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North Korea

North Korea fashion is trendy and in style, says Elle magazine

A listing by the magazine describes "North Korea Chic" as "edgier" and "dangerous"

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 5:26pm

North Korea might be internationally known for its military regime, human rights abuses and even its odd tablet computers, but the reclusive country has rarely been called a trendsetter in the world of fashion – until now.

According to a recent report published by fashion and lifestyle magazine Elle, “North Korea Chic” is now in style, in the form of camouflage-coloured clothing reminiscent of the sort worn by DPRK soldiers.

“Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons,” wrote Elle Creative Director Joe Zee. “This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.”

The report, a listing of fall 2013’s clothing trends, was originally published on Elle’s site in August and ran in the September issue of the magazine’s US edition.

It drew critical attention this week after Shanghai-based writer and South China Morning Post contributor Samantha Culp published images of the magazine on Twitter. 

Max Fisher, a foreign affairs blogger for the Washington Post, followed up on the matter in a November 19 editorial, questioning Elle’s decision to promote North Korea.

“The words ‘North Korea’ are practically synonymous with ‘human rights abuses,’ which makes it an odd choice for Elle’s list of fashion trends,” Fisher wrote.

“That multiple staffers at the magazine would presumably see this item going through production without thinking to stop it makes one wonder whether they are unaware of North Korea’s reputation or simply don’t see it as important enough to get in the way of their clever fashion coinage.”

Similar reactions were echoed by commentators on various social networks, many of whom called the idea of trendy North Korean fashion “tasteless” and “insensitive.”

“Are you serious?” one incredulous Twitter user asked. “Elle published an article on ‘North Korea Chic?’ The same country rife with torture and starvation?”

“Would Elle…have done ‘Nazi Chic’ as well?” another commentator on Fisher’s editorial asked. “The fashion industry as a whole already [has] very little regards for other human beings toiling away in third-world factories for subsistence wages, why should they care for North Koreans in death camps?”

Elle responded to the public outcry by removing the “North Korea Chic” section of the original listing from its website, replacing it with “Naval,” a navy-themed selection of outfits. The magazine also issued an apology.

“We regret the reference to North Korea in our post on the season’s military trend, and have removed the image,” the apology read. “We apologise to those we offended.”

Alyssa Rosenberg, Features Editor for social analysis blog Think Progress, published an editorial in the aftermath of the fiasco arguing that Elle could have gotten away with the concept of “North Korea Chic” if the magazine had approached it in a more analytical manner. 

“[The original listing was] an awfully reductive way to explain designers’ flirtations with the fashions adopted and imposed by dictatorial regimes,” Rosenberg wrote.

“The rise of military-cut clothing and embellishments could say any number of things about the mindset of designers and consumers… A fashion editor’s job should be to make sense of these impulses and to analyse them, not merely take the quickest route to edginess himself.”

Tiffany Ap contributed reporting