An eye on style at the Queen’s Birthday Ball

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An eye on style at the Queen’s Birthday Ball

White gladiolus blossoms cascading under the chandelier, a trio of chamber musicians playing romantic melodies, golden sparkling wines being poured into crystal glasses and ladies in stunning ball gowns and gentlemen in black tuxedos gliding across the marble-floored foyer.
This was just a prelude to this year’s Queen’s Birthday Ball earlier this month at the Grand Hyatt Seoul.
When a fairy ― who looked and acted more like a circus clown ― rang the bell at about 8 p.m., the elegantly dressed guests entered the Grand Ballroom, where the Neverland of Peter Pan had been brought to life.
Through the hazy smoke effects, guests saw the magical island where Peter Pan and his Lost Boys played. Captain Hook’s ship was in the corner, Tinkerbell silhouettes twinkled overhead.
Each table was decorated with a maritime theme, complete with colorful water decorations, golden pebbles and a pirate’s treasure map tucked inside a bottle. And, of course, there were more spirits to be consumed when Britain’s ambassador to South Korea, Charles Humfrey, made the evening’s first toasts.
Britons and their anglophile friends normally celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday on the second Saturday in June. This year marks the queen’s 77th birthday.
By tradition, crowds in London gather to watch the annual Trooping the Colour and Horse Guards Parade at Buckingham Palace; street parties and events to celebrate the sovereign’s birthday follow.
On the evening of the Queen’s Birthday Ball in Seoul, 450 guests feasted on a five-course meal while a Korean contemporary dance troupe, POZ Dance Theater, performed.
Some guests were taken aback by the grandeur. “When I first heard about the ball, I hesitated to go because I didn’t know there would be such fancy affairs like this in Korea,” said Sandra Murdoch, a Canadian, dressed in a slim-fitting turquoise blue floor-length gown in turquoise blue. Ms. Murdoch, who has been in Korea for less than a year, used the ball to celebrate another birthday ― her husband’s ― with friends.
The British Association of Seoul, formerly the British Women’s Group, has had a tradition of celebrating the Queen’s birthday in Korea since the group was formed in 1977. Run entirely by volunteers, the group began to promote social activities for British expatriates in Korea and has gradually expanded its membership and activities over the years.
The group changed its name in November 2002, since it no longer just represented British women accompanying their husbands on overseas postings. The group has embraced reversed roles and people from all walks of life associated with both the British and Korean communities working on a variety of social causes throughout the year.
Lynette Loizou, the association’s president, stressed that the proceeds from this year’s activities, especially the ball, will go directly to charities that support needy Korean children.
In the last few years, volunteers have worked closely with Open Door Social Welfare Center, a local charity that finds homes for abandoned children. Open Door is building a new home for abused children in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi province.
Ms. Loizou later said the Queen’s Birthday Ball raised about 90 million won ($72,000). The money will go to help pay for the new house, which will help about 25 children escape a life of suffering.
Now about the ball’s fashion: J-mode was at the ball to check out the fancy jewelry, designer dresses and big hair.
So, the night was a hunt for the most fashionably dressed. (Yes, men, you looked great in your tuxes. But, don’t we all love to see what women are wearing at parties?)
According to our informal survey, hair was styled to look natural, sometimes with soft waves, but never stiff or coiffed to look grand.
We spotted no major rocks as accessories, and so we wondered: Was it Korea that made women go with the no-serious-jewelry look or do men become Scrooges once they arrive here?
The question remained unanswered until we spotted an explosively brilliant multicarat diamond necklace and earring ensemble adorning the soprano Cha Seung-hee, who sang “God Save the Queen” in the earlier part of the ball. Dressed in a hot pink gown from Cache, the graceful Ms. Cha, a Korean-American, knew how to show off her talent, beauty and style.
For the ball, most women opted for floor-length dresses, but without exaggerated details such as feathers, petticoats or trains. Dresses were either minimally modern in solid colors or romantic with lace, embroidery or sequins on floral motifs.
From the international guests, we heard quite a lot of “Dongdaemun” and “Itaewon” ― along with Spain, Hong Kong, Holland, Scotland and Australia ― describing the origin of their fashion.
But, a number of partygoers demonstrated their creative ― and thrifty ― side through their cleverly crafted gowns using their own ideas.
Enid Humfrey, the wife of the British ambassador, said she had bought bolts of blue silk in England and had them custom-made into an evening gown in Korea. The gown’s design, which Mrs. Humfrey devised, was accentuated with full bat-wing sleeves and a slim waistline, making the outfit highly elegant with trendy elements. “I got the design from several fashion magazines,” she said, beaming.
The Korean jewelry designer Vivian Han said she was decked out in French themes from head to toe. Her bustier dress was made of French brocade and the cream-colored shawl was vintage French lace, but she stressed that the idea of putting all things together was her own.
Some of the most stunning dresses were by internationally acclaimed couture designers. Ghillian Lees, a beauty from Scotland, wore a black flamenco dress by Jasper Conran. Sarina Stavrides got her elegant Chanel lace gown from her husband’s, Robert Stavrides’ company, Chanel Korea. The Christian Dior lace dress worn by Jenny Thorn was detailed with fine metal fringes scalloped at the lower waistline.
Romantic and delicate, many dresses were simply black with slim silhouettes, which lightly grazed the carpet.
Modern-day Cinderellas prefer stilettos by Manolo Blahnik, the ultimate symbol of fashionistas.
While shoes were well-hidden beneath to-the-floor hemlines, we were persistent all night.
Amidst all too many Korean pumps, we thought we spied a beige pair on Joan Hoffman from New York City.
When she confirmed, “Oh, they’re Manolo Blahnik!” we knew that our search was over.

by Ines Cho
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