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Exhibition

Couture Korea: 우리의 옷, 한복

Nov 3, 2017 – Feb 4, 2018
Hambrecht Gallery, Lee Project Gallery, Osher Gallery

Discover the past, present and future of Korea in this first U.S. exhibition to consider Korean fashion as an expression of social and cultural values.

Couture Korea showcases historical Korean fashion and its modern reinterpretations at a moment when young Seoul-based designers are making the leap to the global stage and international haute couture is finding inspiration in Korean art and culture. With more than 120 works, the exhibition considers fashion as an enduring expression of social and cultural values.

Couture Korea opens with an introduction to the exquisite craftsmanship, signature silhouettes and bold aesthetics of clothing from the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), presented in precise reconstructions based on archival records. Learn how details of design — cut, materials, colors and accessories — communicated moral codes and customs, the wearer’s age and position in society, and the occasion and season for which a garment was crafted.

The second gallery focuses on the work of two contemporary designers who have been inspired by Korean tradition. The high waistlines, flared sleeves and brightly colored patchworks of Karl Lagerfeld’s 2015/16 Cruise Collection for Chanel were influenced by Joseon dynasty fashion and art, such as bojagi wrapping cloths. Also on view are pieces by pioneering Korean designer Jin Teok, lauded by Vogue’s Suzy Menkes as a “fashion magician,” who evokes the spirit of historical Korean dress with an embroidered top from a wedding robe layered over a washed denim skirt.

The final section of the exhibition introduces two younger Seoul-based designers, Im Seonoc and Jung Misun, who are reinterpreting Korean fashion for the twenty-first century.

Couture Korea is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation in Seoul, Korea.

What is Hanbok?

Beginning with “What Is Hanbok?” (traditional Korean clothing), the exhibition examines history and tradition. Emphasizing mid- to late- Joseon dynasty clothing of the elite class (yangban), the varied and sophisticated hanbok in the Osher Gallery highlight proper ways of dressing for men, women, and children, with garments expressing social status, changing seasons, and special occasions or milestones in life.

The reproductions of hanbok in this gallery are based on wide-ranging research, including recent archaeological discoveries. In some cases, portraits and genre paintings are valuable sources for re-creating clothing of the past. Excavations of Joseon tombs in recent years have revealed many types of costumes that were used to dress the deceased. The conserved garments have served as primary sources for the re-created works throughout this gallery. Artisans at the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation in Seoul employed authentic, historically accurate processes and production methods as well as historically appropriate fabrics for making traditional Joseon-period clothing. This research continues, reconstructing and reinterpreting the hanbok tradition, ushering in a new era of knowledge of fashion history.

Between East & West

In “Between East and West,” the works in the Hambrecht Gallery transition into the present day, with creations by two senior fashion designers. Jin Teok (b. 1934) and Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1938) have searched for innovative ways to revive Korea’s fashion traditions. Both are celebrated designers of Western couture who have sought out their own distinctive and provocative ways to reinterpret Korean traditions and motifs in a contemporary and global context.

Meet the Designers

Jin Teok (b. 1934), a fashion pioneer who began her career in the early postwar era in South Korea, is passionate about reinterpreting traditional Korean art and fashion. In this exhibition, five representative designs showcase her creative process in remaking the traditions of the past. Since the 1990s, when she was active in Paris and participated in several international fashion shows, she has conducted extensive research on traditional Korean clothing, motifs, and sensibility to inform her works. At times, Jin includes traditional Korean symbols, subjects, or details from paintings as patterns on her designs, or she incorporates traditional Korean motifs into Western materials, styles, and shapes. In doing so, Jin joins the visual language of the past with contemporary fashion sensibility.

In 2015, the Chanel Cruise collection fashion show at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, attracted enormous attention in the fashion world. Since 2000, Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1938), the creative director of Chanel, has presented the Cruise collection in various cities where he gained inspiration. Seoul was the third city he chose in Asia, following Singapore and Dubai. For the 2016 Chanel Cruise collection, Lagerfeld created designs that were influenced by traditional Korean clothing as well as by Korean artworks.

