Leading British publishing house Thames & Hudson recently published a book about contemporary Korean culture for the first time in its 75-year history.
“Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style” is a tome of a book with a total of 303 pages, written by Fiona Bae.
Born in Seoul and based in London, Bae is the founder and CEO of an international communications firm called fionabae. The firm mainly works with clients that promote Korean modern art and culture to the world, such as Frieze Seoul, The Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and 2021, interior designer Teo Yang and architect Seung H. Sang.
Thames & Hudson first approached Bae in 2018 with the idea of a photo book with images related to K-pop and K-fashion.
“I accepted their pitch and then met them with a counteroffer,” Bae told the JoongAng Sunday, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily. “I said to them, ‘why not go further than just pictures, and actually take a serious look at why this style of culture took root in Korea and the reasons behind its success around the world?’
“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to properly introduce Korean culture.”
The publishing house accepted Bae’s pitch.
Though she didn’t have much writing experience, she actively used the ample knowledge, resources, and connections that she had built throughout her career to finding artists who could introduce K-culture to the world in her book.
Bae used a series of interviews to create the book in order to maximize the impact of the participant’s stories.
She was able to gather 18 industry leaders in various fields of Korean culture, including K-pop choreographer Lia Kim, rock band Se So Neon’s leader So Yoon, music label Dream Perfect Regime’s executive and creative director DPR REM, interior designer Teo Yang, artist Lee Kwang-ho, chef Kang Min-goo of two-star Michelin restaurant Mingles in southern Seoul, fashion designers Bajowoo and Isae, tattooist Doy and drag performer Nana Youngrong Kim.
“For the Koreans reading the book, many will wonder why it doesn’t include stars like G-Dragon, BTS, and Blackpink in the K-pop section and why designers like Jin Tae-og and Lie Sang-bong aren’t included in the K-style section,” said Bae, “but I wanted to focus on introducing young artists diligently working to make something of themselves, instead of the already-established, largely popular celebrities.”
She also considered the slow and lengthy process of getting a book published in London. At Thames & Hudson, it takes about a year to get a book printed after the author has finished writing it. That is in addition to a year of research prior to starting the book and another year to actually write it.
“By the time the book is actually out in the market, the artists introduced in the book would all be famous and easily searchable on the web,” she said. “So I set out on talking to artists who would still be intriguing by the time the book was published. I also didn’t want to include cookie-cutter types of K-pop idols that are made by entertainment agencies. This is the reason why my book revolves around subculture artists in Korea who are creating their own unique styles.”
Bae provided these artists with a questionnaire comprised of both general and personal questions.
Some of the general questions asked who their role model is that inspired their current style, how living in the city of Seoul has influenced their works, and their thoughts on the reasons why K-style has come to gain ground across the world.
“Instead of trying to force a certain definition or categorize it, I concentrated on depicting the characteristics of K-style over a wide range of perspectives and creating an accurate portrayal of Seoul which is the place where K-style is based,” she said.
In addition to Bae’s interviews, “Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style” also contains images by photographer Kim Tae-kyun.
Best known as a commercial photographer whose works have featured in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Kim depicts a side of youth culture with his own view and style.
The book contains photographs of the 18 interviewed artists as well as pictures of young people around Seoul that Kim took during his free time.
A few of the photos have already been published in a two-page Financial Times’ article in August introducing “Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style” and Korean culture.
Bae said that while writing the book, she found a single common attitude among young Koreans.
“Based on the values of Confucianism, young Koreans work hard to learn and work at everything,” she said, “They also enjoy singing and dancing together under the influence of shamanism. Young Koreans also have strong adaptability and practical thinking which we learned through fiercely competing in a rapidly developing society. The current K-style was ultimately born and developed through these attitudes of young Koreans.”
The book’s title, “Make Break Remix” also refers to the mindset of local young minds.
“K-style is a combination of the old and the new, the east and the west, and high-end culture and street culture,” she said. “It is about taking all of this culture in without bias and hand-picking the best parts and remixing it to make it sole one’s own. It is a very confident sort of attitude among young Koreans. This set of the adventurous mindsets that isn’t afraid to create, break and mix is ultimately the driving force of K-style.”
BY SEO JEONG-MIN [email@example.com]