Designers Look Back to See the Future

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Designers Look Back to See the Future

April through June of this year is designated for the promotion of Korean fashion. The event, titled "2000 Years of Korean Fashion and Culture," includes an exhibition, fashion shows and a seminar, and is being held in Gyeongbok Palace and the National Folk Museum of Korea, both in central Seoul. The promotion is hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and SBS and is attracting VIPs from both home and abroad, industry professionals, students, the general public and tourists.

At the opening ceremony last Tuesday, first lady Lee Hee-ho gave a congratulatory speech, followed by a greeting from Shin Nak-yun, the chairwoman of the Committee for 2000 Years of Korean Fashion and Culture. The highlight of the ceremony was a fashion show titled "The Great Show - Korean Fashion 2000" held outdoors in front of hundreds of enthusiastic spectators. The fashion show embraced two central themes - the history of Korean fashion over the past 2,000 years and Korean design in the future. The first part consisted of a procession of models wearing the highly decorated garments that adorned royal families throughout Korean history, from the Three Kingdoms period to the Choson dynasty; the second part, a dynamic performance by models wearing highly conceptual clothes.

The five-day Fashion Festival last week displayed the works of 31 top Korean designers. The festival also included an array of classic hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and shows of ancient costumes, in exhibitions designed to show off authentic Korean culture. But most spectators found the fashion designers' original presentations far more interesting than the commercialized, tourist-oriented displays of period costumes.

Creations by critically acclaimed Korean designers like Jinteok, Sul Yun-hyoung, Rubina and Lee Young-hee proved inspirational for both industry professionals and students. Korean designers, who in the past have been warmly received outside the country, still base their designs on traditional Korean motifs because of their selling power in the international market. The designers Sul Yun-hyoung and Lee Young-hee in particular incorporated traditional elements in their clothing, such as floral embroidery, gold filigree decoration and jogakbo (Korean-style patchwork).

Sul Yun-hyoung's beautiful adaptation of jogakbo, in chic, colorful fur coats made a strong "East-meets-West" fashion statement. Especially impressive was the designer's clever use of Oriental brocade in sharply silhouetted clothes, pattern play with Korean motifs, and a mix and match of natural and chemical dyes. Sul Yun-hyoung's distinctive designs adorned sultry-looking models with wind-swept hairdos specially styled by the Korean hair designer Oh Min. The stage was splashed with traditional colors further enlivened by modern inspiration.

The hanbok-inspired collection by Lee Young-hee was an ethereal reinterpretation of centuries-old Korean fashion set against the cooling sounds of ocean waves and an Asian dance beat. The comprehensive collection of the designer's works included ascetically minimal, neutral garments inspired by a Buddhist monk's habit. The designer's verve was expressed through various classic materials such as chiffon, linen, silk, knit, jersey and satin. Pleats, layers and proportion were familiar to Koreans yet refreshing to Western eyes. See-through dresses whispered elusive and alluring sensuality in sublime elegance. Among her innovative creations were up-to-date contemporary pieces such as body suits, hot pants, bra tops, cigarette pants, wide belts and spiky mules inspired by gomusin (traditional rubber shoes).

Although commentators on Korean fashion have often focused on the ingenuity with which traditional Korean elements are incorporated into modern clothing, not all Korean designers used obvious Korean motifs. In works by the model-turned-designer Rubina, one can hardly trace any Oriental influence; her garments strongly reflected the designer's signature, Westernized, look. Like her own personal style, Rubina's collection adhered to one theme: super femininity juxtaposed with a rather sharp elegance. Luxurious materials, including jersey, leather and furs, were rich in color and bold with geometric patterns. Functional accessaries such as built-in belts and bags and detail in the leather outfits screamed price tags worthy of exclusive Italian boutiques in Beverly Hills.

The 2001 fall and winter collection by Jinteok won the best reviews from industry professionals and journalists. Under the theme "Very Simply, Very Complicatedly," she incorporated various classic, familiar materials such as knit, fur, chiffon and leather into a line of starkly forward-looking outfits. The liberal maneuvering of texture and proportion was particularly noteworthy. Chiffon, fabric known for its sheer softness, was gathered in layers and pleats and was treated like stiff animal hide; leather, a leading material of the season, was cut to drape and cling to the body like a piece of stretchy satin. The strong, bold textile contrast placed her at the forefront of avant-garde. The show was a comprehensive collection of the designer's works to date, making it both a summation of her own distinctive style and a clue to the future of Korean fashion.

The Korean Fashion 2000 exhibition continues until June 11 at the Planning Section of the National Folk Museum. A seminar on the theme "The Creation of a New Style of Korean Fashion for the New Century" will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday at the seminar room of the National Folk Museum. All events are free of charge except for the 700 won ($0.54) admission fee to the grounds. For more information, contact Kim Yea-gee at 02-2263-6036 or 016-708-4587 (English service available).

by Ines Cho

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