My dad and his family lived in Korea for five years when I was younger. During that time I came to visit them many times and fell in love with the country. They have an exploratory bent, so I was able to travel all over the country, from the DMZ down to Jeju Island, by way of many cities on the mainland. I even spent a month working there one summer, which further cemented my love for the place. It’s an extraordinary country.
It fascinated me because my preconceptions were so off the reality. Coming from Turin, Italy, which is hardly an international capital (We have lots of Moroccans, Romanians and Peruvians, randomly, but not too much else. ‘Cept a couple American mutts like myself) I didn’t really have much of a conception of Korea. I knew of China, from trips there with my mom and stepdad, and I knew about Japan from books and the anime I watched when I went over to my friend Chiara’s after school, but when presented with the fact that my dad was moving from glamourous, familiar Paris to Seoul, Korea I drew a blank. I pulled out the K volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica that we still have down in the living room, flipped to the page, read about the country, grew bored at the thought of political systems, and just took my knowledge of Japan and China and jumbling them together until I had achieved a generic Northeast Asian mishmash that I termed “Korea” in my head. No biggie, right?
When I finally arrived, I was delighted to find I was mistaken. I was captivated by the country’s rich history, the language (which is SO fascinating, and which i can only say like ten words in… sigh), the amazing food, and the cool modern arts scene. Above all, though, I fell in love with the beautiful textiles and traditional dresses. It was fascinating to see the hanboks in so many ways– firstly, stiffly, beautifully preserved in museums, then sold in stores, when I learned that they are still sometimes worn, though in a more ceremonial sense, then brought cheesily to life in the soap operas I’d watch on tv at my dad’s, making up the plots since I couldn’t understand the dialogue. It was also really interesting to see the role the dresses played in the modern culture. I’m kicking myself for not being able to recall more details, but I seem to recall an exibition feauturing stylized hanbok made out of gorgeous handmade paper, in gorgeous jewel tones. Beautiful.
All this to say, I love Korea, I love hanbok, and I really love this editorial from Vogue Korea October 2007, featuring hanbok. It’s beautiful how they play with the already-substantial volume of the dresses, highlighting the airiness of the materials, turning it into a series of curves rather than the more rigid geometric form it seems when at rest. It’s also a treat to see the underskirts and the socks, and imagine how all the layers fit together into daily wear of these dresses. Photographer Kim Kyung-Soo has found a way to show a life and a richness in these garments that I’ve never seen in my time admiring them.
PS: Sorry for all the rambling. I wrote this late at night, and I get a little chatterbox-y when I can’t sleep. Also, Korea rocks!