A designer loved by beauty pageant contestants“Before she put on my dress, she looked like an ordinary woman. But she truly shined when she wore it and she became Miss Universe in that dress,” said Lee Hwa-suk, 42, a Korean designer, referring to Jennifer Hopkins, last year’s pageant winner.
Ms. Lee, who currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, is famous in the fashion industry in that country, especially among beauty peageant contestants. Ms. Hopkins and Michelle Guy, this year’s Miss Australia, wore evening gowns she designed. Lauryn Eagle, last year’s Miss Teen International, also wore a dress created by Ms. Lee.
“When I heard Ms. Hopkins wanted to wear my dress, I [initially] turned it down because I was too busy at the time. But she sent me an e-mail directly,” Ms. Lee said.
“When I was making a dress for Ms. Guy, it was just going to be an evening dress, but she asked me to make a traditional costume as well. There was no costume that represented Australia, so I ended up designing one based on the film ‘Crocodile Dundee,’ which was shot in Australia,” she said.
Ms. Lee received innumerable phone calls from contestants for this year’s Miss Universe pageant, which was held at the end of May. For a beauty pageant in Australia, about seven or eight contestants on average want to wear her designs.
Ms. Lee gained her fame last year, when the dress Ms. Hopkins wore got big coverage in the Australian press.
“Last year, before the Miss Universe contest began, Ms. Hopkins, who modeled in my fashion show, came to see me after she was named Miss Australia, to ask for an evening dress. She looked ordinary in jeans and a T-shirt, but when she put on my dress, she truly shined. She became Miss Universe at the end,” Ms. Lee said proudly.
After the contest, Ms. Lee received more than 1,000 e-mails from those interested in buying the dress. She didn’t sell it, though, for a very special reason.
“It took me six months to complete the dress. I never took my hands off the dress until it was finished,” she said. “When I went on a business trip to Hong Kong or Singapore, I always took the dress, which weighed more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds), with me.
“I worked on the dress even on the airplane. The dress was made from my tears, sweat and blood. But after all that effort, it didn't win an award. I was devastated. I wept for four days. For that reason, I have a special bond with the dress.”
Even though the dress didn’t win an award, the people who wore it are celebrities. About a month before Ms. Hopkins wore the dress, a well-known Australian TV anchorwoman wore it to a film festival and it appeared in many fashion magazines.
Regarding Ms. Lee’s success, it is surprising that she began to study fashion relatively late in life, as a 35-year-old housewife. Seven years ago, her decision to study fashion design was shocking news to her husband.
Ms. Lee told him, “I want to be able to make clothes for my son at least,” and enrolled in TAFE (Technical and Further Education), a two year-college in Australia. After graduating, she went to Italy to study for a year and opened a dress shop in Australia. After opening another in Shanghai, she branched out to Korea, opening a shop in the Galleria Department Store in Seoul.
“I was recognized in Australia, but somehow I wasn’t satisfied,” Ms. Lee said.
by Ko Jung-a