samedi 27 novembre 2010

Lee Young Hee / The New York Times

November 18, 2010
Traditional Korean Style Gets a Forward Spin
By ALICE PFEIFFER for The New York Times

SEOUL — Less mass-marketed than the kimono, the hanbok is the traditional Korean costume of comparable delicacy, but its centuries-old silhouette is increasingly in demand around the world, from Buckingham Palace to Beverly Hills and a few places in between.

Short for Han-guk pokshik, or Korean attire, a hanbok comprises two pieces: a bolero-style jacket, called a jeogori, and a voluminous, wraparound, floor-length skirt, called a chima.

The attire, predominantly worn by women, also exists for men with baggy pants, although it is not as common. It lost some of its popularity in the 1950s and ’60s in South Korea, during the era of intense American-influenced modernization that followed the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, when the hanbok was considered old fashioned.

Yet today, a new generation of upscale hanbok tailors, mainly women, are increasingly being acclaimed by the media.

Lee Young Hee has been praised as South Korea’s most significant, old-school hanbok maker. Since her first snips in 1977, she has greatly encour aged the introduction of the complex garments into a cosmopolitan luxury market.

First influenced by watching her mother work as an embroiderer, she later developed complex, natural dying techniques by observing Buddhist monks.

Today, she has become the leader in her field, her customers ranging from Miuccia Prada to South Korea’s first lady, Kim Yoon-ok. Mrs. Lee’s hanboks are entirely handmade and range in price from $1,000 to $5,000.

It’s not just a modern replica, because she applies Western haute couture techniques like painting directly onto fabric.

“The time needed to make a hanbok varies, depending on the intricacy and the level of artistry required in the final piece,” Mrs. Lee said. “Some of my most ambitious pieces have taken five years to construct, but for an ordinary hanbok, I spend 15 days to one month.”

Although she primarily uses silk, hand-woven ramie known as mosi, sometimes incorporating cotton and linen to create a contrast of textures, she admits to being “always open to trying new and unconventional fabrics.”

Indeed, she also experiments by weaving Hanji, local paper handmade out of the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, into the fabric.

Mrs. Lee says she wants to demonstrate “modern and elegant sensibility within the frame of the hanbok’s formal classicism.”

“Today, it is much easier to wear compared to yesteryear’s garment,” she said.

Once a costume worn on grand occasions, the hanbok has become a fashion item, and therefore liberated from ceremonial or symbolic constraints. Even fashionistas like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears have been attracted to the it.

In 2004, Mrs. Lee founded the Lee Young Hee Korea Museum in New York City, where she shows her personal collection of traditional costumes, accessories and books.

The museum’s director, Jong Suk-sung, said these were belongings “that she has acquired over a lifetime,”

“Most of her pieces are from the late Joseon Dynasty, covering the period from the 18th to 20th century,” Mr. Jong continued.

With its curved lines, loose fit, ample sleeves and abundant, flowing fabric, the style of that period still influences today’s hanboks.

But a new generation of designers is reinventing the hanbok by rethinking ancient forms according to modern creative criteria.

Lie Sang Bong, for example, mixes these traditional silhouettes with contemporary fashion twists like large leather belts and bare arms.

His work, which is mainly in silk, cotton and wool, can sell for as much as $2,000, and he occasionally works on commissions, like a dress for Kim Yu-na, the 2010 Olympic figure-skating champion, who is from South Korea.

Both traditional Korean designs and culture are at the core in Mr. Lie’s references: The designer says he is inspired and moved by the traditional fabric, cutting, silhouette, color and details but also “by the very traditional Korean elements,” like the use of the colors red, yellow and blue, ancient Korean calligraphy, and flower embroidery.

“Korea is my mother country,” Mr. Lie said. “I was born here and have lived so far, surrounded by this beautiful ground, air, water. It is very natural that my collection has been naturally inspired by Korean elements.”

Yet he is seeking to discover “how well I can modernize the traditional elements to the Western world. That constitutes my endless quest.”

“A new generation of hanbok designers are coming out with an outfit that translates modernity in a historically comprehensible manner,” said Kihoh Sohn, fashion editor at Vogue Korea.

The magazine wants to encourage these new designs while celebrating national sartorial identity, Mr. Sohn said, so it features a minimum of two stories a year entirely dedicated to hanbok.

Similarly, the Korean Fashion Week, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October, featured Mrs. Lee, Mr. Lie and many other traditional hanbok-influenced designers.

Women grow up “appreciating the beauty of the hanbok from early on,” Mr. Sohn added.

But hanboks are appealing to Western women too because they have “an air of grandeur to them and can be a great source of evening wear,” he said.

“And evening wear is much more appreciated in Western culture than in the East,” he said. As a result, Mr. Sohn said, many European designers have also been influenced by hanboks, including Haider Ackermann.

Other hanbok tailors include Bae Young-jin, who has chosen to modernize the garments by using monochrome, black and white materials and dyes, an approach acknowledged in 2007 when Queen Elizabeth II visited her in her boutique near Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.

Meanwhile, Kim Young-jin has reinvented the classic lines by using taffeta, silk and lace, and Kim Hee-soo has introduced dark shades, hats and veils into the hanboks.

Mrs. Lee sums up the hanbok’s popularity this way: “It is a unique form that is capable of blending Korean traditional forms with modern aesthetics.”

In other ways, she added, South Korean clothing design is like any other.

“Fashion is always moving fast and ever-changing,” Mrs. Lee said. “People get excited over new trends.”

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