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Hawaiian vibe washes over streets of Seoul: From clothes to tropical drinks, a taste of island life colors Korean summer

July 12,2017
From left: A Hawaiian pub in Hongdae, western Seoul, called Bonjour Hawaii, sells pizzas and pineapple drinks; a comic book cafe in Sinchon, western Seoul, named Pimang and Tomato; tinted sunglass by Vivienne Westwood; a Hawaiian shirt sold at A Land in COEX, southern Seoul. [YOON SO-YEON, VIVIENNE WESTWOOD]
Oversized shirts with bright colored patterns, long flower-patterned skirts and dresses, sunglasses with tinted lenses - this summer, Korea has been colored with the bright hues and tropical designs of Hawaii.

Floral patterns on skirts and dresses aren’t a new thing, but it’s not often that men are seen wearing apparel with such bright and bold patterns in Korea. Just a year ago, the most conspicuous type of clothing for men was T-shirts bearing oversized photographic images, ripped jeans and round sunglasses like those worn by John Lennon.

But this year, Korean men have broken free from their usual fade-into-the-background choices. Rather than going with T-shirts and sunglasses, youngsters are adorning themselves with the colorful clothing typically associated with Hawaii. Patterns of palm trees, flowers, pineapples and other icons associated with the famous island chain frequently appear on vivid primary colors such as red and yellow.

The Hawaiian mood has transfused into women’s clothes as well, on skirts, dresses and blouses. Although floral patterns have always been a staple of women’s apparel, this year’s flowers are bigger, bolder and brighter than before. If last year’s flowers resembled calm flower gardens of the European spring, made up of fine, feminine patterns, this year’s flowers glow fiercely in the sizzling sun, as they would in tropical forests.

The shirts are cavernous, and clothing shops usually sell one big size for everyone, including women. Even though they don’t fit like regular shirts, people either tuck them inside trousers or wear them open, like a cardigan or another piece of outer wear. Trendy women wear oversized men’s clothes outside of their otherwise feminine attire, giving their ensembles a unisex vibe. “It’s a lot more convenient for us, because we can produce a huge quantity of clothing of all the same size,” an industry insider said. “We throw out fewer leftovers, and we don’t have to think about what sizes people will be buying the most.”

On top of the colorful shirts, fashionistas finish off their exotic looks with accessories that stand out just as much as their clothes. Besides bags and shoes made with similar floral patterns, another fashion item that colors the Korean summer this year is tinted sunglasses, with lenses colored in different hues.

While last year’s sunglasses sported mirror lenses, this year’s lenses are a lot more colorful, and light instead of dark. The glasses take a variety of forms, from the Boeing sunglasses of the 1970s to round sunglasses like those worn by Leon in the movie “Leon.” But the frames are mostly comprised of thin, metal rims that bring a modern edge to these otherwise old-fashioned ornaments. Other hot items include bandanas and mini-tote bags for women.

With people diving into the Hawaiian mood, pub owners are offering a tropical experience to be enjoyed by even those who hesitate to wear brightly-colored garments. Decorated with palm trees, pineapples, bright lighting, parasols and other exotic props, one of the most popular Hawaiian pubs in Seoul is Bonjour Hawaii, otherwise known as “Sooni Hawaii.” Hawaiian interior themes aren’t exactly a new thing in the Korean capital, but ever since the 2016 “Doctors” drama series featured Soon-hee, a character running a Hawaiian-themed restaurant called Sooni Hawaii in Hongdae, western Seoul, Bonjour Hawaii has received attention not only from TV viewers, but also people who wanted to plunge into a tropical night without having to get on an airplane. Bonjour Hawaii sells shrimp pizza, hamburgers and pineapple squash served inside a whole pineapple to remain consistent with its themes.

On a sunny day in the streets of Hongdae, you can also spot people walking around carrying drinks served in whole pineapples or watermelons topped with cocktail umbrellas. Regular drinks, meanwhile, are wrapped in swim noodles, giving them a holiday-at-the-beach feeling. With the rainy season pouring down, street vendors disappeared for a while, but with a clearer forecast for the upcoming days, visitors to this part of town will be able to grab a cool pineapple drink of their own.

Shops that do not specialize in tropical drinks or food are also joining the trend. Even without pineapples and pizzas, a renovation earlier this year at a comic book cafe in Sinchon, western Seoul, called Pimang and Tomato, managed to create a calm Hawaiian mood inside its walls. Beforehand, the cafe had no particular theme, the owner said, and sales kept going down. With a palm tree in the middle of the room and soft lights illuminating colorful decorations on the walls, the cafe created a peaceful resting place for customers - a place to experience a foreign mood and tranquility at the same time.

“The mood is really unique there, and the owner turns on really groovy music,” said Yoo Nae-ri, a frequent visitor to the cafe. “It’s different from other comic book cafes, and that’s why I keep visiting that particular place.

“I really like the Hawaiian fad this summer. I hope it doesn’t go away next year, but I’m also looking forward to what will come. I hope it’s as good.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]