[news] Pucca — From Cartoon Character to Fashion Icon; 4minute to Represent Pucca in Korea

in fashion capital France, even in a small, rural Provencal village, it is not unusual to spot Pucca grinning back at you from a chic young woman's backpack.

Since launching in South Korea in 2001, the red-and-black character has become a familiar face through stationary items. But Pucca's big breakthrough came in the form of couture on the European stage in 2003, and the little Asian girl now appears on licensed fashion items by such international brands as the United Colors of Benetton.

Vooz has over 500 licensing contracts in Asia, Europe and the Americas, and some 1,700 stores featuring Pucca wear dot the globe, from France to Brazil. Overseas sales make up for about 95 percent of the company's annual profits, according to Vooz executive director Charlie Shin. "We expect profits to go up about 30 percent this year from 2008's 470 billion won," he told The Korea Times.
Why does the rather homely girl appeal to trend-sensitive teenage girls and 20-somethings? The Korea Times sat down with Pucca's creator, Kim Boo-kyoung, to learn about the secrets of the quirky tomboy's success.

"Unlike Sanrio or Disney characters, Pucca is not pretty. She is no Cinderella ― she is wild and likes to unabashedly express her affections for her boyfriend. She leads her man and even dominates him," said Kim.

Pucca thus speaks to young women in the post-"My Sassy Girl" age, where Jun Ji-hyun set the norm for "unconventional" feminity. "Pucca was conceived before `My Sassy Girl' but I guess they're part of the same generation. I wanted to target women in their teens and 20s," said the president-CEO and art director.

Kim is a pioneer in many respects. In Korea, the concept of cartoon characters as a marketable brand was unheard of to begin with. The idea of selling such a product to an older crowd was exceptional.

"There is a large, established market out there for young children ― merchandise bearing Sanrio or Disney characters ― but I wanted to do something new," he said. Also, unlike Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse, she takes on human form. "People also said it a human-shaped cartoon character would not work in fashion. So in a way, Pucca created a new market," he said.

Pucca did not debut through animation like other 2D characters. "I was looking into the various media through which I could translate Pucca. At the turn of the millennium, e-cards were a hot new medium, and young women were the main consumers," said the 36-year-old.

Furthermore, it takes just one look at Pucca to remember her. "I opted for red and black, bold colors that are rarely used for cartoon characters, which are usually cute and pastel-hued," he said. "In Asia, Pucca's affinity enables people to relate to her while in the West her unique Asian features stand out," he said.

Interestingly, Pucca is not marketed as a Korean brand. She is clearly Asian, and most often thought of as being Chinese but she is not nationality-specific. Her pedigree simply states that she is the only child of a family that owns a Chinese restaurant that serves the quintessential Korean-style dish "jajangmyeon."

"We neither promote nor deny Pucca's Koreanness," said Kim. Pucca animations feature no dialogue and thus no original language. "Hangeul" (Korean alphabet) appears on various Pucca merchandise but has become part of the design.

The little heir to a Chinese restaurant has even been a goodwill ambassador for the local Chinatown.

Pucca is now being re-introduced in Korea as an upscale brand, through Pucca-shaped USB drives and women's wear. The booth that Vooz occupied at the recent Seoul Character & Licensing Fair stood out by featuring Pucca-clad models on a runway.

K-pop group Four Minute now represents the brand. "Four Minute belong to the same age group that Pucca targets," said Kim about the popular teenage girl band. "We thought they'd be the perfect group, since their image matches Pucca's funky yet lovely style."

source: koreantimes

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