SEOUL: International luxury brands are turning their focus in Asia away from Hong Kong and Singapore towards Seoul, which is increasingly seen as the fashion trend-setter for the region.

"Global luxury firms have begun to realise that what's popular in South Korea soon becomes popular across Asia," said Lie Sang-Bong, a leading fashion designer and head of the Council of Fashion Designers of Korea.

"Seoul is where they look to see the next big trend," he told AFP.

The 'hallyu' – or Korean wave – has been a feature of the marketing landscape of the wider Asian region for a decade or more, helped by a government decision to make Korea's cultural industry a strategic pillar for the 21st century.

But it is only recently that international brands have begun to fully appreciate the popularity of Korean culture, from TV shows to pop music, in part a result of the phenomenal global success of Gangnam Style, the 2012 hit by South Korean musician Psy (the accompanying video has been viewed more than 2.4bn times on YouTube).

The continuing impact of the K-wave can be seen in the way the cosmetics industry uses Korean TV dramas as a marketing device. Market researcher Euromonitor has reported how products featured in leading shows or used by their stars fuel "rocketing demand for the relevant colour cosmetics and skin care products" in other Asian countries.

And Kate Ahn, Seoul representative of Stylus, a British consumer research firm, described South Korea as a "springboard" for luxury brands to test consumer sentiment in the Asian market.

"It's a small country but a perfect starting point to tap into the Chinese market and beyond," she added.

The trend has been noted by influential fashion critic Suzy Menkes who chose Seoul to host the second edition of the annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference next year. 

"I think that (luxury brands) are thinking of this country as a hub, this city in particular as a hub, where people will go and buy things," she said.

Data sourced from Straits Times; additional content by Warc staff