Evolution of hanbok

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Evolution of hanbok

The author is the head of the Innovation Lab of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Hanbok is traditional Korean clothing. While the root goes back to the Three Kingdoms period, we often consider the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) clothes as the traditional hanbok. They have disappeared from everyday life as Western culture was introduced and imperial Japan controlled clothing after invading Korea. In the 1960s and ‘70s, modernized hanbok were introduced for a more comfortable fit, but they lost their fashion charm as many Korean restaurants chose them as uniforms.

But now, hanbok seems to be having another heyday. Blackpink’s music video “Pink Venom” gained more than 200 million views on YouTube after just one week. The hanbok worn by the members were seen by viewers around the world. It is common to see Korean pop stars such as Blackpink and BTS wear hanbok for their performances. But, strictly speaking, their stage costumes are not traditional hanbok.

Last week, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism hosted a hanbok expo at Coex in Seoul. Seventy hanbok makers presented new versions of hanbok. Designers have been expanding the boundary of hanbok, not being restricted by conventions. Designs don’t lose vitality when they are used by consumers.

Recently, Vogue Korea came under fire for the photoshoots at the Blue House with top models, including Han Hye-jin. Politicians criticized that the outfits worn by the models did not look like hanbok and that taking photos of a model lying down in the state guesthouse lowered the national dignity.

30 years ago, designer Lee Young-hee presented a hanbok skirt without the jeogori top at the ready-to-wear show in Paris, which was praised as “clothing of the wind.”

Fashion magazine Vogue has had photoshoots at the four palaces including Gyeongbok Palace, a more historically significant place than the Blue House. In 2018, the Louvre in France was used as the set for the music video of Beyoncé and Jay-Z and the museum still offers the set as a tour course. Thanks to the music video, the number of visitors to the Louvre increased by 25 percent to 10 million, an all-time record that year. You may object to the quality of the photos and fashion. But the latest episode of Vogue Korea at the Blue House with top models must not lead to a regression in the revival of hanbok or the policy to utilize cultural assets.
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