South Koreans buying up iconic blue jeans preferred by Steve Jobs


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REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- This holiday season, South Korean youths are snapping up a new fashion statement -– the Levi’s 501 jeans made famous by the late Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs.

In this wired nation, where 99% of people under 40 regularly use the Internet, many trends are cyber-induced, and in recent years, young consumers have rejected the products and image of homegrown Samsung in favor of the iconic Jobs.


The blue jeans were, of course, only part of the uniform: There were the over-sized glasses, black mock turtleneck and New Balance sneakers. They were Jobs’ uniform of choice when he introduced his newest, hottest lines of technology, such as the iPad or the iPhone.

PHOTOS: Steve Jobs through the years

South Koreans buy tons of Apple products, but, style-wise, the jeans are the new hip thing.

A poll taken by Shinsegae, a major department store here, found that the Jobs-inspired 501 look was one of the hottest sellers this year.

At $150 per pair here, the jeans cost almost as much as one of Apple’s technology products.

‘In the case of Levi’s 501 jeans, they were sold out for four days at Shinsegae’s [flagship] store after Jobs passed away Oct. 5,’ said one store official.


Jobs’ look changed over the years. The tech genius went from a necktie and vest in the early years to a later look that featured a bow tie and button-down shirt. But he will be most remembered for the dressed-down turtleneck-and-blue-jeans look, which he began sporting in the 1990s.

So where did Jobs pick up his iconic style? Many Seoul fashionistas might be surprised at the answer: Japan -– a longtime style competitor here in South Korea.

According to Walter Isaacson, a Jobs biographer, the Apple founder was influenced by the uniformed look of many employees during a trip to Japan in the 1980s.

In his book, ‘Steve Jobs,’ the author related how the Jobs look came to be:

‘On a trip to Japan in the early 1980s, Jobs asked Sony’s chairman Akio Morita why everyone in the company’s factories wore uniforms. He told Jobs that after the war, no one had any clothes, and companies like Sony had to give their workers something to wear each day. Over the years, the uniforms developed their own signature styles, especially at companies such as Sony, and it became a way of bonding workers to the company. ‘I decided that I wanted that type of bonding for Apple,’ Jobs recalled.

Sony, with its appreciation for style, had gotten the famous designer Issey Miyake to create its uniform. It was a jacket made of rip-stop nylon with sleeves that could unzip to make it a vest. So Jobs called Issey Miyake and asked him to design a vest for Apple, Jobs recalled, ‘I came back with some samples and told everyone it would great if we would all wear these vests. Oh man, did I get booed off the stage. Everybody hated the idea.’

In the process, however, he became friends with Miyake and would visit him regularly. He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. ‘So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.’


Jobs noticed my surprise when he told this story, so he showed them stacked up in the closet. ‘That’s what I wear,’ he said. ‘I have enough to last for the rest of my life.’’

And the rest, they say, is history.


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-- John M. Glionna