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Korean Culture No.7

K-Fashion: Wearing a New Future Copyright Š 2012 by Korean Culture and Information Service All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher. First Published in 2012 by Korean Culture and Information Service Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Phone: 82-2-398-1914~20 Fax: 82-2-398-1882 Website: ISBN: 978-89-7375-566-0 04590 ISBN: 978-89-7375-163-1 (set) Printed in the Republic of Korea For further information about Korea, please visit:

K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Le K-Chic (The 1990s)


The Korean Wave and a New Course for Fashion (The 2000s to Today)



Chapter Three

The Stories of Ten Designers


Prologue Chapter One


Walking the World’s Runways


A New Vision for Korean Beauty


Fashion: Another Korean Wave?


K-Fashion: Beyond Asia Chapter Two


The DNA of Korean Fashion


King Gojong's Silk Hat and the Gipson Girl (1894–1920)


The New Woman and the Spread of Western Styles (The 1920s–1930s)


Monpe and the Macao Man (The 1940s)


Korea's First Fashion Show and Fashion Designers (The 1950s)


Miniskirts: The Times They Are A-Changin' (The 1960s)


Youth and the Sociology of Denim (The 1970s)


Young Fashion and a Changing City (The 1980s)

iv K-Fashion Wearing a New Future


Lie Sang Bong: A New Take on Traditional Korean Beauty


Lee Young Hee: Bringing the 'Clothes of the Wind' to the World


Son Jung Wan: Eternal Song of Femininity


Woo Youngmi: Captivating the European 'Homme'


Moon Young Hee: Navigating between Two Worlds


Lee Jean Youn: Traditional Tailor in a Modern Body


Doo-Ri Chung: Elegance Fit for a First Lady


Kim Hye-soon: A Million and One Variations on the Hanbok


Lee Kyumbie: The Next Louboutin?


Zo Myounghee: Looking for the 'It Bag'


Chapter Four

A Walk Down Style Street


Myeong-dong: Fast Fashion Battleground


Dongdaemun: Linking History and Culture


Itaewon: A Toast to Cosmopolitanism


Cheongdam-dong: Brand-Name Stores and Designer Boutiques


Hongdae: Vive la Subculture


Garosu-gil: Where to Sample the Color of Trends


Buam-dong: A Ray of Handmade Sunshine




Walking the World's Runways v

“I think Korean fashion possesses exquisite cuts, superior quality, sophisticated color sense, and restrained details that avoid excessiveness. These strengths are found not just in the collections created by Korean designers, but begin in Koreans’ ways of life and attitudes. So while Korea may be relatively less well known for fashion, I’m certain the country will soon attain great global popularity for its attractive designs marrying Eastern and Western styles.” Gerald Tesson, buyer for Parisian department store Le Bon Marché

“The hats and costumes and details were just so fantastic, I asked to see more. They bought me books, and then I spent several days visiting the Korean Museum in New York. I was captivated.” Comment on hanbok, Carolina Herrera, fashion designer

“South Korea is shaping up as the next hotbed of innovative menswear, with three of its most prominent designers (Juun J., Songzio, and Wooyoungmi) creating tailoring with a twist for an international audience just as Seoul itself is becoming something of a fashion center.” The New York Times, June 21, 2009

vi K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Miss Gee Collection at the 2011 S/S Seoul Fashion Week

Walking the World's Runways vii



he notion of “fashion” first entered human history in the late Middle Ages. Since then, its evolution has linked daily existence

to art, production to purchase, personal predilections to collective consumption practices. Countries have used it in developing their own unique identities. France’s luxury industry dates back to the time of Louis XIV. Britain’s civil society came up with Casual Mod. Spain— dubbed the “Orient of the East”—developed an alluring beauty flavored with Eastern elements, while Italy’s industrial development helped usher in a masterful form of fashion with an emphasis on materials and comfort. Across the Atlantic, the emerging nation’s emphasis on efficiency was helping turn the U.S. into a sportswear force. All the while, this Western-focused fashion culture and market were captivated by examples of exotic beauty from Asia. At the height of Rococo in the 18th century, European palaces were being decorated with the ersatz Chinese styling of “Chinoiserie.” In the 19th century, Japanese art was all Prologue 9 Kaal E. Suktae Collection at the 2011 F/W Seoul Fashion Week

the rage in Western Europe. Ukiyo-e (traditional woodblock paintings) enjoyed wild popularity—and delivered a major jolt to Impressionist painters. More recently, the wave of postmodernism in the 1980s helped break down the cultural boundaries between the “West” and the “Third World.” Asian culture breathed new inspiration and imagination into the fashion trends of the Western world, a development that led to unique “ethnic” looks and forms of cultural expression. Fashion in the 20th century emerged from a mass production-facilitated combination of information capabilities and global networking systems. In the 21st, the brands that the marketplace recognizes are the ones that forge a distinctive stylistic language—powerfully original, with a unique identity— and mold it into a kind of cultural indicator. In a 2009 study by Korea’s

A hanbok fashion show featuring the creations of designer Lee Young Hee

Presidential Council on Nation Branding, Ministry of Knowledge Economy, and Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), fashion ranked

that contributed to Korea’s distinctive style. It also explains how, over a

seventh among the leading industries determining the country’s image.

traumatic path to modernity that led it through harsh colonial rule and the

At root, fashion is about selling an image, which means that the industry and the national image rely on one another. Fashion has become one of the

Korean War, the country came to develop its own fashion “language” and idiosyncrasies.

major yardsticks for judging a country’s competitiveness in manufacturing,

It takes a look at the designers transforming Korean fashion today, with

consumption, and trend-setting. In that sense, Korean fashion has a long

brief descriptions of the unique perspectives and styles they bring to the

way to go. But as Korean cultural exports (most notably K-Pop) have

field. Some set up shop in Paris during the 1990s, some have put in recent

triggered greater and greater interest in Korean culture and art in general,

showings at New York Fashion Week, and some have gone beyond the

Korean fashion has been drawing more and more attention.

realm of apparel, producing the best of the best in everything from shoes to

The book you are about to read gives an overview of Korean fashion’s


evolution to date. It looks at the difference faces of its globalization, and

Finally, the book offers a brief sketch of Seoul’s major fashion

it takes you inside the modern history of the field, where the groundwork

thoroughfares, each of them unique in its style offerings. The pages before

was laid for Korean style to make its presence felt throughout the world.

you present a brief but rich opportunity to witness a new fashion force that

The process that it shows gives some sense of the evolutionary process

is 150 years in the making.

10 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Prologue 11

Chapter one


A New Vision for Korean Beauty September 2012 marked the sixth season of Concept Korea, an effort launched in 2010 to raise global awareness of Korean fashion. Held at The Stage in New York’s Lincoln Center, the event expressed the theme of the project—the obangsaek, Korea’s five signature colors—through a performance by five dancers from the company of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. It was also an occasion to see the 2013 S/S Collection, and it shattered all expectations, drawing a crowd of around 450 luminaries, including such influential fashion experts as New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis, Vogue stylist Philip Bloch, and Colleen Sherin, fashion director for New York’s exclusive Saks 5th Avenue department store. Journalists from such prominent fashion magazines as Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar came out in force to cover the proceedings. It was a sign of just how strong New York’s interest in Korean fashion has become. 12 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Doho 2012 S/S Collection at Concept Korea

Walking the World's Runways 13

Models display creations by designer Song Jung Wan (left) and Kim Hongbum (right) at the Concept Korea 2013 S/S presentation.

Opening performance of Concept Korea by five dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company

There, in the world’s premier modern fashion mecca, five of Korea’s

were emotionally laden blends of retro reminiscence with the designer’s

top designers tackled the Concept Korea challenge. Each of them—Lie

signature brand of avant garde. Kye, a relative newcomer, offered a

Sang Bong, Choi Bo Ko, Song Jung Wan, Kathleen Hanhee Kye, and Kim

lighthearted, witty take on a repressive, suffocating modern society,

Hongbum—presented an array of distinctive pieces developed around the

and the desolation of its young people. In the process, she showed an

theme. By then in its third year of sharing Korea’s fashion culture with New

aesthetic all her own: tattoos developed around the theme of school

York audiences, Concept Korea had earned a reputation with fashion’s

violence, high-heeled shoes with a skull motif. Finally, Kim used the theme

elite as a place where designers took exciting risks.

of “Extreme Weather,” his clothing serving as a canvas to capture images

And all five of them stepped up. Choi won plaudits for the beauty of

of rugged terrain.

his juxtapositions of colors, likening Korea’s bright hues to its traditional

Taken together, the work of these five designers represented an attempt

rice dish of bibimbap. Son drew inspiration from the Spanish painter

to break past the confines of traditional aesthetics, defining a new image

Joan Miró’s work Everything Under the Sun, her spellbinding silhouettes

for Korea in a modern context. Reaching beyond the idea of the Korean as

emanating an oneiric, lyrical feel, like rays of sunlight scattering under

global, the designs that they came up with uncovered a unique universality

lush forest. Lie turned to images and notes from an old photo album to

with global potential—and won rapturous praise from New York audiences

develop a collection on the theme of “Nostalgia.” The resulting outfits

in the process.

14 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Walking the World's Runways 15

More recently, musical exports in the K-Pop genre have ushered in a Korean Wave (called “Hallyu” in Korean) whose ripples have carried it beyond core audiences in Southeast Asia and onto European and North American shores. More and more overseas audiences were consuming the latest in Korean culture, and the country’s image began to rise. First it was miniseries, then K-Pop and Korean cuisine. Now, K-Fashion is helping feed the wave. In January 2012, the Korean International Style Show (KISS) was staged in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Daiichi Taiikukan. Jointly organized by Korea and Japan, it exemplified the trend that has been under way in recent years. Its mix of K-Pop and fashion drew an audience of more than 33,000 over three days, with big K-Pop names like Girls’ Generation, Kara, and Sistar taking center Models take the catwalk during the 'K-Collection' fashion concert in Seoul, March 2012. K-Pop stars, super models, and celebrities attended the K-Collection, an event that combines fashion and music.

stage with designer Lie Sang Bong and the fashion brand Spicy Color. K-Fashion was riding the wave of a “Korea brand” rendered suddenly trendy by television and music. Korea’s department stores were thronged

Fashion: Another Korean Wave?

by Chinese tourists, who arrived carrying photographs of K-Drama stars and left carrying Korean-brand clothing. The YouTube-borne spread of

Korean designers first began heading overseas in the early 1990s, but

K-Pop into the global market has drawn much attention to the fashion and

they often found themselves hampered by global perceptions of the

beauty styles worn by its major acts.

country’s “brand.” Fashion depends greatly on the images conjured up

Recently, Korean culture is being commodified and adapted to industry.

by the country it comes from, the sense of it being a superior culture.

As a form of pop culture, fashion now has a secure footing in the European

In major fashion markets like France, Italy, the United States, and Great

market based on tie-ins with massively popular K-Pop performers. The

Britain, the styles coming from Korea’s designers were relegated to the

fashion world has begun partnering with local entertainment agencies:


E-land with SM, Reebok with JYP Entertainment, Cheil Industries with

In 2004, things began to change. The television miniseries Winter

YG Entertainment. Together, they are developing ideas for combining

Sonata met with explosive popularity in Japan; the outfits, scarves, and

fashion with the market-opening prowess of the agencies’ acts. In the

hairstyles of leads Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon became all the rage.

process, they hope to ratchet up the pace of the global expansion.

16 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Walking the World's Runways 17

K-Fashion: Beyond Asia

OLIVE, and BASIC HOUSE—a sign of the growing power of K-Fashion. Korea’s big fashion businesses have adopted a new strategy for expansion. They are working to establish their own distinctive identity and characteristics, either by absorbing existing designer brands or developing their

Bean Pole’s outfits for the Korean national team at the 2012 London Olympics

own. Cheil Industries, an established global brand, has

its own Bean Pole and Bean Pole Ladies brands, as well as designer Jung Kuho’s Kuho and Lebiege labels, while LG Fashions offers the womenswear lines MOGG and TNGT. Bean Pole’s outfits for the South Korean team at the 2012 London Olympics drew global attention when Time listed them among the event’s best uniforms. These brands have been particularly hot in the Chinese market, where stratospheric growth has put them on par with some of the world’s top labels. Back home, the department stores may be filled with foreign names, save for a select handful of major corporate brands. In China, it’s a different story. Take Shanghai’s famous Babaiban. Located in the central Pudong district, it ranks third among the country’s department stores for sales. It also houses no fewer than 15 stores selling E-Land brands. A number of them rank first in their category for sales, including Scofield menswear and Paw in Paw children’s clothing. And it’s not just E-Land brands: a wide range of other Korean labels have taken up residence there, including Cheil Industries’ Bean Pole, LG Fashion’s HAZZYS, Kolon’s QUA, OLIVE des

18 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Things are much the same in the city’s exclusive Gang Hui Shopping Mall, located in the Xuhui district. An outlet of the E-Land womenswear brand Roem on the third floor of the plaza nets some of the mall's top sales—about $3.1 million a year. A few steps past it is Teenie Weenie, whose 2,512 m2 store racks up about $4 million in annual sales. The site offers one-stop shopping with everything from children’s clothes to luxury wear. It is

A Teenie Weenie store crowded with Chinese customers

the only store in the mall with facilities this size. Along with the big corporations, a number of smaller companies have made impressive inroads in the international market. These roaring mice have helped shape the K-Fashion terrain by beating the bigger companies into markets abroad. One example is Youngdo Velvet. Founded in 1960, it made the decision to enter a high value-added industry making a fabric that, until then, only advanced countries had the capabilities to manufacture. In the process, it helped turn Korea from an importer of velvet to an exporter. By 2001, it was the world’s top producer and exporter of the cloth. Its Three Eagle velvet has long been used by such leading global brands as Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein, and Zara. The company’s spirit of craftsmanship led it to undertake an innovative expansion of its facilities that brought about

Walking the World's Runways 19

the development of a new, top-of-the line product: micro velvet, which

its launch, it set up distribution networks in various cities through linkages

blends the beauty and softness of the fabric with more practical design

with such major department stores as Henglong Plaza, Wangfujing,

elements like strong friction and washability.

