Korean Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway

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Korean Fashion:

From Royal Court to Runway

In recent years, South Korea has

modern lifestyles during the

outpouring of innovation

(wrapping cloths), embroidery

experienced an extraordinary and imagination in fashion,

music, cinema and other arts. Contemporary South Korean artists and designers have

deftly combined the historical and avant-garde, local and

cosmopolitan, high culture and popular to create a distinctive and widely acclaimed Korean voice on the world’s creative

stage. In this so-called “Hallyu”

(Korean wave), Korea’s venerable

cultural heritage often serves as a springboard for new expression. This exhibition introduces

traditional Korean textile arts —

from “hanbok” (Korean clothing) to home furnishings — and

explores how their design and craftsmanship have changed alongside Korea’s profound

socio-economic transformations since the late 19th century.

Although most Koreans adopted Western-style clothing and

Cover: Hwang Leesle (Korean, b. 1987), Jogakbo dress (detail), 2017. Cotton, polyester, linen; printed. Private collection.

20th century, hanbok, “bojagi” and other traditional textile forms and techniques have

remained vibrant, ever-evolving expressions of personal and national identity.

In the 21st century, South Korea

has emerged as one of the most fashion-conscious and fashionforward nations on Earth. In

the wake of the tremendous

success of K-pop, K-cinema and other popular culture products, South Korea has become Asia’s epicenter of street fashion,

and innovations in Seoul soon

spread to runways and retailers

worldwide. During this dynamic period of cultural ebullience,

Korean fashion designers and textile artists are embracing

cutting-edge concepts while

looking with ongoing interest at

age-old Korean aesthetics and art forms.


The resplendent fashions of the Joseon royal court continue to inspire today’s designers.

The exhibition includes rare examples of clothing worn at the Korean royal court during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Some of the textiles on display were sent by the Joseon royal court to the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. After centuries of relative isolation, Korea had opened to international trade and diplomacy in 1876, but in the early 1890s most people in the West remained unfamiliar with the country. At a time when rival regional powers increasingly threatened Korea’s sovereignty, participation in the 1893 exposition offered the Joseon government the opportunity to positively introduce Korea, its people and culture to a large global audience. The clothing and furnishings made by master artists in Joseon royal workshops dazzled visitors to the Korean pavilion with their vibrant colors, intricate patterns and fine workmanship.

Bridal robe (hwarrot) (back detail), Korea, 19th century. Silk, paper; satin woven, embroidered. © The Field Museum, Image No. A113981c, Cat. No. 33159. Gift of J. F. G. Umlauff, H. Higenbotham. Photo by John Weinstein.

WHAT IS HANBOK? Hanbok is a collective term referring to various types of Korean clothing. Korean people have worn the basic components of hanbok for hundreds of years, but their preferred materials, colors, tailoring and decorations have changed continually with time and fashion.

During the Joseon dynasty, people wore different types of hanbok for everyday and ceremonial occasions, and garments differed with the wearer’s age, gender and social status, as well as the season of the year. Over the centuries, government initiatives, international exchange and the vagaries of fashion introduced new garment forms to the hanbok repertoire.

Today’s hanbok largely derives from late-Joseon prototypes, but styles continue to develop in response to Korea’s ever-changing socioeconomic and political landscape. With its long history, remarkable tenacity and adroit hybridity, hanbok remains a primary visual symbol of Korean identity.

Yi Yunjeong (Korean, b. 1940), skirt (chima) and jacket (jeogori), 1980s. Silk, polyester, paper, metal-wrapped threads, gold leaf. The Textile Museum Collection 2022.3.18-19. Gift of Dr. Young Yang Chung.


With the “Korean wave”

In the decades following the

immediate access and virtual

Korean War (1950-1953), South Korea transformed from an impoverished, agrarian nation into an industrialized economic

heightening international interest and social media providing community, Korean fashions are widely observed, admired, discussed and emulated across the world.

powerhouse. As the majority of Koreans adopted Western-style clothing throughout the 1950s and 60s, designers such as Nora Noh (b. 1928) helped to introduce and popularize the latest international fashions. Korean high fashion debuted on the world stage in the 1990s, when Lee Young Hee (1936-2018) and Icinoo (b. 1941) became the first Korean designers to present their collections on Paris runways.

Contemporary designers such as Lie Sang Bong (b. 1955) continue to garner global attention with innovative fashions that often reinterpret various facets of Korea’s cultural heritage. In recent years, simplified versions of hanbok have become increasingly fashionable among young Koreans, and designers such as Hwang Leesle (b. 1987) and Kim Young Jin (b. 1971) have launched successful brands specializing in easy-to-wear interpretations of historical styles.

Lie Sang Bong (Korean, b. 1955), Chaekgado tunic and pants, spring summer 2017. Polyester, silk; printed. Collection of Lie Sang Bong.

Lie Sang Bong (b. 1955), Dancheong dress (detail), 2012. Polyester, silk; printed. Collection of Lie Sang Bong.

Kim Danha (Korean, b. 1990), cloth with "gungbo" designs (detail), 2020. Polyester, printed. Private collection. Fabric used for Danha outfits worn by BLACKPINK in their “How You Like That” video.

Support for this exhibition and related programming is provided by the following:

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Bea and Thomas Roberts Norma and Ted Lonoff Roger and Claire Pratt Barbara Tober in honor of Dr. Young Yang Chung and in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Cultural Center of Washington, D.C.

VISITOR INFORMATION GALLERY TOURS Join one of our drop-in tours or book a custom exhibition tour for your group. Learn more at www.museum.gwu.edu/visit. PROGRAMS Check the monitor in the lobby or talk to our receptionist to learn about programs happening during your visit. For a full list of onsite and virtual programs, visit www.museum.gwu.edu/programs. TEXTILE LIBRARY To schedule an appointment at the museum’s Arthur D. Jenkins Library, email our librarian at museumlibrary@gwu.edu. ARTISANS GALLERY Purchase and learn about handmade textiles representing global traditions from India, Uzbekistan, Peru and more. Follow our Instagram @ArtisansGalleryShop. JOIN OR DONATE Support from our members and donors enables us to showcase textile art through exhibitions, programs and publications. To join or renew a current membership, or to make a donation, visit www. museum.gwu.edu/support, call 202-994-5579 or stop by the front desk.



701 21st St. NW, Washington, DC 20052


@GWMuseum www.museum.gwu.edu

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