits proved to be additional attractive than at any time in advance of. And so, these angel-faced boys became the hotties of a new dawn.
They weren’t entirely unfamiliar, although. For decades, teenagers were secretly receiving their repair in places like Cheonggyecheon and Myeongdong, where by Japanese goodies like CDs, shows and comic textbooks had been sold off-the-textbooks. The initially era of K-pop bands like H.O.T and Sechs Kies have been already trailblazing the bubblegum aesthetic from 1996 onwards, building Backstreet vs NSYNC* stage fan wars by donning eyeshadow, campy outfits and dyed hair. All of these had been major no-no’s on Korean Television at the time.
Lee Soo-guy, the founder of SM leisure, place together H.O.T right after paying out several years investigating youth culture and surveying teens. The consensus showed that “young individuals, disenchanted by the governing administration and its stark, macho, militaristic portrayal of adult males, wanted a gentler variety of masculinity”, creator David Yi writes. Quickly, actors this kind of as Lee Joon-gi and Bae Yoon-Jong perfected the formulation and offered it back again to Japan, the place the displays Wintertime Sonata (2002) and The King and the Clown (2005) aided to spark the first K-wave.
“A several many years ago it may have been regarded as sissy for a dude to be fussy about his clothing and look. Genuine gentlemen demanded the globe acknowledge them on their possess uncouth, unkempt conditions.” claimed TIME magazine in 2006. “In Asia currently, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in.” Contemplate the metamorphosis comprehensive.
But the influencer and founder of K-natural beauty manufacturer Cielo, Edward Avila, clarifies that ‘flower boy’ is a rarely made use of phrase nowadays. “The expression that is employed additional often these days is “잘생쁨”, a combination of the text “잘생겼어 (handsome)” and “이쁨 (pretty),” Edward states. Whatsoever the identify, the rose even now smells just as sweet. Acquire BTS’ Jimin on the go over of Vogue Singapore, Gucci’s collaboration with Kai from Exo, or the pretty-boy actors at Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales event in Seoul previous thirty day period.
“I don’t consider guys with ‘soft’ images are limited to Korea, they are now well known all above the world,” stylist Yang ah young says. “Korean information has been booming all more than the entire world, and the characters in dramas and videos are liked by several people”. And it is not just the stars using aspect. “These days, boys want to make a good impression not just for the community but also to the reverse sex, so they are going to get their hair permed, shave their faces, place on a little bit of light makeup, groom their brows, or develop a own trend fashion,” Avila suggests.
Over the previous decade, Korean men have come to be the world’s most important spenders on skincare and make-up, contributing $7 billion to the elegance field. A study by GlobalData located that 3-quarters of Korean guys often partake in magnificence treatments and 58% of Gen Z say they use grooming treatments at least once a 7 days, as opposed to 34% of Korean adult males in general.
The Korean Ministry of Defence even a short while ago announced that troopers will be provided with a stipend for haircuts and natural beauty items. Whilst it might sound like a put up-masculinity utopia although, the reality is a small murkier. There are no anti-discrimination rules to guard queer men and women in Korea, for instance, and required armed service provider is continue to viewed as a ceremony of manhood. There is even a whole style of K-dramas devoted to motion adult males with properly-coiffed hair and glass skin.
The style of skin-baring, genderless silhouettes viewed in the SS22 collections possibly will not fly on the streets, possibly. “There are a lot of ‘genderless’ brand names in Korea, but it is essential to inquire, what style of ‘genderless’ are we chatting about?” suggests Avila, “Boxy t-shirts and baggy trousers are already really popular, but things like restricted, see-by way of mesh shirts, skirts and heels most likely won’t go mainstream (for adult men). The trend would almost certainly only be involved with phase outfits, worn by K-pop idols or at Seoul Trend Week.”
Even so, the flower boys have absolutely blossomed. We’re betting that even Do Chung is partial to a sheet mask these times.