Taipingyang, and Yintai Center. Today, it boasts a diverse portfolio of

Founded in 1987, Simone provides original design manufacturer (ODM)

brands with potential in different department store sections, including

exports for around 25 name-brand handbags from such world-renowned

BASIC HOUSE, MIND BRIDGE, I’m DAVID, and VOLL. It’s also working to

designers as Coach, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and Donna Karan. It

generate a synergy effect by bringing in local professionals for the design

accounts for 25% of the Coach products, 90% of the Michael Kors products,

and planning stages, helping to develop items that adapt Korea’s design

and 80% of the Marc Jacobs products on shelves at brand-name retailers

palette to the tastes of Chinese consumers.

and department stores around the world. Simone’s competitive advantage

Finally, Beaucre Merchandising has followed up the 1999 Chinese launch

comes from the full services it offers, handling everything from materials

of its ON&ON brand with other labels like W., Lapalette, and COIINCES.

and design development to inspection of the finished product. The company

In 2000, it collaborated with Japan’s Itochu Fashion to launch OLIVE des

holds some 140,000 design patterns and invests over $9 million a year in

OLIVE. Five years later, it set up the independent Chinese subsidiary

design development alone. Recently, it made ambitious plans to enter the

Beaucre Shanghai, part of an effort to manage its global brand more

$160 billion brand-name handbag market, taking advantage of a $40 million

efficiently. The special OLIVE des OLIVE line Morine Comte Marant has

market for so-called “accessible luxury”—offering similar quality to the top

been on display at Paris’s WHO’s NEXT and New York’s Fashion Coterie

brands at a fraction of the price. As part of this effort, it has developed the

since 2008, with exports to the U.S., Great Britain, Spain, France, and Italy.

0914 label, which it is now hard at work branding.

In 2011, Beaucre entered the Russian and Singaporean markets. Of the

The Basic House, which dates back to 2004, has a Chinese subsidiary operating five brands and 1,145 stores in the Middle Kingdom. Back during (Left) A gallery operated by Youngdo Velvet displays their own products. (Right) 0914 label by Simone

brands in residence on the third floor of Moscow’s Lotte Department Store, ON&ON ranked second only to Zara in its sales numbers. Morine Comte Marant at New York’s Fashion Coterie in 2010.

Walking the World's Runways 21

‘Gat’ Takes to the Runway The S/S Collection for 2011's New York Fashion Week featured a curious spectacle. Caroline Herrera, one of the top designers of the 1970s and 1980s, appeared with a collection of designs that drew on and reinterpreted the folding techniques and traditional patterns of Korea's traditional hanbok clothing. How did this happen? How did a New York designer whose client base has included such stars as '70s fashion icon Jackie Kennedy and actress Renee Zellweger succumb to the beauty of hanbok ? Perhaps the most instrumental player in this saga was Korean hanbok designer Lee Young Hee, whose Lee Young Hee Museum of Korean

Caroline Herrera’s 2011 S/S Collection for the New York Fashion Week

22 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Culture (established in New York in 2004) was the setting for Herrera's fateful introduction to the beauty of the Korean style. Captivated by the Korean lines she saw at Concept Korea, Herrera decided to present hanbok -inspired outfits in her own 2011 collection—reinterpreting the Korean traditional gat hat and the folds and patterns of hanbok garments, and applying the new ideas to Westernstyle clothing. One particular focus was the layering of undergarments, one of the major characteristics of traditional women's outfits in Korea. Just as Korean women added these layers to produce a voluminous silhouette, so Herrera transformed the Western petticoat into a Korean-style underskirt. Asian values have long been a source of inspiration to Western designers, but this was the first time the Korean aesthetic was being presented with such structural mastery by a foreign designer. Herrera's collection offered new evidence that the unique fascination of Korean fashion was not lost on overseas designers. Another designer, Dries van Noten, also showed hanbok -inspired pieces at the 2012 F/W Collection. The Belgian designer's dresses bore prints with lines from the cloth-covered paper collar (dongjeong ) of the traditional Korean garb—still another development showing the attention overseas designers are paying to Korea's distinctive beauty. He also invited his collaborator, hanbok designer Kim Hye-soon, to the event and greeted guests backstage wearing a traditional durumagi coat specially prepared by Kim.

Dries van Noten’s hanbok-inspired dress at the 2012 F/W Collection

Walking the World's Runways 23

Chapter Two



n Korea, the traditional clothing culture began to break down in the period after the 1894 Gabo Reforms, assaulted by a combination of

reformist and modernist ideas and an influx of foreign culture. Western fashions came to symbolize Westernization and modernization. Over the past century, the traditional outfits, which represented the culmination of five thousand years of history, have mixed and melded with Western clothing culture, resulting in a form of cultural assimilation. In the process, the traditional hanbok styles have taken root as a form of ceremonial dress in Korea, while Western fashions have become the norm for everyday life. A number of historical factors should be taken into account when looking for the Korean clothing aesthetic. The combination of Japanese colonial rule and cultural occupation in the early 20th century led Koreans to voluntarily adopt Western styles—thus missing out on the opportunity to shape their own fashion culture.

24 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A patchwark evening dress designed by Sul Yoon-hyung

The DNA of Korean Fashion 25

This “normalization” was hampered in the post-World War II years, when the country was struggling with poverty and deprivation, wracked by political turmoil and economic underdevelopment. Still, Korean fashion made gradual improvements, both qualitative and quantitative, as imported materials and clothing provided as relief by the U.S. came to influence everyday styles. The early 1950s brought a growing interest in indigenous fashion designs, and a few designers began to emerge on the Korean landscape. It was between the 1960s and the late 1980s that the country’s fashion industry really began to burgeon. By the 1990s, its reach extended outside the peninsula and was exploring new overseas markets. Styles based in Korean motifs and sentiments were hitting the market in places like Paris. As the 2000s dawned, graduates from prominent overseas fashion schools began making bolder forays abroad than ever before. Today, Korea’s fashion designers—the initial explorers and the newer generation —are working together to develop new ideas in clothing culture. Their efforts now look set to gather even more steam with the recent launch of the Council of Fashion Designers in Korea (CFDK). This chapter looks at the historical evolution of Korean fashion, and in particular the 150-year-long birth and growth of modern Korean clothing. The process gives some sense of how Korean fashion came to possess the dynamism and diversity that define it today. The long road to today’s environment—where the Korean Wave has helped usher Korean fashion’s distinctive approach into the world market, and designers have positioned its styles firmly in the contemporary global fashion vocabulary—can be traced back over the pages of history gone by.

King Gojong's Silk Hat and the Gipson Girl (1894–1920) The Gabo Reforms were introduced to Joseon-era Korea in the middle of the last decade of the 19th century with the aim of promoting modernization. A major effect of these reforms was to trigger the collapse of the dynasty’s society of class-based distinctions. One of the very first reforms involved clothing. In August 1895, King Gojong issued a decree that traditional topknots be shorn in the interests of hygiene and ease of activity. People also began donning Western clothes—in April 1900, the suit was made the official government uniform. Court dress was modeled on the Japanese style, which was itself an imitation of the formal dress worn by the British peerage. Tailcoats and frocks were adopted as ceremonial dress, and something similar to today’s Western fashions became the norm in daily life. One rather sensational moment came when the king, who had already adopted a Western hairstyle, took the initiative in wearing a silk hat with his court dress. After his decree, men and women alike adopted Western headwear without much of a fuss—a transition perhaps attributable to the traditional practices of Joseon, which was something of a hatwearing dynasty to begin with. Custom dictated the covering of the head indoors and out, so while the masses were rather

26 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

King Gojong with his Western hairstyle and court dress

The DNA of Korean Fashion 27

perturbed about Western clothing culture as

forcible modernization efforts imposed by Korea’s colonial rulers in Japan.

a whole, the adoption of head gear at least

Koreans had to wear Japanese-style military, police, school, and nursing

moved relatively swiftly.

uniforms; at schools founded by foreign missionaries, they donned

Women, especially those who had

Western uniforms. Female students were made to attend school in a short,

received the “new education,” began

black one-piece skirt with a jeogori (traditional Korean jacket), and to

copying the style of foreign missionaries

remove their sseugaechima shawls and jang-ot long hoods. When this

and the wives of diplomats. One particularly

triggered a drop in enrolment, they were instructed to carry black parasols

prominent Western style at the time was

instead. Some years before in 1907, students at Sookmyung Girls’ School

that of the “Gibson Girl.” Massively popular

had drawn stares with plum-colored Western uniforms in place of the

in the West during the 1890s, it consisted

traditional skirt/jacket combo. By the years after 1918, however, women

of a lacy blouse with a high neckline and

were wearing relatively short one-piece dresses that rose up over the

capacious leg-of-mutton sleeves, a billowing

ankle, and three-quarter sleeves that showed a bit of arm.

flared gored skirt, and a flower-bedecked hat. Princess Sunheon (mother of Prince Imperial Yeong) was among those who adopted the style: the princess consort, a figure who made great contributions to public education for women and founded Jin Myung Girls’ High School, sported her Gibson girl dress with an umbrella and gloves. Yoon Go-ryeo, one of the first women to wear Western garb in Korea, combined a Gibson girl dress with a Merry Widow hat— a flower-decorated number popularized by Princess Sunheon (top) and a Western woman (bottom) in Gibson Girl dress

actress and trend-setter Lily Elsie in the play of the same name. With the 1910s came the groundwork for

28 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The New Woman and the Spread of Western Styles (The 1920s–1930s) The 1920s were marked by an escalating values conflict between an older generation educated in Confucianism and a newer generation raised on Western teachings. As more and more women received the “new education,” dressmaking schools began to crop up all over; women’s groups started organizing dressmaking courses. The Flapper look was the height of Western fashion around the same time, and its impact ended up reaching Korean fashion, too: the so-called “modern girl” sported a boyish bob. These new women became a driving force in fashion, spearheading campaigns for gender equality and clothing improvements. One especially prominent figure was the dancer Choi Seung-hee, the day’s top fashion icon. Educated overseas, she popularized a flat-collared cape and fashion-

The DNA of Korean Fashion 29

forward adaptations of the traditional hanbok. The next decade saw more and more students adopting Westernized school uniforms. The typical outfit for the day was a sailor suit, a pleated skirt with a hat, or a high-waisted pleated jumper skirt. As female school uniforms grew more and more Westernized, so too did Western styles become increasingly popular among ordinary women. There was something Dancer Choi Seung-hee, a top fashion icon of the 1920s-1930s

of a division of fashion labor: traditional and modified hanbok in daily life, Western styles at the workplace. This was also a period when

the new style of wedding dress made its appearance. The year 1937 brought the opening of Unjwaok, Korea’s first store for Western women’s clothing. The International Clothing School opened its doors the following year, offering opportunities for education in dressmaking. This technical education helped usher in a new era of Westernization in women’s clothing.

Monpe and the Macao Man (The 1940s) With the 1939 outbreak of World War II, Korean fashion was thrust into a period of upheaval. A wartime system went into effect for every area of daily life, and clothing did not escape the winds of change. The Japanese colonial overlords forced men to don a civilian uniform called the gungminbok; women were made to wear light gandanbok outfits or pants called monpe. The gandanbok was similar to a nurse’s uniform, a one-piece belted dress with pockets on either side. The monpe was Korea’s first example of trousers for women, developed when Korean women combined Japanese women’s work pants with a jeogori jacket or shirt for ease of

A fashion show representing the “modern girl” outfits of the 1920s

labor. In the interests of functionality, the pants were creased and tied to an appropriate width at the waist or legs. The country was freed from the

Monpe (top) and military-esque suits (bottom) in the 1940s

Japanese yoke in 1945, and the combined effects of returning overseas Koreans and the recently ended war resulted in a craze for military-esque suits with heavily padded shoulders, along with fashions in military colors. But most people in this period were desperately poor. Lacking material, women made do with simple blouses and skirts.

30 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 31

Students in rural areas wove uniforms of mixed muslin and silk, part of a self-production welfare effort. The colors were military or solid black. It was around this time of fabric shortage, when most clothing was made from serge or modified military uniforms, that the so-called “Macao man” arrived on the scene. Dressed in Western outfits with material from the Portuguese colony, these fashion plates set off a veritable sensation: broad shoulders and collars, large jackets, pants that were loose in the rear and thigh, gradually tapering on their way to the bottom hem. At the time, Macao was a major distribution center for British clothing. The “Macao style” offers a snapshot of a time when clothing culture was shaped by contraband. Meanwhile, women were showing a renewed interest in the permanent wave, which had been banned in the latter days of Japanese rule. Conservatives railed against what they saw as excessive use of makeup. As relief goods and contraband flooded the country in the late 1940s, Koreans just seemed to be finding some sort of equilibrium. Then, on June 25, 1950, everything changed with the outbreak of the Korean War.

