Korean Designer Lie Sang-bong takes up New York challenge

June 27, 2014
Fashion designer Lie Sang-bong.

Fashion designer Lie Sang-bong.

By Kwon Ji-youn

Paris is now a thing of the past for Lie Sang-bong.

In February, the designer called an end to his shows in the world’s fashion capital and held his first exclusive fashion show in New York in an attempt to win over finicky New Yorkers with his all-new cashmeres, overcoats and tailored blouses.

“I’ve been a part of the New York fashion scene for three years now, but this was my first show,” Lie told The Korea Times. “Before that, I spent a year agonizing over whether or not to stop showing in Paris.”

Lie had tried in vain to open a store in the French city. He had been disappointed at the failure, but determined to turn the adversity into opportunity.

“My showroom and gallery are in New York City. I thought, why not open a store there too?” he said.

Lie recently returned from a trip to Milan where he staged a fashion show to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the establishment of Korean-Italian diplomatic ties.

At the Hotel Principe Di Savoia, Lie sent out a coterie of Italian models dressed head to toe in Korean traditional patterns, which included mugunghwa (the rose of Sharon, the national flower) and hangeul (Korean alphabet).

It was in keeping with Lie’s belief that while a collection can be commercial, a show must take a cultural approach.

“I wanted to use fashion to explain mugunghwa’s cultural importance to the audience,” Lie said. “If we take a commercial approach, we cannot win.”

According to Lie, culture is about communication and acknowledgement.

“If we take what is ours and force it onto foreigners, we will only be doing what the Japanese did during Japanese colonial rule (1910-45), when Koreans struggled to protect their culture from the oppressive Japanese,” Lie warned, referring to the tense relationship between the two neighboring countries over disputes over historical issues, including wartime sexual slaves for Japanese troops, and Tokyo’s territorial claims to South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Lie made his debut as a fashion designer in 1983, but his fame peaked when he unveiled his hangeul collection to the world in 2006. Consequently, many consider him a designer only of traditional clothing, but Lie stressed that he wouldn’t have decided to dive headfirst into fashion had he thought it would inevitably tie him to one facet of it. “That’s why I love working on collaboration projects.”

Last year, Lie launched his own eyewear line, and more recently, has worked with furniture.

“It works like this. A fashion designer can work with furniture, and a furniture designer can work with a fashion designer,” Lie said. “There should be no boundaries. A fashion designer should be able to design anything.

“For instance, I’ve always wanted to design a house. It’s really amazing to see my ideas realized. All designers, whether they create fashion or furniture, are enriching peoples’ lifestyles.”

Lie advised young designers not to compare themselves and their designs with foreign designers and their collections.

“Everything these young designers create is a part of K-fashion,” Lie said. “Seoul is a rising fashion hub in Asia and with this development comes responsibility. We need to show our support to our country’s young designers.”

In line with such efforts, Lie also called attention to the need for development in the materials industry.

“Small and medium-sized businesses have the potential to bring about change,” Lie stressed. “These are the businesses that can truly set trends.”