Designer wins international awardShin Ji-eun was wide-eyed as she watched a model step sprightly along a runway in Wellington, New Zealand, twirling to a loud percussion beat under flashing lights. The model was wearing a white and indigo dress Ms. Shin had designed and made with shreds of twisted hanji (a Korean traditional paper made of mulberry fiber).
“I never had a live person wear my dress before,” Ms. Shin, 35, said shyly. “I did not know that it would look so beautiful on the runway.”
It looked so beautiful that it won her the Wellington International Award at this year’s World of WearableArts (WOW) Awards in New Zealand’s capital city. Among some 380 entries from 90 countries, made from materials ranging from shredded credit cards to tattered jeans, the judges chose Ms. Shin’s “paper dress.” She became the first Korean to win an award in the 20-year-old event, despite it being the first time she had participated in such a large international competition
That was a month and a half ago. Now back working in her small workshop in the Hongdae area, the modest designer said she was still dumbfounded by the fact that she had been spotlighted.
Ms. Shin is a hanji craft designer who previously made pots, eyeglass cases and rugs (they are lacquered so they won’t rip when wet) and took private classes to learn to design clothes. Her first garment was a fire-red hanji corset, which drew attention when she showed it at an international exhibition, but some conventional hanji designers criticized her “fusion work” as disgracing a traditional art. She continued making clothing, however, and decided to make a full dress after hearing about the WOW event in 2004 when it was described by a local broadcaster.
It was a slow job.
Her winning work, “The Life & Foam of an Indigo Blue Sea,” took her an entire year to complete. She worked for 12 hours a day doing the tiny stitching by hand on a papier-mache mannequin. Because of her concern that the garment would rip before she could finish it, she dared not have a person try it on. Although the fibrous mulberry bark is very strong, Ms. Shin still worried about the durability of the dress.
Once the dress was finally finished, the next challenge emerged. The post office refused to accept the parcel for delivery to New Zealand.
“When I took the dress to the post office, they said they would not be responsible for any damage that could occur to a work made of paper,” she said.
She searched and eventually found a private parcel service that would accept the delivery, at a cost of more than 900,000 won ($960).
“At that moment, I did not even care if I made it into the preliminary round. All I wanted to hear was that it arrived there safe and sound,” she said.
A month later, Ms. Shin was notified that her work was one of 170 garments selected to be shown on the runway. The following month she was in New Zealand, never expecting that she would win. She said she still finds it hard to believe.
by Lee Min-a