Korea's First Fashion Show and Fashion Designers (The 1950s) It was in the 1950s that Korean fashion first began developing independently. The concept of “fashion”—the collective adoption of particular styles—became a subject for exploration and interpretation, and an infrastructure for importing and distributing it began to take shape. As the Korean War came to a close in 1953 with the signing of an armistice agreement, refugees made their way to the capital city of Seoul in droves. Traditional hanbok and Western fashion coexist in a street of Myeong-dong during the 1950s.

32 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

In December of the following year, Choi Kyung-ja opened the International Western Clothing Company right in the heart of the city’s Myeong-dong neighborhood. Next to it, she put up the Choi Kyung-ja Clothing Institute, providing the country’s first-ever fashion education. The company’s clientele included some of the biggest stars of the day, including actresses Choi Eun-hee and Kim Ji-mi, helping anoint Myeong-dong with the fashion neighborhood status it enjoys to this day. The November 1955 edition of the women’s magazine Yeowon came with a new column, titled “Fashion Mode,” in which fashion journalist Park Sang-gi provided photographs and commentary on women’s clothing. The streets of Seoul were filled with pink patterns and checked parasols; for women’s fashion, it was the heyday of the country’s first electric perms and crimping. Women’s swimsuits appeared on the covers of magazines, some of them startlingly revealing. The huge success of the 1956 film Madame Freedom triggered a craze for the female lead’s outfits: a velvet dress, a flared coat with gabardine hat, and practical jumper skirt and sack

Sack dress (left) and jumper skirt (right) style triggered by the 1956 film Madame Freedom

dress styles. Imported velvet from Hong Kong was all the rage—at one point, the government issued a decree banning its use. Women also went crazy for styles from Western films: the Chinese dresses of Love Is a ManySplendored Thing, and the flared dress, petticoats, and short cut sported

Westerners set up shop there after taking refuge in the South Korean

by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Hepburn’s mambo pants from

capital during wartime. Growth proceeded apace—by 1955, about 60%

Sabrina were also a huge hit. Clingy, with narrow legs rising about a hand’s

of all Korean clothes were being produced at Dongdaemun’s Pyunghwa

span above the ankle, they rode the mambo wave of the mid- to late 1950s

Market in Seoul.

to become a cultural icon for a new era.

That year turned out to be a watershed in the history of Korean fashion:

Another stone in the foundation of the indigenous fashion market

it marked the first time the word “designer” entered the parlance. The

was laid in Seoul’s Namdaemun Market. Pyongyang merchants who

following year saw the country’s first-ever fashion show, a collection

had learned modern clothing production methods from Japanese and

by designer Nora No. In 1959, Korea produced its first contestant at the

34 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 35

Miss Universe pageant

Yoon Bok-hee. Images of Yoon disembarking from an airplane in high

in Long Beach, California. Her

boots and a super-short mini went out on the airwaves, and the public

name was Oh Hyun-joo, and she

went wild. Miniskirt fever brought momentous changes to clothing

appeared in a hanbok-style dress by

conventions, which had theretofore been focused more on keeping a

No. Called the “Arirang dress,” it touched off

woman’s body good and covered. Hemlines reached their peak in 1968, at

a craze for mixing Western styles with Korea’s

30 cm above the knee. Eventually, the mini would transform into a fashion

Arirang dress designed by Nora No

traditional clothing. This capped off a decade

classic, making periodic reappearances on a roughly ten-year cycle.

that brought the first glimmers of a fashion

As a whole, the decade saw Korean fashion taking on a great growth

distribution system, the emergence of

engine for its qualitative leaps and bounds. In 1961, the Korea Fashion

Korea’s own designers, and a modern

Designers’ Association was formed, furnishing a forum to promote

fashion system where Hollywood

competition and exchanges between designers. The following year, the

styles could find their way to the

Association organized its first design competition. This was the same

Korean public.

year that saw Korea’s first international fashion show—an annus mirabilis Singer Yoon Bok-hee in a miniskirt

Miniskirts: The Times They Are A-Changin' (The 1960s) Fashion in the 1960s had two faces. On one hand, the government was encouraging simplicity and thrift in clothing as part of the Saemaul (“New Community”) campaign, popularizing a simplified national outfit called the “reconstruction uniform.” It also pushed the use of wool clothing for maximum practicality. At the same time, the Western influence of the Beatles and the so-called “Swinging Sixties” was giving rise to long hairstyles on men, and the emergence of the miniskirt was providing a new perspective—so to speak—on the female form. Launched in December 1968, Uisang (Clothing) was Korea’s first fashion magazine. For its cover model, it chose the sensationally popular singer

36 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 37

all around.) An industry fair was organized at Gyeongbok

the Chinese character Han (韓), meaning “Korea,” and a purple brocade

Palace in Seoul, offering a glimpse at local outfits from

evening dress that applied the rounded hem of the hanbok’s dang-ui top.

15 countries, as well as signs of the “New Mode” and

At its center, the brocade dress had an ornately beaded peacock pattern—

global fashion currents from top-flight designers. Leading

an active effort to incorporate Korean motifs into Western clothing.

designer Choi Kyung-ja, one of the organizers for the event, launched her own evening dress design embossed with celadon porcelain patterns. Inspired by the Celadon Vase with Inlaid Crane and Cloud Designs, a National Treasure, her outfit was an attempt to recreate the aesthetics and color sense of Goryeo porcelain with crane and pine tree designs painted onto the dress by painter Lee Se-deuk. These were then supplemented with a rainbow-hued underskirt of grass-stained hemp cloth and ramie, producing a distinctive celadon silhouette. It was the first time Korean tradition and modern clothing had come together. The year 1964 saw the emergence of the first charm schools for training models. A few years later in 1967, Lee Bang-ja, the last crown princess of the Joseon Dynasty, staged the firstever Korea-Japan fashion show at a hotel in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, with the proceeds going to benefit disadvantaged children. Choi Kyung-ja drew praise from the Japanese crown prince and his wife with a long dress embroidered with Choi Kyung-ja’s evening dress embossed with celadon porcelain patterns

Youth and the Sociology of Denim (The 1970s) The biggest distinction between the fashions of the 1960s and 1970s was a shift in the agents of trend-setting from the designers to the consumers themselves. Throughout the 1960s, designers were the ones spearheading and popularizing design trends. The 1970s was a decade of economic ups and downs: the first oil shock in 1973 brought a brief slump, but by 1977 Korea was booming with exports totaling $10 billion. In the process, sophisticated fashion tastes underwent a change— away from simply putting on the clothes that were out there, and more toward interpreting and developing clothing concepts from an individual perspective. Urban modernization had brought with it a stronger impulse toward personal expression. Menswear ended up being the area where this trend found its fullest expression. Suits in particular were new territory, capturing the changing image of male glamour ushered in by surging economic growth. In Korea, the 1970s was a decade of customized Western clothing. Outfit purchases came in two types, traditional market and tailored, and with the arrival of off-the-rack brands, new distribution channels began to open up, including department store locations and brand-operated stores aimed squarely at the emerging middle class. Throughout the decade, corporations moved into the ready-made clothing market: the Hwasin Group’s Renown in

The DNA of Korean Fashion 39

1972, Bando Fashion (the

falling afoul of the country’s conservative administration. The Park

predecessor of today’s LG

Chung-hee government viewed fashion as a decadent culture that eroded

Fashion) in 1974, and Kolon’s

popular feeling, and it cracked down heavily on fashion statements like

Bella in 1977, as well as Cheil

pantaloons, hot pants, and miniskirts. While all this was going on, the

Industries’ La Beauté and a

upper class was coming out with its own status symbols: leather, furs,

Samsung Corporation brand.

and skins.

Suddenly, the local fashion market was blowing up.

The decade was also a time when antiwar protests were spreading from smaller groups to society at large, much as the Vietnam War was spilling

In the 1970s, seemingly

over into Cambodia. American hippie culture found its way to Korea in the

every new year was dominated

mid-’70s, reaching its peak by the end of the decade. Blue jeans came to

by a different fashion item:

symbolize youth, transforming into a powerful icon of defiance in their own

hot pants in 1971, white jeans in 1972, pantaloons in 1974. The last of these were also

The film Gogo 70 shows the youth culture in 1970s. The term “youth culture” refers to a phenomenon where Korean youth expressed themselves through long hair, jeans, and folk music.

called “bell bottoms” for their wide flare, and they came as Miniskirts on the street in the 1970s

something of a breath of fresh air in a climate dominated by straight pant lines. In the

middle part of the decade, the trends included Vietnamese skirts in 1975, wide lapels in 1976, and a knit vest layered look in 1977. The fashions of 1978 were tied in with a culture of resistance, taking the form of pirate and punk looks. Women’s skirts came in different sizes—mini, midi, and maxi—to make for a diverse urban landscape. It was a significant break with the more rigid and standardized fashion trends of the past. This increasingly personalized “fashion consciousness” of the ’70s brought a range of idiosyncratic looks, but these frequently ended up

40 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 41

right. They joined acoustic guitars, draft beer, and long hair as a way for

Underwood, Hunt, Bang Bang, Jordache, and Levi’s. Seventies babies were

young people to rage at a politically conservative society and establishment.

now emerging as fashion leaders, creating a so-called “Young Fashion” based in personal expression.

Young Fashion and a Changing City (The 1980s) The 1980s were a turning point for Korean fashion. People were now increasingly able to decide their own school uniforms and travel plans, a freedom that triggered a major change in the way they looked at fashion. In the first case, the trend was for a simple combo of T-shirt, jumper, and blue jeans for school—a casual wear movement was in full swing among the decade’s young people. Moderately priced brands like E-Land emerged in these years; big names in the blue jeans market include Brenntano,

National Brands Arrive Famous overseas labels began pouring into the local market in the 1980s. The onslaught actually started in 1979, when imports like Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Nike, and Adidas made major inroads in Korea—as did a flood of knockoffs. If the 1970s was an era of tailored suits and Western clothiers, then the 1980s was all about brand names, which gradually came

The film Sunny shows the “Young Fashion” of the 1980s.

to shape the contours of the fashion industry. The late 1970s also brought increasing numbers of women into the workforce. In

The 1980s saw battles between women’s suit brands for the domestic market.

1974, Bando Fashions responded to early signs of this trend with a line of womenswear. By the 1980s, women’s suit brands were everywhere. The first part of the decade saw a winner-takesall battle for the domestic market between Nonno, Bando, and Nasan; the first two ended up becoming synonymous with working women. By the end of the ’80s, Handsome had come out with its own Time and System lines, which rivaled the designer brands in popularity. Suddenly, the big labels’ standing as national brands was under threat. Womenswear leaders

42 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 43

like ShinWon, Nasan, and Yurim were joined in the market by “personality” brands like Deco, Handsome, and Julien. These were uncharted peaks for women’s clothing.

Fashion Meets Lifestyle A new fashion concept arrived in the 1980s: lifestyle. Its impact was felt in every area of fashion. Sports brands took off in the second half of the decade, buoyed by the country’s hosting of the 1986 Asian Games and 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Labels like Rapido, Ellesse, Reebok, and Prospecs were now hugely popular. Color television was also becoming increasingly widespread, and viewers were paying attention to foreign threads. Terms like “unisex” and “coordination” entered fashion parlance as more and more women

Street fashion in 1990s’ Seoul

entered the work force. A bit of shift happened in the second half of the ’80s, when people began looking back to the “body conscious” line: retro ’50s styles reemerged on the scene, with their emphasis on classical feminine beauty. The layered look also scored a big hit as more and more wearers tried to come up with clothing to suit their own style.

in the new cultural codes of rap and hip hop. Young people also ushered in a wave of grunge fashion, perhaps best symbolized by the artfully torn pair of jeans. Among women, a more revealing form of fashion was becoming popular—tight pants, midriff shirts, and miniskirts made a comeback, and slim designs were preferred. In short, it was a “post-fashion” decade of

Le K-Chic (The 1990s)

cultural hybridity, offering 32 flavors of outrageous designs.

The 1990s were something of a milestone in Korean fashion history.

