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The women who dress a fantasy empire

Feb 20,2007
Actress Huh I-jae dressed as a maid
The imaginary Korean empire introduced last year in MBC-TV’s “Princess Hours” returns soon and the stars will be wearing new styles.
Based on a comic book, this season’s show switches gender to become “Princes Hours” and tells the story of two fictional princes who govern in modern-day Korea.
The costumes for the program are a mix of modern and traditional attire and are the work of Lee Yeong-hee, a hanbok [traditional Korean clothing] designer, and Gee Chun-hee, a fashion designer.
Ms. Gee sat down with the JoogAng Ilbo to talk about what the characters will be wearing.

Designer Gee Chun-hee in charge of the costumes for “The Prince Hours.”
Maids lead the way
What do costumes look like for the everyday people in the empire?
Ms. Gee first mentions costumes for the maids.
“The leading characters are all young and good looking, so they shine in almost anything. In the palace, there are numerous maids, and they are the ones who capture the overall style of the period,” she explained. Her concentration on the maids’ costumes makes them different from last season’s simple and neat maid dresses.
“I borrowed some ideas from hanbok. I had dongjeong [a white scarf or collar] in mind. I designed them so that whatever they wear, the cast were to wear a white blouse underneath,” Ms. Gee added.
As a designer well known for feminine designs, she puts emphasis on blouses.
“I feel that blouses bring out the feminine side, and they gently wrap around the body. I enjoy wearing them, and feel that it is a basic garment for those in the palace,” she said.

Confined imperial style
Then what do the leading characters wear? “There is no set design for the Korean Imperial costume. Towards the end of the Korean Empire, imperial style was mostly patterned on Japanese costumes. Therefore, I had to get creative to come up with new designs,” Ms. Gee said.
She defines imperial style as simple but graceful. “The imperial family was different from common people, and their clothing reflected their uniqueness,” she said. “No weakness could be exposed and they had to be on their best manners at all times. In a way, they had a confined style. I tried to incorporate that in the costumes.”
“I actually tried to create new designs. Most costumes are based on contemporary design rather than traditional. The only difference is that the dresses could not be too revealing considering they are for the conservative imperial family,” Ms. Gee said.
Each costume was designed in relation to its character. Yi Hu, the easy-going prince, and Yi Jun, the ambitious prince intent on becoming the next emperor, are bound to have different styles.
“The more ambitious the character, the more secretive he should be. No one wants to publicize one’s ambitions. He has to conceal his motives, and his costume has to reflect that.”
Differences are evident in the tuxedos worn by the two princes. Yi Hu’s jacket has a slightly round shape and a wide collar. This reflects his gentle character. Yi Jun, by contrast, appears in a formal tuxedo with a tight collar that hugs his neck.

Imperial style of one’s own
Is there any way for viewers to enjoy imperial styles of their own?
“Try a pair of gloves that come up to the elbows,” she recommends. “A bonnet would complete the style, but in Korea not many people dress like that. A simple dress suit with a pair of gloves is enough to capture the imperial style.”
Ms. Gee also adds that the gloves should be a different color than the dress. “It is wise to match the gloves with the shoes or purse. Preferably in a dark color, because the basis of imperial clothing is subdued colors.”
Most of Gee’s customers also prefer subdued colors. “Those from the upper class do not want their clothing to have eye-catching colors,” Gee explained.

Designer Gee Chun-hee
In 1980, Ms. Gee made a name for herself as a designer when she opened the Miss Gee Collection in Myeongdong, Seoul. She is now one of Korea’s most famous designers, and it is not unusual to see long lines outside her fashion shows. For the last 10 years, Ms. Gee has been the only Korean designer represented among the numerous foreign sections in big Gangnam department stores. Gee has also designed costumes for hit TV series such as “Hour Glass,” “Flame” and “Trap of Youth.”
In 1993, she received the Best Costumes Award at the Daejong Awards, Korea’s biggest film awards, for the work she did in the film “Blue in You.” Star actresses Ko Hyeon-jeong, Shim Eun-ha, and Kang Soo-yeon are among her customers.

By Kang Seung-min JoongAng Ilbo [estyle@joong-ang.co.kr]



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