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[70th Anniversary] Korea Herald must build on legacy to motivate Korean brand
Etro Korea CEO Lee Jong-kyu celebrates The Korea Herald's 70th anniversaryBy Choi Ji-won
Published : Aug. 13, 2023 - 17:31
The timing of the 2015 MERS outbreak in Korea couldn't have been worse for Dior.
The French fashion house had chosen that year to open its first flagship store -- the biggest in Asia at the time -- and launching its first Esprit Dior exhibition series in Seoul.
At the helm of the project was Lee Jong-kyu, then Dior Couture Korea's general manager and now Etro Korea's chief, who recalls it was in parts thanks to The Korea Herald that he was able to push through with the exhibition.
"I had to report to the head office in Paris everyday for three weeks with a detailed summary of how the virus trend was evolving and the possible consequences if we were to open the event in that situation. Those reports were primarily based on The Korea Herald, which gave me an accurate and daily insight into the situation in English," Lee, who is also known as Jason Lee, told The Korea Herald.
Lee's time with The Korea Herald as a reader goes back 38 years. Born in 1965 -- the year the paper got its current name -- in Haenam, the southernmost end of the peninsula, Lee said newspaper was the only source of precise and refined English as he grew up.
"I knew that English would be essential in life and found my own ways to study it. I started reading The Korea Herald then," he said, adding that studying abroad was an option open only to the children of diplomats and wealthy people in the 1980s.
When he had graduated from university in the late 1980s, Lee wanted to explore the world and chose an industry only just getting started in Korea at the time.
Korea's high-end fashion market was just starting to grow, with international brands launching in duty-free stores, and Lee saw the potential there. In 1989, Lee started his career at the local branch of Cartier's Asian sales agency.
"There was no Cartier Korea then, nor the likes of Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. The duty-free market was where they entered through, and around a decade later, those brands started to invest directly into the Korean market," he said.
Lee has worked as a local brand manager in all three of the world's biggest fashion conglomerates, LVMH, Kering and Richemont.
Spending few years at Burberry Korea and Salvatore Ferragamo Korea in the 1990s, he took up the chief operations officer position at Gucci Korea in 2000. In 2014, he became the general manager of Dior Couture Korea. In May, he joined Italian fashion house Etro's local office, Etro Korea, as its CEO.
Lee says there is a common lesson he got from them all, and that was the importance of tradition and innovating continuously.
Lee also stressed archiving. Legacy is built upon history, he said, adding, the more detailed records one keeps, the firmer the ground one stands on and the more original one's inspiration gets.
That is how the Esprit Dior exhibition grabbed the attention of Korean consumers in 2015.
"Dior was at a critical period when I began working. It was viewed as an old brand. We needed a striking momentum to change people's perception, and here, LVMH owner Arnault decided to hold the heritage exhibition in Korea," he recollected.
The iconic garments of the early days, the invitation card Dior had sent out for his first fashion show in 1948 and a life-size recreation of the label's original building, Avenue Montaigne Dior house in Paris, were put on display, inviting people to immerse and connect deeper with the brand's rich story and its haute couture identity.
Just like Dior, Lee hoped that The Korea Herald as a legacy English newspaper can take a leap in its 70th year.
"I believe The Korea Herald has the power to brand South Korea," Lee said.
"The overseas curiosity on South Korea is much stronger than we can feel here. Many people from some unexpected corners of the world long to get a deeper look into Korea and its culture," said Lee, who also headed the European branch of the local massage chair brand Bodyfriend.
"The country is now at a point where it needs to re-brand itself for foreign eyes. The Korea Herald, with its tradition, insights and social resources, can play the motivating role in turning South Korea into a global brand. A long haul it would be to brand a country, but a newspaper like The Korea Herald could become the momentum."
Maintaining one's reputation is important, but innovation is essential for growth and endurance. Italian heritage brand Etro, now in its 60th year, is facing a similar transitional period, Lee said.
"It's all about finding a new audience, and this goes same for all the brands. How well we communicate with the young generation consumers through reinterpreting what we have in our archives is the key."
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