Dongdaemun: The Silicon Valley of K-Fashion

Domestic brands found themselves under siege as the Uruguay Round

The devastating foreign exchange crisis struck Korea in the late 1990s,

of trade negotiations sent overseas luxury labels like Chanel, Christian

and the fashion industry took a major hit. It soon rose from the ashes,

Lacroix, Dior, and Louis Vuitton storming into the market. Major changes

however, and the major contributor to this revival was Dongdaemun.

were also afoot in pop culture with the arrival of the rap group Seo Taiji &

Today, Seoul’s Dongdaemun neighborhood stands as the world’s

Boys early in the decade. Youth subcultures and defiance found expression

biggest fashion market. It started out in 1905 as a plaza market, eventually

44 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 45

Korean Chic Goes to Paris Asian ideas first began influencing modern European fashion in the 1980s. Designer Issey Miyake stunned the Western stylistas in the 1980s by incorporating origami techniques into clothing. The West was fascinated by the Eastern fashions. Soon, Korean designers were taking on the Paris challenge. At the time, the Korean clothing industry’s attention was turned overseas. Lee Cinu’s 1992 arrival as the first Korean designer in the French capital set the stage for more to follow suit. Lee Young Hee eyed Dongdaemun, the world’s biggest fashion market

a Paris foray with her hanbok designs in 1993, and Lie Sang Bong wowed Parisians with Hangeul-themed styles. In 2000, Kim Ji-hae showed Korean ramie fashions at Paris Haute Couture. A major focus of these Koreans in Paris during the 1990s was offering a

transforming into a wholesale market in the 1960s with the development of Pyunghwa Market. The following decade saw it turn into an all-purpose market at a massive scale. Modern wholesale shopping centers like Art Plaza and Design Club took up residence in the 1990s, but it was in the second part of the decade that it really transformed into a major threat to department stores, with it being armed with new retail centers like Migliore and Doosan Tower. It evolved from a large fashion shopping mall into a multi-purpose fashion mall, hooking a younger clientele in the process. Observers overseas took note of its success and came over to learn about the growth model. It also served as a platform for up-and-coming overseas-educated Korean designers—indeed, it is still widely recognized today as an incubator for their creative efforts. Its evolution has yet to slow:

modern take on their home country’s traditions. Aestheticians have often pointed to Japan’s colors, China’s forms, and Korea’s lines as the strong suits of the three East Asian countries. The designers of this day delved into experiments to tease out the essence of Korean lines. They worked to reconfigure aesthetic elements from traditional Korean clothing and reduce them to their constituent lines: the elegance of Confucian severity, the geometric beauty of traditional patterns, the natural and unfettered movement of the human body, the voluptuous charms of indirect exposure, the way an ample silhouette magnifies the female form. Working on the Paris stage in the 1990s, Lee Cinu, Jin Tae-ok, Sul Yoon-hyung, Lee Young Hee, and Lie Sang Bong led the way in discovering and globalizing a new paradigm for K-Fashion.

the Dongdaemun of today is developing into a new paradigm of fashion retailing with a timely production estimate system and online ordering. 46 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The DNA of Korean Fashion 47

Globalizing the K-Fashion Paradigm Lee Cinu: The Soul of Goguryeo Perhaps the most adventurous of the Korean designers in Paris during the 1990s was Lee Cinu. Between 1993 and 1995, she took part in six different Paris Prêt-à-Porter collections. She also enjoyed sensational success commercializing design brands over the years—from “Original Lee” in the late ’60s to Youngwoo, Socié, Icinoo, Icinoo Homme, and Icinoo Collection. In 1991, she became the first foreigner to receive Japan’s prestigious Mainichi Fashion Prize, an award for new designers whose past recipients have included Issey Miyake, Yoji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo. Lee Cinu's Prêt-à-Porter collection in 1994, For the 1994 Paris Prêt-à-Porter inspired by Goguryeo murals show, Icinoo presented a collection based on the theme of Goguryeo, drawing kudos for her prints based on the sun and moon patterns of the old kingdom's murals. This was particularly noteworthy because it charted new territory in the reinterpretation of culture—while others focused solely on the Joseon era, Lee Cinu was looking back to a more ancient dynasty. Her work at the 1995 Paris Collection was a blend of cutting-edge style with a simple silhouette. The designer mixed modern materials with a mother-of-pearlesque “three-legged crow” motif, generating a beauty that transcended space, time, and distinctions of “East” and “West.” She also introduced avant garde elements into the modern fashion stylings: using high-tech materials with natural Korean hanji (traditional paper) and including prints from Goguryeo murals and 48 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

plant patterns, she forged an overall design aesthetic in which heterogeneous elements came together into a harmonious whole.

Jin Tae-ok: Korean Elegance in Paris Jin Tae-ok is something of a godmother in Korean fashion history. She established her Françoise brand in 1965. A quarter-century later in 1990, she established the Seoul Fashion Artists Association, where she served as the first-ever chair. From there, she traveled to Paris, where she staged collections that highlighted Korean lines, space, and layering. In 1998, she became the first Korean designer to be featured in The Fashion Book , a collection by the British publisher Phaidon. Her pieces at the 1994 F/W Collection offered a glimpse of Korea’s distinctive physical aesthetic. Combining a dress and chiffon pants, with a blouse layered over top, the designer produced an effect of natural concealing and revealing on the body and outfit. No lining was needed—the effect came from the layering of materials. The following year, Jin took another bold chance, embroidering the pattern of a traditional hwarot wedding dress and pairing it with denim. Dresses designed by Jin Tae-ok are on display at the Bergdorf Goodman Department Store, New York, in the 1990s.

The DNA of K-Fashion 49

Other examples of Jin’s unique approach including combining traditional Korean ramie with more futuristic materials to produce a long dress, or deconstructing the folding of the Korean jeogori jacket and reinterpreting it in a Western avant garde style.

Sul Yoon-hyung: Bedazzled by Korea’s Patterns As a designer, Sul Yoon-hyung has focused on modernizing Korea’s traditional coloration and patterns. She has marshaled numerous craft techniques— embroidery, patchwork, quilting, dyeing—to show such images as the Irworobongdo (a folding screen depicting the sun, moon, and five peaks that was hung behind the throne of the Joseon king) and the jeogori with colorfully striped sleeves. A particular coup came with a patchwork evening dress, bearing blocks of dazzling color reminiscent of traditional wrapping cloth.

Choi Bo Ko presented the beauty of his juxtapositions of colors at the 2013 S/S Concept Korea.

The Korean Wave and a New Course for Fashion (The 2000s to Today) The changes in Korean fashion since the dawn of the 21st century have moved at a dizzying clip. Customers have shifted their focus from popular logos and brands to more idiosyncratic designs and styles, signaling the arrival of a culture where many different fashions can coexist. By the mid-2000s, prints of various designs and colors—not just the traditional stripes and checks, but also flowers, logos, and even pop art—were being used on every kind of item, and a new trend of coordination was taking shape. Popular styles in 2007 included sparkling rhinestones and lustrous jewelry, knits and wide three-quarter sleeves, and a ribbon-festooned “romantic miniskirt” style. No longer was minimalism the order of the day: these years brought a boom in maximalism, with once-unthinkable colors

The DNA of Korean Fashion 51

like lime, yellow, and orange, graphic patterns, and funky details applied to produce something ever bigger and ever more exaggerated.

Beyond the ‘Red Devils’ and ‘Winter Sonata’ The groundwork for the Korean Wave to come was laid in the early 2000s. Korean spectators at the 2002 World Cup made a deep global impression with their massive contingents of crimson-clad “Red Devils.” The outfits they wore, and the traditional patterns depicted on them, became hugely popular. Two years later in 2004, the TV miniseries Winter Sonata caught fire with Japanese audiences. The clothing, scarves, and hairstyles of leads Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo were now all the rage. As the Korean Wave rippled beyond Southeast Asian shores to reach Europe and North America through film, TV, and pop music, up-and-coming designers got a boost in their overseas standing.

Online Marketplaces and Select Shops Developments in the internet and social media have created a market for online clothing sales that is big enough to threaten established department stores. Meanwhile, high-end select shops specializing in name-brand overseas imports began cropping up in early 1998. They soon turned their focus to lifestyle, as large corporations sent their troops into the SPA (Specialty retailer of Private label Apparel) war of the 2000s. The Korean Wave ushered in its own wavelet of select shops oriented more to Korean designer products. The stores are now becoming more than just a place to buy fashion products: the arrival of the “culture code concept shop” is redrawing the map of the fashion consumer market.

52 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Concept shop KM Play located in Garosu-gil, Seoul

The DNA of Korean Fashion 53

Chapter Three



esigners are the most important people in the fashion industry. They aren’t just the people who make new clothes for each season—without

them, no clothes would be fashionable. They are the stars that light the world of glamour. A country’s designers use clothes to express the society they live in; the runway is a place to show what a country can do culturally. Since their first appearances at Paris collections in 1985, Korean designers have been racking up overseas accolades right and left. But this would never have happened without the people who took a chance decades ago, armed with no knowledge of overseas markets—nothing but pure guts—and set the stage for K-Fashion’s great rise. The ten designers in this chapter run the gamut from the “1.5 generation” to the newest of newcomers. Their stories aren’t just about the clothes they make. Through their garments, they lend unique perspectives as interpreters of Korean culture, showing the many faces of an ever-changing Korea.

54 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A dress with hangeul script printed on it, designed by Lie Sang Bong

The Stories of Ten Designers 55

Paris and the PRET exhibition in New York. He followed this up at different international events in Asia (Tokyo’s Wind of Asia in 1994, Osaka’s World Fashion Collection in 1995 and 1997), where he was praised by overseas


reporters and buyers alike. Lie is one of major Korean fashion figures in the European market, making regular appearances at Prêt-à-Porter Collections in Paris since March 2002. He has drawn notice abroad with his mixtures of Eastern

– Lie Sang Bong brand established (1985) – Seoul Fashion Artist Association (SFAA) Collection, Seoul, Korea (1994–present) – World Fashion Show, Osaka, Japan (1995) – Prêt-à-Porter Collection, Paris, France (2002–present) – Hangeul Fashion exhibition, Who's Next, Paris, France (2006)

sensibilities and Western clothing styles, incorporating such Korean motifs as hangeul (the Korean alphabet), pine trees, traditional embroidery, patchwork, folk painting, Eastern landscapes, and dancheong paintwork. He has also expressed the world of Eastern shamanism in his outfits for a Paris performance of a gut ceremony by shaman Kim Hae-gyeong. His elaborate sense of detail, which draws on Korea’s traditional colors, knots, and embroidery, helped inject a sense of

A New Take on Traditional Korean Beauty Lie Sang Bong is Korea’s greatest living fashion designer. His résumé is a compass, reflecting Korean fashion’s past while showing a vision for its future. It all began when he was honored at the 1983 Joongang Design Contest. While taking part in Central Design’s regular collections, he came out with his own self-titled brand. In 1985, he opened a head office in Seoul’s Namsan neighborhood and a store in the Myeong-dong fashion district. His shop broke an unwritten rule of the day: no one sold the clothes from fashion shows. Lie did just that, and the result was a veritable craze. He was now a design star. Having earned renown in Korea, Lie turned his eyes to overseas markets. In 1990, he made his first appearance at the Prêt-à-Porter Collection in 56 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

excitement, sexuality, and glamour into a traditional shamanist rite. A turning point in Lie’s career as a design star came in 2006, when his fashions designed around Korea’s Hangeul script caught eyes at the Who’s Next exhibition in France. Taken by the aesthetics and beauty of Korean calligraphy, the designer had decided to merge it with fashion. The results were a combination of East and West: fabric printed or dyed (indeed, almost

Lie Sang Bong merged hangeul with fashion at the 2006 Who’s Next exhibition in France.

The Stories of Ten Designers 57

imbued) with Hangeul, coupled with the silhouette of Western clothing.

things into elements that accentuated the fashions. The images he created

By the following year, European designers were offering their own takes

for that year’s F/W were an expression of Korea’s low-lying ridges. With

on his ideas at Première Vision, the world’s biggest fabric fair, where the

layers of these lines on his garments, Lie showed the aesthetic of a nature

theme was “rediscovering Hangeul.” As time has gone by, Lie’s efforts

that was elegant without being “magnificent.”

to modernize tradition have passed through a stage of abstraction and transformed into a global language.

Lie also trained his sights on the powerful traditional motifs that other first-generation Korean fashion designers had used in Paris. In his hands,

Lie’s work at the 2011 S/S Paris Collection was inspired by Alejandro

they turned into a story about the beauty of small things. The designer

Jodorowsky’s surrealist film Santa Sangre. At its front was the projected

showed the diversity of Korean coloring with dancheong (traditional

image of a bird, symbolizing freedom from oppression. Here, too, the

decorative painting on wooden buildings) at the 2012 S/S show. His work

designer’s outfits blended the lines of the hanbok’s dongjeong (paper

for that year's F/W incorporated the theme of the Korean stone fence.

collar) with the rounded lines of padded sock toes. Instead of an

Unlike the towering, dominating architecture of the West, the stone wall-

ostentatious parade of Korean chic, he opted for reduction, distilling

lined road cradles the human being in the bosom of nature, much like a

Lie Sang Bong’s Collections for the 2011 S/S 2012 S/S 2012 F/W

folding screen. Interpreting tradition is still very much a part of his work. He is also an enthusiastic collector of modern art, drawing inspiration for his fashions from every area of the field. As public relations ambassador for Seoul following its selection as the World Design City for


2010, he applied cubist principles to the digital cubes used to represent the 2008 Seoul Design Olympics. The model for this came from jogakbo, a traditional style of patchwork, which Lie deconstructed and joined with cubes to produce unique dresses. Critics praised him for taking apart

– Opening of Lee Young Hee Korean Clothing (1976) – Prêt-à-Porter Collection, Paris (1993) – "Hanbok: Clothes of the Wind" Exhibition at Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris (1996) – "Wind of History" Performance, Carnegie Hall, New York City (2000) – Opening of Lee Young Hee Museum of Korean Culture, New York City (2004)

the traditions of East and West and recombining them in his own design language. The year 2008 brought another coup when Lie’s “accordion bag” took Paris by storm. (It was later included in the book Fifty Bags That Changed the World.) The designer has also been broadening the horizons of fashion with his collaborations with modern artists. He came up with the new genre of Fashion Sculpture (sculpture elements added to structural designs), and worked with sculptor Park Seung-mo on a spellbinding effort where metal served as thread. “Design,” Lie has said, “must be like wind and water. When water does not flow, it decays. Water, regardless of which glass it is poured into, can freely change its shape and form. The same goes for wind. Just like the wind can leave to wherever it desired, my thoughts, soul and style desires to travel freely anywhere. To me, design is like the water and wind. It must always be new and light.” Lie’s designs are moments captured from a constant flow. With his tireless efforts to fossilize past and present into clothing, he has fully earned his reputation as Korea’s Master of Fashion.