From Seoul to San Francisco

In the Lee Gallery, “From Seoul to San Francisco” explores how Korean designers today are grappling with Korean traditions. The designs of Im Seonoc (b. 1961) and Jung Misun (b. 1984), representing the current generation of Seoul-based designers, showcases the challenges and excitement of reinventing, re-creating, and transforming traditions in contemporary works, producing visually stunning results.

For contemporary Korean designers Im Seonoc (b. 1962) and Jung Misun (b. 1984), reinterpretation of historical fashion is a compelling and seemingly irresistible challenge. These two Seoul-based artists collaborated with the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation for a yearlong study of traditional clothing, seeking ways to adapt and reinterpret traditions for contemporary lifestyles. This gallery documents each designer’s individual and unique process through her own sketches, photographs, material samples, and finished designs.

These two artists take remarkably different approaches in creating new apparel. Im Seonoc searches for elements and trends in contemporary Western attire that she can take and apply to her own interpretation of traditional Korean clothing. For example, Im mixes Western spencer jackets or bolero forms with traditional women’s jackets (jeogori). She keeps the silhouette of the traditional Korean jacket but exchanges the collar part in the traditional jackets with a long detachable metal brooch. She applies the comfortable, voluminous form of traditional skirts to her neoprene skirts. A significant aspect of Im’s reinterpretation of the past is the flexible layering of her clothes, which embraces variety and practicality in fashion that contemporary consumers seek out. Im’s creative process is very much aligned with contemporary marketplace and environmental concerns, as she explicitly pursues “zero-waste design.”

Jung Misun has extensively researched Korean women’s history and experience, both of the past and of today. Jung is interested in the timeless characteristics and unique traits of Korean women. She has expressed her observation that “Korean women are calm but dynamic, warm but progressive, flexible but strong.” Jung’s designs reassert that traditional Korean clothing expresses and embodies these essential attributes of Korean women. However, like Im Seonoc, Jung Misun acknowledges how impractical most traditional clothing fabrics are for a modern physically active lifestyle. She exchanges high-end materials such as silk used in clothing of the past with knitted jersey as her primary fabric, while maintaining the elegant silhouette of traditional garments.

Discover how women of eighteenth-century Korea pushed boundaries through fashion.

What People are Saying

“Couture Korea proves that in the often choked-up calendar of museum fashion exhibitions, there are still fascinating new subjects to explore that are fresh and full of feeling.”
— Vogue

“Even if you don’t know gingham from “Gangnam Style,” there’s no denying Korea’s influence on contemporary fashion.”
— San Francisco Magazine

“Immerses audiences in the splendid sophistication of historical and contemporary Korean fashion.”
— Gentry

“Looks beyond the artistry and craftsmanship of the fashions to their historical context and cultural significance.”
— SF/Arts Monthly

“It’s the conversation between tradition and modernity that makes Korean fashion so ripe for exploration.”
— San Francisco Chronicle

“Reminds us that fashion is more than what is worn; it is a reflection of societal nuances and a legacy that continues to inspire.”
— Daily Cal

“Way cool.”
— Bay Area Reporter

“Not just for fashionistas.”
— The Mercury News

“I swooned over the beauty of the clothing.”
— Leah Garchik, San Francisco Chronicle

Organizers & Sponsors

Couture Korea is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation, Korea. Presentation is made possible with the generous support of the Korea Foundation, Sulwhasoo, Korean Air, The Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Fund for Excellence in Exhibitions and Presentations, Warren Felson and Lucy Sun, Anne and Timothy Kahn, Fred Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation, in Memory of Ben & A. Jess Shenson, John Maa, M.D., Stephanie and James Marver, Suno Kay Osterweis, and Salle E. Yoo and Jeffrey P. Gray.