From Royal Court to Runway ‘Opens in DC – WWD

From Royal Court to Runway ‘Opens in DC – WWD

K-pop may have centered South Korea in global pop culture in recent years, with its stars attracting legions of fans and becoming muses for some of the major luxury fashion labels, but the nation has had a long and rich history in fashion, regardless of whether the West was watching.

This is what Lee Talbot, curator of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, wants the world to see with the exhibition “Korea Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway” open until December 22, 2022.

“I found it really frustrating and almost ridiculous that so much writing about fashion, fashion history and fashion theory equates fashion with the West,” says Talbot, who lives in Korea and has been studying its culture and customs for years. “And they say, well, the fashion and fashion system we have today was born out of modernism in the West, out of the individualism we have in the West, out of the special kind of market conditions we have. But that’s not the case at all. So what we are showing in this is also an exhibition hanbok, which we tend to translate as traditional Korean garments, was subject to fashion, it changed over time, there would be trends that came and went. See the edges rise and fall, colors that go in and out of fashion.

“What I want to show with this exhibition is that it’s not like Korea has gone from the traditional, immutable and then suddenly with the adoption of Western fashion and Western modern lifestyles, suddenly fashion begins to appear.” , keep on. “No. What I’m trying to say in this exhibition is that Koreans have always been trendy. Always.”

Heo Yeong (Korean, 1947-2000), jacket (jeogori) with folk painting design (minhua), Korea, 1990s The Textile Museum Collection 2022.3.17.  Gift of Dr. Young Yang Chung.

Heo Yeong (Korean, 1947-2000), jacket (jeogori) with folk painting design (minhua), Korea, 1990s. The Collection of the Textile Museum 2022.3.17. Gift of Dr. Young Yang Chung.

Courtesy of the Textile Museum

The exhibition marks the first time Korean textiles and fashion have been featured as the sole focus of a museum exhibit, at least outside Korea, and the first time the Textile Museum has shown fabrics from Korea, says Talbot .

The moment may be long overdue, considering Korean fashion arrived on the American scene in 1893 via the Colombian World Exposition, or the Chicago World’s Fair that year. Articles from that fair 129 years ago will be on display in this exhibition.

“The exhibit is closed on time and starts with items that have been sent to the Chicago World’s Fair and then ends with a screen that will be updated weekly showing only Seoul street fashion,” says Talbot. “What I thought was really wonderful about these bookends is that they are both Koreans who introduce themselves to the world through fashion.”

In 1893, Korea was introducing itself to the global public for the first time at a world fair and chose to do so with fashion.

Two wedding dresses o hwarrot on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago which will be part of the exhibition, they are, according to Talbot, “almost like the Holy Grail type of material because they have this very interesting provenance. The king put together a commission at the royal court to choose the objects that represented their country … it is simply fascinating as a group of objects that this is what the royal court chose. ”

Wedding dresses, which would traditionally have been reserved for the aristocracy but which eventually became the standard for all brides (which still happens today, even if the expensive embroidery and craftsmanship lead many brides to rent them), tell the stories that traditional Korean clothing can tell about the wearer.

As Dr. Young Yang Chung, a Korean-born textile historian and embroiderer who consulted for the Korean fashion exhibit, explains, “Clothing is not clothing. Everything has a meaning, and above all 100 years ago ”.

Wedding dress (hwarrot, 활옷) (front), Korea, 19th century.  © The Field Museum, Image n.  A113982c, Cat. No. 33159. Gift of JFG Umlauff, H. Higenbotham.

Wedding dress (hwarrot, 활옷) (front), Korea, 19th century. © The Field Museum, Image n. A113982c, Cat. No. 33159. Gift of JFG Umlauff, H. Higenbotham.

Photo by John Weinstein

One of the two robes that will be on display is made of red, yellow and blue silk – a patchwork of various older garments transformed into a new one – and embroidered with symbols that would also have had meaning.

Describing one of the robes, Chung says, “It has a 1.5 foot wide sleeve with three colored bands and is constructed with 10 layers of padding. [made of] of rice paper to stiffen it … Color will determine age, gender, occasion and social status.