Bringing the 'Clothes of the Wind' to the World No other clothing aspires to same kind of order and harmony as hanbok. It is a style that blends the human being with nature. Its beiges come from chestnut shells, its pinks from peach. The tightness of the torso blends in perfect harmony with the volume of the skirt, producing a human beauty inside of time through the oneness of yin and yang. The impact of its simplicity, its aesthetic of concise lines, has reverberated throughout modern fashion. Since 1976, Lee Young Hee has dedicated her life to the hanbok. She is both designer and craftswoman. Since beginning her design career in 1976 with the opening of Lee Young Hee Korean Clothing, she has committed herself to the lifelong task of modernizing and globalizing Korea’s

60 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The Stories of Ten Designers 61

traditional clothing. After taking part

patterns showed the influence of Lee’s museum—one of the most visible

in the 1993 Prêt-à-Porter Collection in

achievements in the designer’s ongoing efforts to export the beauty of

Paris, Lee opened a boutique there the

Korean clothing.

following year, a first for a Korean. The

Tradition is beautiful—centuries spent creating standards of beauty,

shop in question would later be named

shaping the human form, and developing fashions suited to it. This is

several times as the French capital’s

certainly true of Korea’s five signature colors, the obangsaek, and its

most beautiful store. She followed this

dancheong patterns. It is also evident in women’s hanbok designs. But

up with the “Hanbok: Clothes of the Wind” exhibition in 1996 at the city’s

Models wearing a creation by Lee Young Hee as part of the Haute Couture 2012 F/W collection

Musée de l’Orangerie. Later still, she Fashion performance “Wind of History” at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 2000

would stage the fashion performance “Wind of History” at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in June 2000, and win an

invitation to Pyongyang for the Lee Young Hee Folk Clothing Exhibition in 2001. From there, Lee registered the word hanbok with the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. In September 2004, she opened the Lee Young Hee Museum of Korean Culture on Manhattan’s 24th Street, donating over 1,000 items of hanbok, accessories, and antiques from her 25-year collection in the hopes of furnishing a place for Korean culture and sharing the beauty of hanbok with the world. Her durumagi coats were given to world leaders from 21 countries at the 2005 Pusan APEC Summit, where they drew great admiration. In May 2007, twelve items of clothing that she designed were added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. In 2011, the renowned American designer Carolina Herrera showed her own variations on the hanbok aesthetic at New York’s S/S Collection. These reinterpretations of the style’s hats, folding, and traditional

62 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The Stories of Ten Designers 63

the same styles may end up falling behind the times, focusing more on form than on the spiritual standards that once informed the beauty. Lee Young Hee has emphatically broken from this mind-set, an approach we can see in her dresses that mix Korean hanji paper and silk, woven with


thread for a full silhouette. The Chanel chain belt is merely an accessory to accentuate the hanbok; the paradigm of beauty remains very much alive. Lee has said that she loves one particular painting by the Joseon artist Sin Yun-bok. In it, a gisaeng—Korea’s traditional female entertainer—is

– Opening of Son Jung Wan Boutique (1989) – Named "Designer of the Year" by the City of Seoul (2005) – Invited for the fashion show at Who’s Next, Paris (2006) – New York Collection (2011–present)

seen untying her coat strings, as though awaiting a tryst. A sense of softspoken eroticism seeps into every corner of Sin’s canvas. At the time of its painting, outfits tended to be full on the bottom and thin on top—billowing skirts paired with clinging upper garments. The ivory jeogori coat hugs the belly and arms, creating a delicate line in the chest and accentuating the subtle smile. The coat, collar, and ribbon are an India ink purple, while the skirt, laced around several times, is indigo with a hint of gray, as though faded. The folds of the broad skirt rival Western drapes in their fullness in every one of them, we sense the scent of the woman’s soft skin. The skirt is paired with an ample chignon on her head, creating a sense of visual balance. It is an exquisite example of coordination. Lee has said that she wanted to capture this magical quality of the hanbok in her designs. The resulting fashions have had a The Beauty by Sin Yun-bok

64 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

huge impact in France.

Eternal Song of Femininity Son Jung Wan studied industrial design at Sookmyung Women’s University before going on to found her eponymous brand in 1989. Her clothing is intellectual, sophisticated, but with a sexy flair, and it has whisked her to tremendous success in a very short time. In 1993, she won the Golden Needle award given by the Korean Fashion Journalists’ Association. Every season, she comes out a new collection of dazzling colors and silhouettes, a wardrobe of dreams, bursting at the seams (so to speak) with feminine beauty. With a customer base ranging in age from their twenties to their forties, her outfits have a romanticism accessible to mothers and daughters alike, earning her Best Brand honors from Lotte Department Store between 1998 and 2005, when she was also named Designer of the The Stories of Ten Designers 65

Year by the City of Seoul.

2012 F/W Collection by Son Jung Wan

66 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

collection comes down to one thing:

H e r n e x t s t e p f o r w a rd c a m e t h e

impeccable needlework. Taking as

following year, when she was invited to

her motif the feelings engendered by

stage a fashion show for Who’s Next in

frozen flowers, forever unwilting, Son

Paris. The luxurious collections designed

uses traditional Korean embroidery

by Son Jung Wan consist of impeccably

and prints to produce her own garden

executed separates, including tops,

of women, one that positively exudes

skirts, shorts, pants, and jackets, as

delicate feminine beauty. Her work also

well as dresses, all made from the most

stands out with its combinations of

sumptuous fabrics. With each collection,

very different materials: python, velvet,

Son captures the dual nature of women

and wool coating, and most of all the

and how they like to dress: at times pretty

trimming of different furs on the torso

and feminine, other times chic and stylish,

and the upper shoulders. The effect is

still others sexy. Today, Son Jung Wan is

warm and aesthetically pleasing.

one of the largest Korean designer labels

For the past two years, Son has

in the country, with over $34 million in

appeared at New York Fashion Week,

sales for 2009 and a total of 37 stores

where she has drawn plaudits from

carrying the brand.

the overseas market. For her 2013 S/S

For her 2012 F/W Collection, Son took

collection, she is taking her inspiration

her ideas from the British artist Marc

from “Everything Under the Sun,” a work

Quinn’s “Winter Garden.” Quinn has been

by the Spanish painter Joan Miró, using

dubbed the “flower artist” for his works of

her clothing to capture the moments

drawing, installation, and sculpture on the

when the lush forest, freshly emerged

subject of flowers. His garden is crafted

from the deep winter chill, radiates a

with a dazzling sense of color, and Son’s

dazzling spring energy.

ability to frankly capture its plaintiveness, its imperfectible romanticism, in her

2013 S/S Collection by Son Jung Wan

The Stories of Ten Designers 67

Woo opened a flagship store in Paris’s Marais district in 2006, taking up residence in the Bon Marché department store shortly thereafter. In 2007, she opened a store in another major European department store,


London’s Selfridges. Something of a strategy was at work: Woo was targeting the relative paucity of good menswear in Paris stores, where women’s fashion was the major strength. The locals welcomed her apparel with open arms.

– Launch of men's wear brand SOLID HOMME (1988) – Launch of WOOYOUNGMI, appearance at Paris Menswear Fashion Week (2002) – Opening of WOOYOUNGMI store in Paris (2006) – Japanese launch of WOOYOUNGMI (2009) – First Korean member of French fashion association La Chambre Syndicale (2011)

In 2009, Woo opened stores in fully 17 countries around the world, among them Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, Canada, Russia, and Australia. Today, she has three exclusive Japanese branches in Nagoya and Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Roppongi neighborhoods. Her fashions are hugely popular in the country: WOOYOUNGMI clothes accounts for nearly half the products at three of the seven menswear multishops operated by the high-end Via Bus Stop select shop. Woo’s success offers an excellent model for other designers eying an overseas expansion. She resists the idea of the Korean

Captivating the European 'Homme' Menswear designer Woo Youngmi, a 1982 graduate of the clothing department at Sungkyunkwan University, began her career with a third place finish at the 1983 International Fashion Contest in Osaka. She went on to pick up hands-on working experience at Bando Fashion before launching her own brand, SOLID HOMME, in 1988—something new for what was then something of a wasteland in Korean menswear. Between 1993 and 2001, Woo took part regularly in the Seoul New Wave Collection; in 2001, she won the New Designer award for the year from the Korea Fashion Association. The next year saw her launch her WOOYOUNGMI brand. Since then, she has been a regular presence at the Paris Menswear Fashion Week. 68 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

being global; the secret to her success has come from incorporating a universal, “stateless” aesthetic. A major draw with Woo’s work has been the injection of novel ideas into the meticulous handiwork. This has contributed to the major media attention she has received: men’s fashion magazines GQ and Topman named WOOYOUNGI one of the ten must-see brands for men, Paris’s Le Figaro newspaper has

The WOOYOUNGMI store at the Bon Marché department store in Paris

The Stories of Ten Designers 69

spotlighted her work with every new collection, and the French newspaper La Tribune singled her out as one of four designers making a splash. With her designs, Woo has consistently looked for a new definition of masculinity, one that transcends differences of “European” and “Asian.” The F/W show has been a major stage for this. In her “Unexpected Silhouette” collection from the 2008 event, she presented Neo Yuppies adjusting their hoods and hats amid fickle winter weather. Her menswear collection from the 2011 event in Paris boasted a mixture of detail and masculine elegance: blazers with shirring, boleros, and broad pants. And in 2012–13, she took inspiration from the American realist painter Edward Hopper, showing romantic loners in the modern city. Her touch transforms these urbanites into the everyman, a universal type transcending differences of nationality. WOOYOUNGMI Collections 2008 F/W 2011 F/W

2012 F/W

70 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

WOOYOUNGMI 2012 F/W Collection

her heart was still set on Paris, and in 1994 she opened up a subsidiary there called “SARL.” Recognition from Paris’s Chambre Syndicale came in winter of 1995—by the next year, she was taking part in Prêt-à-Porter’s fall


season. From there, she began appearing on the pages of major overseas fashion magazines, which listed her clothing alongside works by some of the world’s most renowned brands. Moon’s studio at 62 Rue Charlot is a place where the designer’s unique

– Opening of Moon Boutique (1975) – Founding of SARL MOONYOUNGHEE in Paris (1994) – Appearances at Paris Prêt-à-Porter (1996–present) – Awarded France's L’Ordre National du Mérite (2008)

imagination takes flight, seeking a balance between the two disparate identities of French and Korean. Her designs embody this idea of blending East and West: the silhouettes mix masculine elements with feminine ones,

Navigating between Two Worlds Moon Young Hee made her first appearance at Paris’s Prêt-à-Porter event in 1996. Since then, she hasn’t missed a season: 16 years, 32 Paris collections. Her achievements have been recognized by no lesser an authority than the French government, which in August 2008 made her the first-ever Korean to win the Ordre National du Mérite, an honor given for contributions to culture and the arts. Moon started early with her dreams of becoming an international designer. She enrolled in the French language and literature department at Sungkyunkwan University, where she graduated in 1969. No sooner had she left than she was working as a senior designer at a fashion company. In 1975, she founded Moon Boutique, a store bearing her name. But 72 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

sensuality with delicacy. The work Moon presented at the S/S event in 2012 clearly showed the hard work this foreigner in Paris has been putting into taking apart and reinterpreting the “Korean” in her own inimitable way. She combines modernity with the Belle Époque to produce a new

Moon Young Hee’s studio in Paris

silhouette; she deconstructs

The Stories of Ten Designers 73

Korea’s traditional bojagi wrap and partially rejoins

time, it also suits the sensibilities of New Yorkers,

it with fabric. To Western eyes, the result may

who want to know about the texture of the materials

well come across as an extension of the ideas of

and their place of origin.

Piet Mondrian, but a Korean will see it as a work

“Precious things,” says one of the characters

of artistic folding that draws on the traditional

in the movie Smoke, “are lighter than air.” We

papercraft known as hanji.

often fail to take the word “light” seriously,

For the 2012 F/W event, Moon’s offering was an

misunderstanding it as meaning “insubstantial.”

epicene garçon look. The clothes that appear on the

Moon Young Hee has torn down the walls of this

runway highlighted black-and-white contrast, the

linguistic prison. She has always traced the roots

volume produced by lightly ruffled wrinkles, quilted

of her work to the simplicity and folds of Korea’s

padding and sharp cutting lines. Moon’s trademark

traditional hanbok clothing. With her work, she has

is an exceedingly light, nearly transparent softness

shown the magical ability to successfully navigate

in the materials and silhouette, all the better to

between two worlds, never losing her way, always

produce the aesthetic of hanbok lines. At the same

striking that perfect balance.

