She was part of one of the most successful K-pop girl groups of the 2010s. Now, Sandara Park is ready for her own spotlight. Imran Jalal gets up close with Female’s first K-cover star.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Cupro-blend turtleneck sweater, cotton-blend pants, and Nicola calfskin shoulder bag. All clothes and accessories, Kate Spade New York unless stated.

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Polyester-blend midi dress. Earrings (worn throughout), Dara’s own

If Sandara Park and her girl band 2NE1 were still making music, they’d be marking their 10th anniversary in showbiz this year; established veterans in an industry infamous for churning out – then chucking – cadres of pop phenoms at breakneck speed. Alas, the quartet, who carved a trailblazing run through the billion-dollar K-pop scene in the early aughts with their sleek dance moves, larger-than-life stage performances and championing of female empowerment, disbanded three years ago (though not without leaving a legacy that includes nine number one singles and record sales of 66.5 million).

So where does that leave Park, better known as Dara to her 7.5 million Instagram fans and 5.27 million Twitter followers? Track down footage and social media posts of her visit to Singapore in March for the opening of Kate Spade New York’s first ever global pop-up store at Ion Orchard and you’ll have your answer.

Fans thronged multiple floors of the mall just to catch a glimpse of the singer. That she was invited to grace the momentous event further attests to her clout. Launched to celebrate the reinvention of the American label under Nicola Glass – its creative director since S/S ’19 – the pop-up was the first in a travelling series to reveal a hot pink set-up shaped like a giant spade, perfect for IG moments when shot from above.

Not unlike the brand, which has gained a new reputation for fun yet sophisticated retro-inflected ready-to-wear and bags under Glass’ stewardship, Park has grown up and is all game for transformation. “(Evolving) isn’t only important for an artiste, but for everyone. We only live once, so I think that it’s important to try many different things and challenge everything that you want to do,” she says softly yet assuredly in a mix of English and Korean during our exclusive face-to-face interview.

Cue her growing – and eclectic – list of acting credentials: She was the lead in the 2017 musical drama One Step – South Korea’s answer to that Keira Knightley/Mark Ruffalo feel-good hit Begin Again – as well as indie short 107th Night (2018). The latter – in which she plays a vampire – won the Foreign Suspense Thriller Award at the International Horror Hotel Festival in Ohio, Cleveland. Pretty experimental of “the sweet one” in 2NE1, if you ask us.

“Ten years ago, 80 per cent of my work happened in Korea, but now my career has gone worldwide. Eight out of 10 jobs now are for overseas markets, and that includes endorsements, fan meets and events,” she lets on. “It’s kind of funny (to think that all this has happened), but I’m really thankful.”

Her most important gig so far still comes from home: In February, she became a co-host on the long-running South Korean TV talk show Video Star (think The View x Ellen), cementing her status as one of K-entertainment’s most bankable faces. The weekly programme is co-fronted by seasoned comedians Kim Sook and Park Na-rae, as well as veteran actress Park So-hyun, yet she holds her own. Watch any episode and she comes across as cheeky yet winsome; her on-screen chemistry with her co-stars adding to the LOL moments.

In person, the youthful 34-year-old is the consummate professional, arriving on time and camera-ready with her hair and makeup done. K-pop stars are notorious for being reticent, even difficult, with overly protective managers. What we got: a seasoned model who had zero airs and was, in fact, at times too polite.

While it was clear that she wasn’t feeling the indie rock that was playing over the speakers, she insisted otherwise – and then started bobbing demurely when we switched to some Beyonce. She took every instruction on set with a respectful nod and smile – not that she needed much. It’s clear that the girl knows her angles and loves dressing up.

During her girl band days, she was known for her experimental hairdos and “street style, hip-hop” wardrobe. These days, her tastes have become more refined, she says, with a proclivity for classics made trendy if her Fashion Week snaps are anything to go by. Accompanied by a personal stylist, she picked out the disco-made-discreet look – a glittery blush pink turtleneck top, wide-legged pants in timeless brown, and a leopard print clutch from Kate Spade New York’s F/W ’19 collection – that opens this story.

Of her style evolution, she says: “I had to look strong and aggressive as a performer, but now that I’m on TV and hosting, I have to be more gentle and mature, and have the presence of an emcee.” How’s that for a mic drop? 

My Reading Room
Cotton midi dress. Necklace, Dara’s own. (Opposite) Polyester-blend polo shirt, matching midi skirt, and Romy embossed calfskin top-handle bag.
My Reading Room