Red and blue, he says, symbolize harmony and “this unique way of building, with fully embroidered motifs … symbolic of the harmony of the spouses is something else”. Lotus and peony flowers, for example, represent wealth and dignity.

“This exhibition is so important for the public to understand the Korean color and concept and the symbolic meanings of the motifs,” says Chung.

The exhibit travels through time and through Korea’s sometimes troubled history, from the country’s colonization by Japan to the Korean War: Factors Talbot and Chung agree may have been among the reasons the country was off the radar for something. similar to fashion. It extends to more contemporary times, with pieces like a multicolored mid-60s saekdong dress by designer Nora Noh and then takes things even further aa chaekgado jacket, tunic and trousers by designer Lie Sang Bong shown in 2017.

OCTOBER 24: A model walks the Korea Designers Council runway with Lie Sang Bong's Spring Summer 2017 collection during Jakarta Fashion Week 2017 in Senayan City, Jakarta.

A look from a Lie Sang Bong collection in 2017 shows a modern take on traditional Korean clothing.

Femina / Dachri Megantara group

The link between the designers who are present, according to Talbot, “is the Korean tradition as a point of inspiration for new expressions”, or designers who have drawn on the past to create for the present.

“I think what [Lie Sang Bong is] to do is to show the ways in which Korean cultural heritage can be interpreted for the modern world. For example, some of the earlier generation designers who have enjoyed some international success, such as Lee Young Hee, look at his garments and for the most part recognize them as Korean. If you recognize the Korean leaders, you can see the ancestry of hanbok in them. So it’s kind of a literal reimagining of hanbok or traditional Korean clothing, ”says Talbot. lie sung bong? Not so much. In fact, the cut, the construction, the shapes are not seen hanbok, but you see elements of Korean culture emerge. For example, one of the dresses we have has these very colorful patterns that were inspired by architectural paintings of the Joseon Dynasty, so this is one aspect of Korean culture that you don’t expect to see manifested in clothing. It is probably best known, certainly in Korea, for the use of Korean script, Hangul, as a decorative element and we will also emphasize it in the show ”.

Interest in bringing the old into the new in terms of clothing has increased in recent years, according to Yoo Jin Cho, a PhD student and curatorial intern at the Textile Museum who, as a Korean native speaker, has provided research support and insights into the show.

“In Korea, interest in this modernized traditional clothing has increased a lot over the past five years, with many more passionate amateurs making their own clothes, many more online stores opening up to be more accessible to Koreans in their twenties and thirties,” she says, which encouraged many people to try their hand at what she called modern hanbok to wear every day.

The government is also involved, having created school uniforms and uniforms for public officials inspired by traditional Korean clothing, and these will be displayed in a section of the exhibition.

Cho also wants the fashion-seeking audience to see beyond what K-pop has brought to the table.

“Korean culture has mostly been defined as very recent contemporary fashion, worn mostly by K-pop idols or very few street [style] it snaps because of such exposure to K-pop culture, “he says.” And I just want to show that Korean culture has existed far beyond these contemporary cultures that have become more available in the last decade or so. ”

Korea, according to Talbot, who began work on the current exhibition before the pandemic when he saw what he calls an “explosion of cultural content out of Korea,” is one of the hottest nations in the world.

In a word, he owed it to “hybridity”.

“Koreans are really good at combining a lot of really different influences and creating something totally new. And this is not exclusive to contemporary fashion. It’s something we also see with historical material, ”she says. “There would be influences from China, for example, and it would be very skillfully incorporated into the Korean costume and it would be Korean and they would create a whole new look. So it is something that we have seen over time but surely we are seeing it now in contemporary fashion, which combines traditional elements of couture and elements of streetwear, [it’s] all these things come together in a truly unique aesthetic.

For those who may not make it to the museum, an international symposium titled “Hahn Moo-Sook Colloquium for Korean Humanities: Korean Fashion”, to coincide with the exhibition, will take place on November 5, both virtually and in person at Elliott School of International Affairs by GW.

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