Sometimes Pyongyang watchers catch a glimpse of pure style

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Sometimes Pyongyang watchers catch a glimpse of pure style

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Top left: North Korea’s first lady Ri Sol-ju is one of the few style icons in the reclusive regime. [JoongAng Photo], Top right: For North Korean women, stiletto heels are popular. [Chosun Sinbo], Above: Female North Korean soldiers in high heels patrol a street. [JoongAng Photo]

North Korea’s ruling dynasty has lavished a lot of attention on the newly-built Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground in the nation’s capital. Kim Jong-un has made widely publicized visits, with and without first lady Ri Sol-ju.

A few days ago, Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong visited the amusement park with about 10 friends. On a roller coaster ride, her friends screeched high-heartedly, but the powerful sister looked relaxed and even waved graciously at curious park-goers, sources in Seoul said.

Kim may have been more accustomed to roller coasters because she grew up in Bern, Switzerland, while older brother Jong-un was studying nearby. She reportedly has travelled to Japan where she probably visited Tokyo Disneyland.

But at the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground the other day, what really drew attention from passerby was not Kim’s presence or attitude but her sense of style, sources said.

At the park, Kim wore a handkerchief on her wrist, and many people at the park checked out her unique style, including the amusement park’s staff, her secretaries and body guards as well as the local visitors, according to intelligence sources in Seoul.

Since then, a handkerchief on the wrist has become the hot fashion trend among young women and students in Pyongyang.

According to intelligence sources in Seoul, the once-idiosyncratic sister of North Korea’s ruler is becoming a fashion icon in the world’s most reclusive state.

Along with Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim Yo-jong is the woman to watch, in terms of fashion, in the North. And she might actually be leading Ri in her choice of styles.

“The sister Yo-jong is allegedly guiding the fashion, political manners and etiquette of First Lady Ri Sol-ju,” a Seoul official said. “Ri is following the advice of her sister-in-law, and they are in such a good relationship it’s as if they were biological sisters.”

As first lady, Ri seems more free to show off luxurious accessories in state media reports such as a Christian Dior clutch or a Swiss-made Movado watch - her husband has one of those too - than her sister-in-law.

Under the influence of the two women, the fashion sense of the elite in Pyongyang has gone through some changes this summer, if state media reports are any indication.

A photo recently published in the Chosun Sinbo, a Japan-based, pro-regime newspaper, shows a North Korean woman wearing stiletto heels more than 10 centimeters (3.93 inches) high.

In fact, North Korean leaders have long been generous about women and their heels, unlike the more puritanical communism of China’s Mao Zedong. In the 1980s, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il urged women to wear high heels, saying, “High heels are good for your health.”

Thanks to the dear leader’s encouragement, high heels have settled in as a staple in the North Korean fashion market.

Sometimes, state media in the North publishes photos of women in such a chic dress, holding a hot pink handbag, that political analysts in Seoul ask, “Are they really North Korean?”

Leader Kim Jong-un is encouraging fashion to give a small spark to the country’s moribund economy.

On Aug. 7, the ruling Workers’ Party’s mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun published an article about Kim’s visit to a hosiery factory in Pyongyang. A photo showed Kim closely watching an assembly line producing women’s stockings.

Kim ordered workers to “make products to meet the taste and seasonal demand of people,” the newspaper reported.

In July, state media also reported Kim’s visit to a shoe factory. He instructed it workers, “Produce shoes that can be exported to international markets as well.”

The leader even gave a name to brand the shoes: “Maebongsan” (Mount Maebong), which is a mountain in Pyongyang that symbolizes the courage of the people, according to Kim.

A keener fashion sense is even infecting men in North Korea. Sources say many young North Korean men are adopting a new hair style dubbed “Verve Hair,” with the side and rear of the head shaved, similar to the West’s undercut.

That style, popular a long time ago, was revived because Kim Jong-un has a similar style.

According to the North Korean magazine “Choguk” (Fatherland) based in Japan, the popularity of the hair style was “a result of the enthusiastic loyalty for Kim Jong-un.”

A North Korean student, who introduced himself as Ri Jong-chol, 27, said in an interview with the magazine, “I was fascinated by his young and vigorous style. I wish I could look like him, from his face to everything.”

But a BBC report put a different spin on the style situation. It said North Korean authorities allegedly ordered all university students to follow the hair style of the young leader.

Analysts in Seoul say changes in North Korean fashions usually are prompted by imports from China.

North Korean women encounter the latest styles through clothes and shoes smuggled in from China, and through South Korean drama or movies that leak in from Chinese border cities.

Some South Korean officials working at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex said when South Korean clothes were found to have defects, women working at the facility rush to the warehouse to try to get them.

Some workers even stole labels of South Korean products, an official at the Kaesong park said. They sewed the labels into North Korean products to get a better price for them on the black market, officials said.

Although the Mount Kumgang Resort is now closed, the influx of tourists to the resort starting in 1998 once triggered changes in North Korean fashion, particularly for women.

Seoul officials said North Korean women who worked at the resort showed interest in the makeup, hair styles and fashions of the visitors.

They were particularly attracted to the makeup of the South Korean women, following their style of shaving eye brows to make their eyes bigger, and even asking South Koreans to buy eye pencils or eyebrow shavers for them.

Next months, a delegation of 350 North Korean cheerleaders will visit the South to attend the Incheon Asian Games with their fellow athletes. Their clothes and makeup styles will give a glimpse of the latest fashion trends in North Korea.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [heejin@joongang.co.kr]







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