‘Hanbok should change’

October 2, 2013

 

President’s designer says it’s time to rethink traditional attire

President Park wears Kim Young-seok’s deep red-colored topcoat at her inauguration on Feb. 25 this year. / Korea Times file

President Park wears Kim Young-seok’s deep red-colored topcoat at her inauguration on Feb. 25 this year. / Korea Times file

“Hanbok” designer Kim Young-seok

“Hanbok” designer Kim Young-seok

NEW YORK ― The Korean traditional dress “hanbok” is loose fitting with no waist line as we know it. Now imagine taking 10 centimeters off the skirt and tightening the overall fit for a super sleek and slim look.

Some traditionalists might frown upon the bold transformation, but Kim Young-seok, today’s hottest hanbok courtier, couldn’t care less.

“Why not?” says the top hanbok designer known for his innovative attempt at redefining the traditional costume. “There’s no reason to emphasize tradition just for the sake of tradition. What good is it if it gets neglected?”

In an interview with The Korea Times, Kim elaborated on what, why and how hanbok should get reinvented. But his recent series of high-profile designs for high-profile people like President Park Geun-hye, former first couple Lee Myung-bak and Kim Yoon-ok show that this designer knows never to cross the line.

“I guess that’s the toughest question. How far is too far” he said, stressing that designing for the nation’s top leader isn’t an occasion to get too adventurous.

Kim is well known to be the go-to hanbok designer for posh celebrities including Hong Ra-hee, wife of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, actress Ko Hyun-jung and former KBS presenter Noh Hyun-jung who married into the Hyundai family.

But he received unprecedented media exposure most recently after designing for President Park on her trip to the U.S.

Each of the three pieces that Park wore was spotlighted and dissected by the media and fashion critics.

The “hanbok” that President Park Geun-hye wore during her visit to the United States in May were designed by Kim Young-seok.  / Korea Times file

The “hanbok” that President Park Geun-hye wore during her visit to the United States in May were designed by Kim Young-seok.
/ Korea Times file

“I reminded myself that the entire world would see whatever the female president wears. Instead of stressing her femininity, I focused on portraying her as the country’s leader,” said Kim.

For a Washington D.C. event celebrating the 60-year alliance between South Korea and the U.S., the president wore a peach colored top decorated with fancy embroidery and a light cobalt green skirt.

This, Kim says, was to represent Korea’s rich economic and cultural growth, unlike its hardships in the past.

At an event in New York City, the president donned an all-white hanbok with a deep burgundy “goreum,” coat strings, that tie the “jeogori,” hanbok top.

“The city is the world’s fashion center, so instead of introducing too many colors, I wanted to keep it simple,” said Kim, who is in New York after hosting a hanbok fashion show in New Jersey as part of an annual Chuseok festival.

“Being away from Korea, I think it’s more important and meaningful to go back to our home country’s cultural roots,” Kim said, adding that he takes tremendous pride in creating hanbok and helping to promote it overseas.

But in order to effectively embrace the up and coming generations, Kim says hanbok must change.

“Even mountains and rivers change in 10 years. Hanbok has a history of a couple thousand years, so isn?t it odd to stick with one philosophy?” he said. “It?s about time we rethink hanbok.”

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