Moon’s 2012 S/S Collection

74 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Moon’s 2012 F/W Collection

The Stories of Ten Designers 75

Mango Fashion Awards, an event organized by the Spain-based global fashion brand Mango. The company marketed his wares at 1,260 of its stores around the world as “LEE JEAN YOUN for Mango.” For his Mango


collection, the designer combined Korean motifs with a Western rock style: baggy pants (inspired by loose-fitting hanbok pants) and silk washed for a denim feel, pattern changes for easy dressing and undressing. He used organza to convey a sense of Eastern mystery. And he took note of the

– Appearances at Who's Next, Paris, and Hong Kong Fashion Week (2002–2003) – Awarded Grand Prix at Mango Fashion Awards (2009) – Appearance in Paris Haute Couture Collection, Barcelona Collection (2010)

attitude Koreans assume when they wear their clothes: the way women cover their chest with their hands and bow their head when wearing a hanbok, the rigidness projected by the Confucian scholar in his traditional horsehair gat hat. Lee has used his clothes to express the beauty of how we wear our clothes. His working style was very much in evidence at the 2010 S/S Haute Couture fashion show in Paris. Making his debut between Jean-Paul Gauthier and Valentino, he presented outfits that drew inspiration from,

Traditional Tailor in a Modern Body Haute couture means more than just superb needlework. The term, which has now come to refer to custom-fitted clothing, connotes an entire


spectacle in which the most masterful of craftspeople market their waves. It is a tradition that dates back to the 1868 founding of Paris’s Chambre Syndicale. Collections spotlight luxury and elegant concepts—the designers must apply creative needlework grounded in traditional wisdom, producing work of artistic sublimity. It is a demanding market, and not one for the faint of heart. But one Korean designer has boldly taken on the challenge. Today, Lee Jean-youn is registered with the Chambre Syndicale as one of its emerging designers. In 2009, Lee claimed Grand Prix honors at the second El Boton 76 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The Stories of Ten Designers 77

of all things, charcoal. Using organza, he showed simple yet sophisticated fashion that expressed the different formal beauties and colors of his subject: starting with a basic black and finishing with gray, he gave expression to the process of charcoal burning into ashes. Since then, he has continued to transform and reenvision Korean motifs in Parisian haute couture. For hats, he refers to the gat; for shoes, the beoseon, a style of sock used with the hanbok. The outfits quote the style of the hanbok, and the hairstyles look to the traditional chignon. The local press has praised him for highlighting a distinctively Korean form of Orientalism, as with his offerings at the 2011 Paris Collection, where he combined superb needlework with a uniquely Korean beauty: tops reminiscent of the rainbow-striped jeogori paired with featherdecorated organza skirts, shoes styled after the beoseon, and hair accessories crafted from straw. Lee is, in short, a traditional tailor in a modern body.

Lee’s 2010 S/S (left) and 2011 F/W (middle, right) Paris Haute Couture Collections

78 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The Stories of Ten Designers 79 Lee Jean Youn’s 2012 S/S Paris Collections

she received the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award. After that, the recognition came fast and furious: being named one of fashion’s most promising new personalities by Newsweek in 2005, winning the Council


of Fashion Designers of America fashion award for emerging talent in womenswear design in 2006, and being selected as the first recipient of the Samsung Fashion Design Fund (SFDF). Her life was also documented in film—Seamless ended up earning a showing at the 2005 Tribeca Film

– Named Designer of the Year by Parsons School of Design (1995) – Opened Doo.Ri shop (2001) – Appeared at New York collection (2002) – Named one of 2006 notable fashion personalities by Newsweek (2005) – Winner of CFDA award for emerging talent (2006)

Festival. More recently, she was registered as an official member of CFDA. The Doo.Ri collection has been a huge commercial success, selling at 22 stores throughout the world: at Barneys and a SoHo store in New York, as well as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and many other countries. Chung recently partnered with The Gap on a Gap

Elegance Fit for a First Lady Doo-Ri Chung immigrated to the U.S. with her family at four years old. During her 1995 graduation from Parsons The New School of Design, she was named Designer of the Year, singled out for honors by the legendary American couture designer Geoffrey Beene. She went on to spend six years working under Beene before making her move on her own: setting up a studio underneath her parents’ laundry and opening up her own boutique. Hers was not an easy road. Plans for a show were canceled after the 9/11 terror attacks, and she and her partner ended up having to close their shop. But Jung persevered. In 2003, she won the Woolite Fashion Future Grant for notable newcomers in the fashion industry. The following year, 80 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Design Edition created around the motif of the classic white shirt. Mary Gehlhar, a consultant and incubator for emerging fashion designers in the U.S., offered lavish praise for Chung in her book Fashion Designer Survival Guide, commending her for her moral code and sound business mind. In inter views, Chung has defined her designs (perhaps

American first lady Michelle Obama in a state dinner dress designed by Doo-ri Chung

The Stories of Ten Designers 81

best represented by her Jersey dress with draping) as a “formula for expressing a highly sophisticated femininity.” She went on to say that her inspiration came


from designer Ann Demeulemeester and choreographer Martha Graham, the socalled “Picasso of dance” who forged an entirely new dance vocabulary with her

– Lectured on Korean jeogori for opening of Smithsonian's Korea gallery (2007) – Fashion show "British Royal Family Meets Korean Tradition" (2009) – Fashion show for G20 Summit (2010) – Fashion shows "Joseon Queens Go to Paris" (France-Korea Week), "The King of Joseon in New York" (2011)

modern dance. One of Graham’s paramount rules of dance was that movements should be like ripples created by the body. Chung does away with seams and darts, using jersey fabric and draping for a natural swathing of the female form, with elegant textures created over top of them. This couture craftswomanship is a key

A Million and One Variations on the Hanbok

part of Chung’s design philosophy. The

World-renowned Belgian fashion designer Dries van Noten arrived at the

sense of three-dimensionality created by

runways of the 2012 Paris Collection with an Asian inspiration. Working

the draping gives a completely different

with Korean hanbok designer Kim Hye-soon, he presented outfits with

feel to her clothes when they are viewed

prints taken from the paper collar, or dongjeong, used on the jeogori coat.

from the front, back, and sides. Her mixing

His collaborator Kim is a researcher of traditional clothing and a world-

and matching of materials brings together

recognized designer of hanbok.

two different worlds of softness and

Indeed, there is scarcely any item in any Korean historical drama that does

power. Doo-ri Chung’s clothing creates

not bear her handiwork. She provided outfits for the miniseries The Land

beauty from its folds—conflicting elements

and the films Seopyeonje and Beyond the Years. In the case of the miniseries

brought together into a rich, cohesive

Hwang Jin-yi, aired in 2006 on the KBS TV network, she captivated viewers


with hanbok costumes in a dazzling array of patterns and colors.

Doo.Ri 2012 F/W Collection

82 K K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

The Stories of Ten Designers 83

These latter costumes offered

worked to prove how well it lends itself to different

modern audiences a glimpse at

variations—something she has shown to great

the gisaeng, female entertainers

effect at fashion shows like “The British Royal House

who were the celebrities of Joseon-

Meets Korean Tradition,” her show for the 2010 G20

era Korea, and the natural beauty

Summit, and “Joseon Queens Go to Paris.” She has also

of the outfits they wore. Fashion

collaborated with Fendi on a baguette handbag, which got her

leaders among Joseon women,

named one of ten global artists by the Italian fashion house. Working

the gisaeng created their own

on cosmetics with the Korean company LG, she shared the beauties of the

fashions in solid colors of red,

traditional plum tree pattern.

green, yellow, and navy. Their

In addition to being a designer, Kim

jeogori coats were exceptionally

is also a scholar. She studied the

short, revealing the embroidered

development and forms of the jeogori for

white waists of their chima skirts.

an exhibition looking back on its 600-year

Several layers of these were

history. Indeed, the distinctively Korean

placed under the outer skirt, which

beauty that caught van Noten’s eyes lay

created a particularly voluminous

in the lines of this coat’s dongjeong. The

lower torso compared to the chest.

jeogori comes in a million different forms,

Skirt widths were broad—a way of

each one varying slightly in its stitching,

covering the dozen or so slips they

material, or ornamentation. In the days of

wore—and long, contributing to a

old, many a free-spirited women rode the

sense of rhythmic beauty. Gisaeng

plain in a long jeogori coat. The super-

often let a bit of slip show under

mini coats of the Joseon era hinted at the

their skirt as a way of drawing the

concealed libidos of housebound women

male gaze. With her costumes for

unable to give them release. To Kim Hye-

Hwang Jin-yi, Kim Hye-soon offered an unfiltered look at the gisaeng

soon, tradition is a mine that must be dug

garb’s restrained form of eroticism.

endlessly for the million gems of beautiful

(Top) Female lead Ha Ji-won wearing a gisaeng outfit for the miniseries Hwang Jin-yi (Botton) Fashion show “Joseon Queens Go to Paris”

Kim is adamant about guarding the hanbok tradition, but she has also

84 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A hanbok designed by Kim Hye-soon

variation it turns up.

The Stories of Ten Designers 85

tenure, and it took just one year for Lee to score a major coup designing shoes for an Icinoo fashion show. Soon, she was winning praise for a unique and original style, one traceable to her idiosyncratic touch with


mixing the creative with the practical. Her next stop was Vincis Bench, where she took part as an inaugural member. Her first real foray into the designer shoes concept came with the 2002 launch of NIMA, Ssamzie’s brand of “personality shoes.” From there,

– Oversaw shoe and fashion show accessory design for Icinoo Collection (1994–1998) – President of Lee-Hong Kyumbie and designer of its "Kyumbie" signature line (2005–present) – Ceramics exhibition "Shoe-aholic" at World Ceramic Biennial (2007) – Mode Shanghai (2009)

Lee went to Obzéé as head of its accessories team. During a subsequent spell as a freelancer, she branched out with some unusual explorations. In recent years, she has been hugely popular in China, where the Korean Wave has given her a major boost. With her work in shoes, Lee straddles the boundary between design and art. At the moment, she is working on no fewer than three brands of shoes, each with a different concept and market ranging from cutting-edge

The Next Louboutin? A 1994 graduate of ESMOD Seoul, Lee Kyumbie worked for the Icinoo Collection, Vincis Bench, Ssamzie, and Obzee before venturing into a rather unique niche: a designer who only works in shoes. Today, she has her own brand, Kyumbie, and collaborates with major fashion designers around the world. Any Korea-related fashion collection worth its salt has her shoes in it. After spending four years working for the Icinoo Collection, Lee found her true calling as a shoe designer. At the time, the collection was in the business of designer accessories with personality, a pursuit that turned it into a major force with over 30 department store locations. It was also famous for giving its designers opportunities based on ability rather than 86 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

avant garde to wholesale. Nowhere is her popularity more evident than in film: the female leads in Dancing Queen, Marine Boy, and Yesterday all wore shoes by Lee. Lee Kyumbie believes shoes to be a “language of seduction,” and she has used them as a medium for conveying Korea’s traditional aesthetic in ongoing work with modern ar tists. The high heel variants on Korean straw shoes

The Stories of Ten Designers 87

ZO MYOUNGHEE – Launch of Stori brand in Great Britain (2002) – Launch of Myounghee Zo for Topshop (2006) – Artistic director for Louis Quatorze (2006–present)

"Kyumbie" signature line shoes designed by Lee Kyumbie

(jipsin) and hemp sandals (mituri) that she showed at the 2009 Mode Shanghai were rapturously received. More recently, she signed a design branding contract with Boutique Monaco Museum, where she came out with high heels that use traditional mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquerware technique. Lee is constantly challenging herself to develop high heels that are not just practical footwear, but pieces of art. For the 2007 World Ceramic Biennial, she created pottery that used the high heel as a mug handle or the knight on a chessboard. It will be interesting to see what’s next for this stubborn designer who keeps her feet planted in both the traditional and the modern.

