Angie Xue had always wanted to travel to Japan and South Korea, so when she saw that US$600 (approximately RM2,733) round-trip flights were available from California, she booked one immediately.
"It was now or never,” she recalls via phone.
Xue’s first order of planning after that? Booking a personal colour analysis appointment in Seoul, something she’d discovered through viral videos.
Personal colour analysis aims to assign individuals flattering colours that can inform their choices around clothing, makeup and accessories based on their complexions and skin tones.
The process can take 60 minutes, with colour consultants draping hundreds of fabric swatches across clients’ shoulders to carefully examine what makes their faces light up rather than emphasise dark circles or wrinkles.
For decades it’s been used by politicians, chief executive officers and the social elite as a way to put their best feet forward.
Now, on the heels of a TikTok craze, it’s sprouting up from California to New York, and Gen Z loyalists are increasingly making trips to Seoul with the procedure topping their bucket list.
In the US, a three-hour-long session at a place like House of Colour in Brooklyn, New York, can cost US$545 (RM2,482); in most Korean studios, the rates hover from US$80 to US$160 (RM364 to RM729).
In any event, clients emerge with personal, customised palette swatches, specific makeup recommendations and suggestions for what kind of jewellery to buy.
The trick is getting an appointment, particularly in Seoul. In her quest, Xue called more than 30 places before managing to book slots for herself and her boyfriend-a lucky break, she learned, thanks to a recent cancellation.
But because her colour consultant didn’t speak English, she was warned, she had to spend an additional US$50 (RM228) per hour to hire a translator.
The craze around personal colour was booming before Covid-19 hit South Korea. Now it’s resurging along with international visitation.
"During Covid, a lot of foreigners watched K-dramas and Korean movies,” says Sohee (Emily) Baek, a personal colour stylist at Color Society in Hongdae, Seoul.
"Since personal colour was often talked about in the shows, it became a big interest to foreigners.”
Colour analysis has undoubtedly been having a pop culture moment.
A simple site search of "personal colour analysis Korea” shows the topic has 375 million TikTok views, with content creators posting their experience, including detailed step-by-step instructions on how to book the service and where to go.
A viral video in which Jisoo, a member of smash K-pop group Blackpink, details her personal colour analysis results has garnered 2.6 million views on YouTube alone.
Even South Korean politician Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, made headlines when he obtained personal colour analysis.
This has fuelled such a tourism boom that the Korea Tourism Organisation has been using it to promote international visits.
The organisation went so far as to create a pop-up colour analysis studio in New York’s Rockefeller Center as part of a free summerlong event called Celebrate Korea.
Seoul colour consultant Baek says a wide majority of her clients come from overseas after finding her services via word of mouth or social media.
"They come from all over the world, with the most coming from cities like Los Angeles or New York in the US, but also from places like the Middle East and Central America as well,” she explains.
The spike in demand has Baek and her colleagues working overtime.
Her consultancy Color Society notched a record number of appointments in June, with 470 customers rather than the 300 it would book in a typically busy month.
Baek is stretching to work nearly 12 hours a day.
"We’re a pretty small shop with only two consultants who can speak English,” she says.
Appointments open two months ahead on the 26th of every month and are scooped up almost instantly.
"I find that I can’t turn away these customers, especially because they come from such faraway places,” she adds.
To Daniela Miculkova, 30, colour analysis stands out as a unique cultural experience that doubles as an accessible luxury.
"There’s nothing like this in my country,” says the Czech Republic resident.
For South Koreans, the tourism boom brings an added benefit: big retail spending.
Customers like Miculkova often walk out with colour swatches in hand and recommendations to buy specific skin-care and makeup products, along with an itch to overhaul their wardrobes.
The boom may create jobs, too. As the spike in demand reveals a need for more English-speaking practitioners, colour consulting workshops are available at South Korean job fairs, and companies like the Korea Fashion Psychology Institute are offering certification programs for colour consulting.
They also provide colour workshops for VIP customers at such luxury retailers as Valentino, Miu Miu and Dior.
"Personal colour analysis has become such a big part of culture in Korea,” Baek says.
"If you don’t know what your personal colour is, it’s hard to shop for the appropriate makeup and clothing-and to also converse with the younger generation.” – Bloomberg