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The Impact of the Hallyu Wave

Have you been to the V&A's Hallyu! The Korean Wave exhibition? Let's discuss South Korea's cultural growth and future and what it means for the world of interior design.


Pictured: BTS by Rony Alwin for VOGUE, Gianna Jun for Burberry 2023 and V&A Exhibition Highlight: Beauty Adorning Herself, attributed to Kim Hong-Do, Joseon 18th – 19th century. © Seoul National University


The ultimate exercise in soft power...

The Victoria & Albert museum's immersive exhibit takes you on a trip of South Korea’s meteoric climb from a struggling nation depending on foreign aid in the 1950s to a high-income culture powerhouse with the world’s fastest internet connection. For the last five decades, this Asian nation has seen consistent economic growth and earned the title “Germany of Asia”.


Putting South Korea’s technology boom to one side (think Samsung, LG and Hyundai), its cultural exports have given it a growing grip on the realms of music, entertainment, beauty, and fashion. Collectively, this movement is referred to as “Hallyu”, a term originating from the Korean words “Han” meaning Korean and “Ryu” translating to wave. We’ve seen a global shift as audiences look to South Korea to set trends and dominate the zeitgeist.


You would have to be living under a rather large rock to have not heard the largest example of this, K-pop mega group BTS. Singing almost entirely in Korean, they have secured their place on Spotify’s most streamed artists of 2022. Music isn’t the only example of Korean culture transcending into the global narrative, in 2020 Korean director, Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite took home Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, and Best Director at the Academy Awards. Skincare and beauty aren’t any exceptions either, sheet face masks, glass skin and the 10-step skincare routine were all home-grown in South Korea.


French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton named Squid Game star Hoyeon Jung as its latest brand ambassador, while Burberry featured actress Gianna Jun in its latest rebrand. What is fascinating about South Korea’s cultural fibre is how post-modern it feels. It’s unique to them but feels familiar at the same time. The V&A’s exhibition certainly tries to unpack some of this, exploring South Korea’s historic relationship with America from its civil war to the prevalent influence of hip-hop on Korean musicians in the 90s.


A question remains, will there be a Hallyu Wave within Interior Design? If so, what will it look like? South Korea’s café culture (note the phenomena of Dalgona coffee last summer) seems to be a medium for interior innovation; popular examples combine elements of Scandinavian minimalism with a touch of eclecticism. It would certainly be interesting to see a contemporary evolution of Hanok (traditional Korean architecture) within the interior space. One thing is clear; South Korea still has more to say.

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