88 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

Looking for the 'It Bag' Zo Myounghee serves as design office director for the handbag brand Stori. As a college student, she majored in modern dance, but at the advice of her accessory designer sister, she decided to try her hand at designing bags. She spent some time at the fashion company ShinWon before finding her way to a manager position at the Icinoo Collection. She was more or less set at home, but she decided to risk it all and study overseas. After graduating from Britain’s Saint Martins School of Art, she went to work designing handbags in Europe. The year after her graduation, she began introducing the Stori brand to the world with appearances at famous shows like Premiere Class, Designer and Agent in New York, and London Fashion Week. The Stories of Ten Designers 89

Stori’s flagship store in Seoul

Stori was soon a popular brand in European markets like France, Britain,

in Italy, and the shows are staged in Paris. Believing that the originality of

Germany, Spain, and Sweden. At the Liberty London department store,

an item comes from its material, Zo works in various ways to incorporate

she won Best Product honors for three years running in the bag category.

characteristically Korean elements into her products: hanji (tradional

She opened a store in the brand-name section of Galeries Lafayette Berlin,

paper) for light bags, peony prints, handles made with the sort of rainbow-

putting her on par with some of the world’s top brands. Last season, she

hued mother-of-pearl used on old furniture, or traditional Joseon-era folk

came out with the self-titled Myounghee Zo for Topshop brand at the

paintings printed on the bag’s veneer. She has designed bags in the shape

popular British store Topshop.

of a bok jumeoni (a luck pouch) and embossed them with tiger images

Stori products don’t just sell in Europe—there are now more than 40

modified for maximum adorability.

stores in 20 countries around the world, including the U.S., South Africa,

But Koreanness isn’t everything when it comes to Zo’s work. As a

and several Middle Eastern nations. Her bags can be found in department

designer, she knows how to strike a balance between the beauties of

stores and such famous lifestyle shops as LA Anthropologie, New York’s

Korean patterns and British-style vintage—for example, by using an

Verve, Dubai’s Bugatti, and Moscow’s Lide Boutique. She also opened up

ornamental binyeo hairpin or stationery box lock as a latch for

a flagship store two years ago in Seoul’s Samcheong-dong neighborhood,

the handbag. In this way, she adds Korean finishing

introducing her brand to Korean customers and watching for the reaction.

touches to a Western product. This is based on an

Zo has a studio in London, where she does planning and design; production takes place in Korea. Her main material, leather, is purchased 90 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

astute reading of foreign buyers, who might be put off by something that is too heavily Koreanized. The Stories of Ten Designers 91

Korea's Top Five Fashion Shows Seoul Fashion Week

Korea Fashion Designers' Association (KFDA)

This is the biggest fashion show of them all, organized by the City of Seoul. It takes place twice a year in March and November, and its organizers are working hard to usher it into the elite top five events alongside Paris, London, Milan, and New York. Launched in 2000, the Seoul Collection takes place side-by-side with the event, showing work by the country's very best designers. In addition, the Generation Next event spotlights up-and-coming designers, and the Seoul Fashion Fair showcases smaller brands.

Founded in 1961, the Korea Fashion Designers' Association was the first fashion designers' group established under Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Past chairs have included Choi Kyung-ja, An Yoon-jung, Lee Miwon, Lee Young-sun, Kim Chong-wol, and Hwang Jae-bock. Its major efforts including promoting the original design research of its members and improving technique, organizing research and exchange to develop the fashion and textile culture industries at home and abroad, protecting member rights and supporting their welfare, and organizing various seminars and shows to assist with fashion culture industry research exchange.

Seoul Fashion Artists Association (SFAA) The Seoul Fashion Artists Association dates back to 1990, when 12 of the country's leading designers came together to launch it. It holds two shows a year, usually in April and October. The 20 official member designers are very active, taking part in the shows as SFAA members. SFAA Collection, Korea's first regular show, shares the same goal as such global fashion centers as Paris, Milan, New York, and London: using its local textiles and fashion industries to catapult the host city into a world fashion hub.

New Wave in Seoul (NWS) This fashion designers' group has set new benchmarks for Korean fashion since its establishment in 1992. Its 20 official members are influential designers who are recognized as the country's most progressive; these highly active professionals have shown their capabilities with work that is youthful and stimulates the senses. NWS organizes two shows a year, focusing its efforts on developing the high value-added fashion industry through greater international competitiveness and commercialization of Korea's brands, an avenue it pursues through various fashion shows in Korea and overseas.

Seoul International Fashion Contest (SIFC) The Seoul International Fashion Contest is organized by the City of Seoul and the Korea Fashion Association with the aim of discovering the next generation of outstanding designers around the world. The winners are chosen at a fashion show that takes place every fall during University Fashion Week. The topic for 2012's event was "SEOUL NOW," with entries expressing the capital's image as a dynamic and constantly changing city.

92 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A Walk Down Style Street 93

Myeong-dong street in Seoul

Chapter Four



here is a saying: “God made the village, people made the city.” The village arises out of nature, but the city is a product of civilization,

planned and mapped out by human beings—indeed, the very word “civilize” literally means “to make citified.” In Western history, fashion emerged in urban areas during the late Middle Ages, some time around the 13th century. So it is that fashion emerges and fades on the streets. Seoul, Korea’s capital and largest city, is home to seven streets that each shows a different face of fashion. The singer Psy recently rose to worldwide popularity with his hit song “Gangnam Style.” When we talk about the “style” of a region or street, there is the sense of a certain segment, a certain population, being closely tied to it. The fashion street is the home turf of one of the various tribes battling in the style wars. To look at streets through the lens of fashion is not simply a matter of describing the styles that can be found there—it also helps to understand the consumers who made it unique.

94 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A Walk Down Style Street 95



The rise and fall of fashion streets is closely tied to the evolution of the fashion industry. Dongdaemun offers a distillation of the Korean fashion industry’s growth over the years. Cheongdam gives the most unvarnished of glimpses at the aesthetic of the country’s new rich class. Garosu-gil gives voice to a new mode of living exemplified by the so-called “creative class,” while internationalized Itaewon shows a distinctly new Korea that Buam-dong

Seven Faces of K-Fashion

is merging with different cultures and the values they represent. Buamdong, in contrast, is a paean to the slow life and the warmth of the handcrafted, offering an alternative to people worn down by life’s hectic pace. The types of stores that cluster along these avenues have changed a great deal over the years. No longer are Korean fashion thoroughfares the exclusive province of the customized suit shops of the ’70s, the designer boutiques of the ’80s, or the department stores of the early ’90s–today, we are entering a new age of specialist private-label apparel (SPA) and


discount stores. The “select shops” that emerged in the late ’90s, as well as the “concept shop” and its lifestyle options, have contributed to enriching the urban landscape. The fashions on the streets are a mirror reflecting the mood at a particular moment in time.

Myeong-dong: Fast Fashion Battleground


Located in the heart of Seoul, the Myeong-dong neighborhood was redeveloped into an industrial area in the years after the Korean War. During the 1960s, it was famous as a haunt for literati and the art world. Cheongdam-dong

In the ’70s, its designer boutiques were thronged by girls’ high school students during graduation and college entrance season. It was Korea’s premier shopping street, crowded with fashion-forward young people—it

96 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A Walk Down Style Street 97 Garosu-gil

was to the point where newspapers and television shows would report the arrival of spring every March with coverage of the Myeong-dong fashions. By the ’80s and ’90s, the neighborhood was transforming into a massively scaled commercial district visited by an estimated 1.3 million people a day, its influx of consumers of various stripes and tourists from overseas earning it designation as a Special Tourism Zone. The early 2000s brought the Korean Wave, and with it the arrival en masse of global SPA brands like Forever 21, Zara, Mango, H&M, Uniqlo, and The Gap. Suddenly, Myeong-dong was an arena for them to duke it out. In just three years, SPA sales went from 500 million won in 2005 to three times that. An estimated 1.5 million people hit the streets of Myeong-dong each day; on weekends, that tally rose to 2.3 million. Korea responded to the foreign S PA o n s l a u g h t w i t h i t s o w n alternatives. ABC-Mart, 8 Seconds, Mixxo, SPAO, Spicy Color, Codes Combine, Culture Call, and others began entering the ring to compete with the overseas businesses. 8 Seconds is the SPA brand of Global and local SPA brand stores in Myeong-dong

Cheil Industries, the country’s top fashion business, which developed

Myeong-dong is a popular shopping district for both Koreans and international visitors.

98 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

it to target customers in their

for them. SPAO was developed by E-Land with the mission of supplying

twenties and thirties. The name

the right clothes for Korean tastes and frames. Mixxo boasts a huge,

is supposed to represent the time

diverse selection—15,000 items per year—while Spicy Color offers an eye-

it takes for anyone who visits the

catching assortment of colors and designs, its concept being “a store to

store to find the trend that’s right

satisfy all five senses.”

A Walk Down Style Street 99

Dongdaemun: Linking History and Culture Sprawling over a 99,000 m2 area, Dongdaemun Market is a fashion hub

The area of Dongdaemun is typically divided in east and west. To the east are traditional wholesale markets like Cheong-Pyunghwa, Dong-Pyunghwa, Gu-Pyunghwa, and Shin-Pyunghwa,

not just for Korea but for all of Asia. It brings together 80,000 fashion

along with design venture businesses

businesses visited by an estimated 600,000 people each day. The crowds

like Designer Club. Gu-Pyunghwa has the

peak at the late-night hours of ten to two; things are still bustling come

largest international presence of any of

five o’clock. It is the market that never sleeps.

Dongdaemun’s markets, drawing a nonstop

The block between the avenues of Jongno 5-ga and Cheonggyecheon

stream of buyers from Russia, Poland, the

5-ga is home to Gwangjang Market, which could be called the progenitor

Middle East, South America, and all over Asia.

of today’s Dongdaemun Market. Gwangjang was the country’s first modern

Designer Club is especially popular among

market, granted approval in 1905 by the Korean Empire’s government for Hanseong (Seoul’s name at the time). It attracted hordes of production workers and companies in the 1960s and 1970s, when the labor-intensive textile industry accounted for a significant chunk of the country’s exports. Namdaemun Market also picked up design and planning capabilities from the fashion industry in the early 1990s, but it had nothing on Dongdaemun in terms of productivity. Dongdaemun successfully wrested the fashion market crown away from Namdaemun, fought off the department store charge, and developed into an incubator for up-and-coming designs. The site benefits from a terrific location, crisscrossed by four subway lines and accessible to two stations. It provides a one-stop “synergy base” that solves every service need from production to distribution. Its business compete in a lightning-speed race to develop new products, and it is the locus of a comprehensive network of market information. These elements are what helped make today’s Dongdaemun one of the world’s fashion meccas. Seoul has a fashion industry market amounting to about $25 billion a year, and more than 30% of that comes from the area of Dongdaemun Fashion Town.

100 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

local retailers with scores of fashion plates Migliore

flocking there to see the latest designs.

To the west, newer fashion malls like Migliore, Doota, and Hello aPM are waging an intense sales competition. Migliore’s story is especially notewor thy—the shopping mall is recognized as a legend in its own time, a monument that rewrote the history of Dongdaemun as a commercial zone. Within a month of its 1996 opening, it was the neighborhood’s single biggest shopping mall. Even when the foreign exchange crisis of the late 1990s sent sales plummeting by more than 50% at market districts everywhere, Migliore outpaced department stores in sales by offering fashions for every consumer taste, along with a wide range of events.


A Walk Down Style Street 101

Doota was built by the Doosan conglomerate for the staggering cost

Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park (DDP) is set to open in the area. The

of 260 billion won (about $233 million in today’s money). Some 30% of

park was designed as a combination leisure area/green space/culture

its tenant sellers are designers with their own house or subcontracted

zone by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid following a decision by the City

factories. The mall is Korea’s SoHo, where designers come en masse to

of Seoul to tear down the antiquated Dongdaemun Stadium and put up a

show off their fashion-forward sensibilities. It also stages a yearly venture

history and culture park in its place. This fashion street linking history with

conference as a design incubator program, helping to discover new and

tradition is now on a beeline for the future.

promising designers and offering opportunities to the residents of Doota’s own special Dooche (pronounced “doo-chay”) zone. The east and west sections of Dongdaemun are sometimes referred to as “Dongpyeonje” and “Seopyeonje,” referring to the eastern and western styles of the traditional Korean singing genre known as pansori. These days, those two areas play host to an enormous fashion market, luring buyers in with their own future-oriented siren song. In 2013, the

Itaewon: A Toast to Cosmopolitanism Itaewon is a global village in the heart of Seoul. To Koreans, it is a place to go for a dose of exoticism; to international visitors and residents, it offers a taste of home. Back in the Joseon era, Itaewon served as a way station for travelers to and from the city. Under Japan’s colonial rule, it was home to a Japanese-only neighborhood. And since the Korean War, it has

Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park

functioned as an entertainment base for Americans. Locals have dubbed it a street where you can “see the world without a passport.” It boasts cuisine from all over the world, as well as an openness to the “different” befitting an avenue where so many different peoples and cultures live side by side. A veritable cornucopia of elements exist separately and together, from big-and-tall clothing shops to residential areas for foreign workers, an art museum (Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art) with a collection boasting essential works of modern and Korean traditional art, and luxury housing for diplomats. This is today’s Itaewon. The area actually has three major fashion streets: Comme des Garçons Street, Gyeongnidan Street, and Serosu Street, which has recently emerged as one of Seoul’s hottest spots. Comme des Garçons Street stretches for about 700 meters between the Hangangjin and Itaewon

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A Walk Down Style Street 103

subway stations. As recently as

Yoni P—noms de brand for London-educated husband-and-wife designer

a few years ago, it marked the

duo Steve J & Yoni P, who have built quite the résumé over the years: a

terminus of the Itaewon high

store with the famous SPA brand TopShop, selection twice in a row to

street, but everything changed

receive Samsung Fashion Design Fund assistance, and a dazzling debut at

in 2004 with the opening of the

London’s Fashion Week. Today, their clothes are being sold in Japan, Hong

Leeum museum. And with Cheil

Kong, Italy, and other places around the world; the designers themselves

Industries’ August 2009 opening

are involved in collaborations in various different areas.

of a flagship store for worldrenowned Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s Comme T-shaped junction behind Comme des Garçons Street

des Garçons brand, the street began its transformation into a new fashion and culture center.

Serosu Street arose in the area behind Itaewon Market on the way to Yongsan District Office. The road in question was once known for antique furniture stores, but in the spring of 2011 the fashion stores starting

Steve J & Yoni P En Pleine Nuit

moving in. Today, it is home to small body shops measuring about 10 to 30 m2 in area. Most of them are two stories and under, with some located underground. Recently, a T-shaped junction behind Comme des Garçons Street has caught the attention of clued-in fashionistas. The area calls to mind a European alleyway—narrow, but packed with memorable sights to see, including a number of hideaways for bright and talented young fashion designers and artists. The Heo sisters (Ji-in and Ji-hye) who run En Pleine Nuit studied garment design in Paris, as did Kim Hyeon-seo and Kim Eunje, the managers of Hyades. Kim Hui-yeong of Ryuikei opened a first shop here after studying design in London. There is also a shop for Steve J &

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A Walk Down Style Street 105

Cheongdam-dong: Brand-Name Stores and Designer Boutiques Once upon a time, the area around today’s 105 Cheongdam-dong address was home to a pond. The waters of the Hangang River are also especially clear near 134 Cheongdam-dong, earning this area its current name of Cheongdam, meaning “where the clear waters flow.” Its emergence as a fashion street came in the 1980s, when Joongang Design Center prizewinners and second-generation designers Dennis Kim, Park Youn Soo, Lie Sang Bong, and Kim Chul Ung made it their home. It was an optimal site for a new fashion street to replace Myeong-dong, the designer boutiques serving to draw in female university students at a time when there were no imported brands. Over the years, its home district of Gangnam developed into a ritzy neighborhood, and Cheongdam became

known as a style center for the new rich. The kilometer-long road stretching from Louis Vuitton and the Apgujeong Galleria Department Store’s East Gate to Cheongdamdong Junction is home to literally dozens of stores for such luxury names as Cartier, Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana. The Cartier store was chosen as the brand’s fourth flagship location, after its stores in Paris, New York, and London. Its building—the work of French architectural designer David-Pierre Jalicon—boasts an impressive exterior mixing Korean traditional wrapping cloth with patchwork decorated in bronze. The Louis Vuitton store, which opened in September 2000, is Asia’s largest, covering an area of about 6,900 m2. The building itself is owned by the brand’s head office in Paris; famously, a design team from the

Luxury brand-name stores of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Ferragamo, and Prada in Cheongdam-dong

main branch handled the interior work. The exterior has a distinctive touch: the company’s angular logo changes form with light and movement

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A Walk Down Style Street 107

in a way that is almost lifelike. At the center of the luxury brand street is a store for Prada, which became widely known throughout Korea after the explosive popularity of its black nylon backpack for the working woman. Recently, the company has been collaborating with Korean businesses with non-fashion items like the Prada Phone (with LG) and the Genesis Prada car (with Hyundai). Last but certainly not least is 10 Corso Como, a Cheongdam-dong landmark and major design attraction. Onetime Italian Vogue editor-inchief Carla Sozzani originally founded this multi-purpose cultural space in 1990. In 2008, Cheil Industries opened a Korean branch, providing a distinctive and stimulating environment blending fashion with art, music, and food.

Hongdae is a must-visit for fashionistas seeking something different.

10 Corso Como, a multi-purpose cultural space

Hongdae: Vive la Subculture The streets of the area outside Hongik University, called “Hongdae� by locals, are a hotbed of club culture. This dates back to the 1990s, when rock musician/artists began making their way to the neighborhood in droves. The university itself is most famous for its art school. Fittingly, the neighborhood across from it a major haunt for the wild and independently minded in every area, from art and design to dance, music, cartooning, video, and cultural planning. All of this has given it a wealth of indie art to

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A Walk Down Style Street 109

Garosu-gil: Where to Sample the Color of Trends Garosu-gil is one of the trendiest streets in Korea today. Its history goes back to the 1980s, when small galleries in the traditional culture neighborhood of Insa-dong made their way south to where rents were much more affordable. These were the roots of the street’s nonpareil cultural identity. The people who came were a major subset of the creative

The name “Garosu-gil” means a tree-lined street. Recently, the street has become one of the trendiest streets in Korea.

rival London’s Soho or Brooklyn. People come here when they want to get away from stifling preconceptions. Since becoming a fashion street, the commercial area in front of the university has become a must-visit for fashionistas seeking something different. Recently, the heavily indie-oriented neighborhood has witnessed the arrival of big business, with big stores to match. The fashion brand street begins at the Adidas store near the local playground, where Wausan 21-gil Road and Eoulmadang-no Street come together—this area has the highest traffic in the Hongdae area. Hook a right in front of the university gate to find the real brand-name street. Uniqlo occupies a particularly snappylooking structure, with a longtime American Apparel store underneath it. Customellow, a more recent opening, is the ambitious menswear store idea of Kolon Industries. Across the street are Codes Combine and Jill by Jillstuart stores; to the south is Nike. The three-way intersection just below is home to particularly eye-catching Stussy and MF stores. 110 K-Fashion Wearing a New Future

A Walk Down Style Street 111

Indie designer and brand stores in Garosu-gil (1~2) Concept shops, Around the Corner (3), Aland (4~5), and KM Play (6)

class: stylists, antique collectors, fashion designers, chefs, baristas, florists, photographers. They were people who rejected the dominant cultural tastes for their own particular predilections, and the succeeded in making Garosu-gil into a so-called Street of Bobos (bourgeois bohemians). As new indie designer stores took up residence, the street became a new epicenter of inspirational independent design with popular potential. As is often the case with streets created by artists, Garosu-gil has been transforming recently into a showcase for global trends. Where antique shops and designer boutiques once stood, corporate-backed concept shops and brand-name stores are moving in, having the wherewithal to afford the increasingly pricy land values. But while they may have lost their spots on the main drag, the indie designers still offer their threads and items on the neighborhood’s side streets, making them well worth a visit. Garosu-gil is a good place to witness the evolution of the concept shop, one of the major fashion trends in recent years. There’s Koon with a View, a lifestyle shop by Koon that is regarded as the first generation of Korean concept shops, and there’s Aland, a concept shop for emerging Korean designers. KM Play is a joint effort by designers from the Dongdaemun area. If there is one place on this street every visitor should stop at, it would have to be Simone Handbag Museum named “BagStage.” This massive museum has five stories above ground and five below, all dedicated to sharing the history of the handbag. Visitors can avail themselves of a design market, museum shop, and café, or stop at an activity center where they can see daily shows of craftspeople creating bags. BagStage is particularly popular among women—CNN dubbed it “every boyfriend’s nightmare.” (See p. 119)

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A Walk Down Style Street 113

Handmade bags and accessories by Blue Lim

Buam-dong offers an alternative to people worn down by life’s hectic pace.

the latter’s skyscrapers—the casual stroller would be forgiven for thinking she was in a small village in the country, or somewhere other than Korea. The people who call Buam-dong home have spent an average of 20

Buam-dong: A Ray of Handmade Sunshine

years living the “handmade life.” They include designers who work in

What do we mean when we talk about a “fashion street”? It means more

leather, metal, and customized suits, as well as some who stubbornly

than just rows of SPA brands and luxury items testifying to a borderless

adhere to a recycled fashion approach.

society. An alternative exists for the people who want to escape the

The owner of Blue Lim, a bag designer with two decades of experience

hustle and bustle of downtown for a glimpse of the slower side of life.

working for the country’s top brands, established her factory as a way of

The neighborhood of Buam-dong has been called a slice of country in the

presenting something altogether different. She is a Buam-dong artisan and

heart of Seoul. In the days of the Joseon Dynasty, it was a popular haunt for

inheritor of the Italian approach to fashion, and her handmade bags are

yangban aristocrats and members of the royal house, who came to enjoy

truly one of a kind. All of them use Italian-made leather, with customized

its picturesque pleasures. It is not far from the city center, but it has none of

options tailored to the colors and materials of the customer’s choice.

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A Walk Down Style Street 115

Imseonoc’s 382 PLAY ground Post December

Imseonoc has a reputation as something of Korean fashion enfant terrible, and she has made her lifestyle shop 382 PLAY ground into a multipurpose space for fashion, culture, design projects, and fabrics. Set at the entrance of an unprepossessing side street and surrounded with a white wall, the Imseonoc showroom shows virtually the entire clothesmaking process from start to finish: cutting, backstitching, fitting, and all. Gyeop (its name means “fold” in Korean) is costume designer Kim Jeongeun’s showroom-cum-workshop. Designed by Kim and her film producer husband, it is chicken soup for the fast fashion-weary soul, boasting a winning combination of an attractive, understated setting (a new take on the ’60s-style building) and vintage items. The name refers to the way our look changes in the breeze when we combine different materials, and the items on offer here are modern and romantic outfits with natural coloring. Finally, Post December is the studio of rising fashion star Park So-hyun, a Who’s Next Paris veteran who snagged first place honors in a Korea Fashion Organization training program for creative designers. Park studied in Britain, and the experience shows in her powerful tailoring. Her studio offers trim handmade dresses with an added nod to sustainability.

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A Walk Down Style Street 117

Korea’s Fashion Museums The Korean Museum of Embroidery Chung Young Yang, a world-renowned researcher of comparative costumology, created this museum from an embroidery and East Asian garment collection forty years in the making. Opened in May 2004, it boasts embroidery art from China, Vietnam, Japan, and more—from the world’s first silk thread-embroidered bronze mirror (believed to date to the 4th century BC) to religious costumes, armor, folding screens, wedding dresses, and imperial badges. The museum was built to further awareness of the textile arts, and it houses a wide range of East Asian outfits for comparative analysis and research. It also has a gallery, preservation room, library, and other facilities that have helped turn it into a required field trip stop for any student of Eastern embroidery.

Simone Handbag Museum The world’s first handbag museum was erected on Garosu-gil in July 2012 by the handbag makers at Simone. Its collection features a range of items from 15th century antiques to contemporary items: a jewel-bedecked Cartier number from the 1920s, a Schiaparelli item, a Louis Vuitton cosmetics case inscribed with the name of the Duchess of Windsor, a 1968 chain mail bag by Paco Rabanne, an Art Nouveau bag by Boucheron, and a Vivienne Westwood “bum bag” made in 1996 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louis Vuitton monogram bag. The focus here is on presenting the special techniques, historical background, and aesthetic values of all these different eras in the most effective and dynamic of ways. The New York Times described this museum as a must-visit for anyone stopping in Seoul; the Financial Times provided an exclusive report on what it called a “cultural shrine to accessories.”

The Korea Museum of Modern Costume This museum takes an era-by-era look at changes in Korean womenswear over the half-century from the introduction of Western outfits until today. Its more than 1,080 items of modern clothing include not only the works of such noted designers as Jin Te-ok, Sul Yoon-hyung, and Lie Sang Bong, but also garments worn by celebrities such as aviatrix Kim Kyung-o and violinist Chung Kyung Hwa. With its exclusive focus on clothing, this museum spotlights the past, present, and future of Western outfits in Korea through the characteristics and styles of their different incarnations over the year.

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Hanbit Museum of Glasses It all started with a hobby: Lee Jeong-su was starting his own optometry center, and began collecting old glasses and glasses cases. Twenty-odd years down the road, he had amassed more than 5,000 pieces of spectacle-related paraphernalia. Today, the whole lot of it is housed in the Hanbit Museum of Glasses. The collection includes everything from 17th century glasses from Korea and overseas to a tortoiseshell case (which took three years of coaxing to procure), a case embroidered with the ten traditional symbols of longevity (a unique glimpse at uniquely Korean beauty), 19th century optometry equipment, portraits of bespectacled Joseon nobility, and 18th century still lifes with glasses.

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Further Reading Korean Fashion Associations Korea Fashion Association

Korea Research Institute for Fashion Industry

Korea Creative Content Agency

Korea’s Fashion Museums The Korea Museum of Modern Costume

The Korean Museum of Embroidery

Simone Handbag Museum

Lee Young Hee Museum of Korean Culture

Fashion Shows Seoul Fashion Week

Seoul Fashion Artists Association

Concept Korea

Designers’ Websites Lie Sang bong

Lee Young Hee

Son Jung Wan

Woo Youngmi

Moon Young Hee

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Lee Jean Youn

Doo-Ri Chung

Kim Hye-soon

Lee Kyumbie

About the Author Kim Hong Ki Top fashion curator, journalist, and power blogger Kim Hong Ki has spent many years reporting on Korea’s fashion market and designers. He has been praised for his in-depth writing style that blends fashion with the humanities. In addition to his numerous appearances as a television p anelist on TV Museum of Art , Masterpiece Scandal , and 15 Minutes to Change the World (Korea’s version of the TED Talks), Kim has also been a judge for the Seoul Collection at Seoul Fashion Week and the Seoul International Fashion Competition and planned various exhibitions and performances spotlighting mixtures of fashion with modern art. His books include Chanel Goes to the Art Museum , Fashion Meets Psychology , Reading Hong Myung-bo , and The Humanities of Fashion . He has also edited Fashion Designer Survival Guide , Fashion Design School , Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation , and Color Forecasting for Fashion .

Credits Planner Writer Translator

Global Communication and Contents Division Kim Hong Ki Colin Mouat

Edited & Designed by Seoul Selection

Photographs The Korea Museum of Modern Costume, CJ Entertainment, Yonhap Photo, Newsbank Image, Ryu Seung-hoo, James Kim, Yi Jonggap, Robert Koehler

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